Britain’s post-truth ‘Iraqistan’ memorial insults both veterans and reality, A gilded fiction is still a fiction, after all.
First published on the International Business Times
Given the gulf between Britain’s imperial self-image and the unheroic truth, I always felt that the inevitable memorial to our recent failed wars would be off the mark when it arrived.
Yet first impressions indicate the star-studded unveiling in London’s Victoria Embankment Gardens on Thursday 9 March of a new ”Iraqistan” statue will plumb new depths of post-truthery.
Folding three wars of aggression into one fictional humanitarian aid operation is bad enough, I thought… and that was before I realised this latest extravaganza is the brainchild of the Murdoch press and was part-funded by global arms giant BAE Systems.
This state of affairs rules the Iraq Afghanistan Memorial out of representing the reality of the wars for many of the veterans who served in them or, indeed, the forgotten people of the victim nations.
I am not denying for a moment the immense skill apparent in the artist’s work but he appears to have impaled himself on the same bayonet as the post 9/11 media: reiterating what the establishment says as if it were incontrovertibly true. A gilded fiction is still a fiction, after all.
The surest thing about the memorial is its parentage. It is obviously the progeny of an arms firm, the gutter press and a military and political establishment desperate to draw a line under embarrassing defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan with a view to repeating them elsewhere in future.
This desperation is captured perfectly in a Ministry of Defence promotional video tweeted ahead of unveiling which exhibits depths of self-delusion I haven’t witnessed since I last encountered a senior British military officer.
On the 9 March HM The Queen will unveil the Iraq & Afghanistan Memorial honouring the duty and service of both UK armed forces and civilians pic.twitter.com/FzN7528myc
— Ministry of Defence (@DefenceHQ) February 28, 2017
In less than two minutes, the slick and emotively scored promo re-brands three wars of aggression – the signal foreign policy disasters of our time – as a 25 year long humanitarian aid operation carried out in uniform.
In a masterclass of selective memorialisation, it appears there will be no references at all to dodgy dossiers, extrajudicial drone assassinations, massive refugee crises, oil, Isis, a re-energised Taliban, rendition, Tony Blair or any of the other tentacled horrors which have come to define Britain’s recent adventures in the sandpit.
As a recent veteran myself I can tell you I was surprised to find that far from violently occupying those far-off impoverished places, the British military had in fact “championed democracy”, “protected British interests” and, most surprisingly of all, “rebuilt villages”.
One can only assume that the latter activity took place after the occupying forces had levelled said hamlets from the air, which somehow makes the sentiment a little less impressive.
Despite the attempt to soften the wars by folding civilian aid and development workers in with the military, this new addition must be seen in much the same way as the Chilcot Inquiry.
While the two-million word report was the establishment’s investigation of itself, this is the establishment’s memorial to what it wishes the wars had been: just, right, necessary and worth the cost.
Prince Harry, who last year outrageously shook hands with George W Bush at the Invictus Games for wounded soldiers, will headline the opening in his apparently self-elected role as the soldiers’ champion.
Naturally his dear grandmother, who uttered not a squeak in public against the wars, has been booked to look on.
When I first spotted and raised these discrepancies, I was understandably challenged for my view. Some people will appreciate being honoured in this manner, I was told.
I agree. Some people will be taken in by this exercise in bleaching the truth out of history. Just as many others, myself included, will not.
For veterans who have woken up this “Iraqistan” memorial will recall a time when we believed that the UK, and the British military, was fundamentally in the business of good causes rather than imperial adventures. A time which has passed.
For those of us who have come to realize what we were involved in our testament reads differently to that of the government, the military, arms firms or the Sun newspaper.
We will recall Afghanistan as what it was: a knee-jerk war against some of the poorest people in the world. A war in which we engaged initially to stay in with the United States and, after 2006, to recover our image in American eyes after utter failure in Basra.
Likewise we will recall the British role in Iraq as what it was: that of a junior henchman in the mother of all heists. And a failed heist at that.
On reflection, perhaps there is something to this flattering re-brand to delude future generations. Even if only ironically.
It may not be remotely based on what actually occurred in the wars but it captures precisely the new military bluster of the post-truth age combined with the established tendency of our leaders to overreach based on a cocktail of personal ambition, wishful thinking and faulty information.
Joe Glenton is a member of VFP UK and author of Soldier Box, published by Verso Books.
I like to use the term
Bullets, Bombs and Banks.
The same kind of banks that sent Trotsky and his family back to Russia via Halifax Canada with a US passports and suitcases full of millions of dollars in cash, a month in detention and he was let go, money and all.
But if the banks unleash this monster it will truly be a crime against everyone.
The excerpt from Marcus Manilius many centuries sum up what is the same continuum and paradigm we see happening today.
Oh, why do we spend the years of our lives in perpetual worry, tormented by senseless desires; grow old before our time with anxieties which never end; wasting our lives in the pursuit of gain; setting no limit to our wishes, so that their fulfilment leaves us still unblessed, but ever playing the part of wo-men, who mean to live but never do? Everyone is the poorer for their possessions because they yearn for more: none counts their blessings, but only lusts for what they lack.
Nature needs only modest requirements, where as humans we build higher and higher the peaks from which to fall, and purchase luxury with our false gains, and with luxury the fear of disposition of what we do not rightly, until the greatest boon that false security can confer is the squandering of life itself.
Set free our minds, banish your cares and rid our lives of all this vain compliance, because there are those who will use their seemingly immutable laws and assign our predestined courses, futures and events against our will. The time is right to try to remember who we truly are.
Good Davy, thank you.
A masterful comment , for which all decent adult folk should be grateful. The “original sin” behind this vile masquerade was the WW1 (otherwise known as the Great War) propaganda machine – not, of course, only in the UK- which managed to convince much of “the home front” that the war was about “Western Civilisation” or “Democracy”. Mr Blair may well go down as a top theologian, who solved the problem of how to define a “just” war simply, by making it quite clear that the UK’s wars are ALWAYS just. With Bush, he even added the idea of a “crusade” to confirm how angelic he and we are .
Tony Blair invited, but the families of the dead soldiers over looked. This speaks volumes. Rude and disgusting.
All about glory. The death of young men, women and civilians is not glorious enough. The reality is not comfortable viewing and does not put a shine on a medal or memorial.
speaks volumes… the whole system is protecting this vile man. He shows up to rub every ones nose in it.
Spot.on pal wasted lives and they spout about bravery lets send there wainse to war the greedy bastards 1 A+Sh
Nice write up Joe,
m surprised they havent put a poppy in it to take the michael out of EVERY person who has been to afghanistan protecting the opium trade that has made millions in profit for the US drug dealers.
Iraq… my god just read “Nato War Crimes” in the archive posts on this site… enough said.
Kenny VFP UK
Having attacked the internet for “Fake News”, we now see this combination of war profiteers and promoters, creating ‘Fake History’. So all those bombs, bullets, deaths and continuing disease from depleted uranium was actually “reconstruction” and philanthropic assistance? Was the failure to invite the men who actually had to carry out this ‘foreign aid’, less “oversight” than intention, in case they made a scene? And you might have thought that given all the good work, grateful Iraqis and Afghanistanis would have been invited as well? The British Empire was pretty good at glossing over its less than admirable activities around the globe, but this attempt to rewrite two of the most disgraceful foreign adventures in our history, just about takes the biscuit.
Well put Joe thanks.100 years ago Russia riddled itself of its murderous elite today England elects them to Parliment .wally Heaton
Joe, bang on, a super read and I have shared this with a dear friend who was in the “Jock Battalions.”
History is always written by the victors sort of thing but this memorial was designed by the war machine and it is not a reflection on what actually happened from what I understand.
Peace and keep on keepin on Joe, you are getting good at this writing lark. 🙂
Thank you Jo for your very precise and frank witness,the re write of history it seems has always been. The centenary commemorations of 14/18 W War have had their share of re appraisals. The ultimate futility of the last centurys murder scape
presented by some “historians” as an “inevitable sacrifice”to a cause, even they cant quite define. (yet)
People such as myself appreciate your movement like never before, you are the vital living eyes and ears to our recent history and irreplaceable as such.
Angela is absolutely correct, and Joe’s article is “spot on.” The same kind of “white-washing” of the US’s War on Vietnam (actually on Laos and Cambodia, too) is on-going in the US. President Reagan called “Vietnam” a noble cause. That is rubbish – it is BS — up to 3 million people killed, atrocities committed (not just My Lai, but in “free fire zones”), and let’s not forget the use of Agent Orange and what it did to the Vietnamese and to our own military. War is evil, it is immoral, and it is a sin. No amount of propaganda (or doublespeak) can wash away the truth of what the US and Britain and other nations did in Afghanistan and in Iraq (and in Libya, Somalia, and now in Syria). Orwell must be shaking his head when he sees that his warning about how pernicious any government’s manipulation of language can pose a real danger to our society and our so-called “democracy.” So, again, to Joe, thank you for writing about this “celebration” of war and how the state utilizes such “honors” to sustain the myths and the lies that war serves a noble purpose.
I despair. I feel so powerless. I can understand that soldiers who served in these conflicts need to feel it was worthy or how do they cope? But this glamorous, glorious, twisted effergy is immoral. The justification makes the lies more obvious and apparent.
Perfectly put Mr Glenton.