The Sweet Stink of Charity


If we can forget, for a moment, the hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis who have been killed, and the suicide-a-day in 2012 for U.S. servicemen and women, let’s turn to one NATO ally – the UK.

This week, in the unlikely setting of a London room, off Piccadilly, where Lord Byron burnt his memoirs (below the gilded room, his daughter Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer program in history), Britain’s former defence secretary, Liam Fox, inaugurated a new scheme to help those scarred by recent wars. Even Ada Lovelace, of course, would  have gasped at how a corruption of Enlightenment and computational values could have catalysed these battles.

There are thousands of NATO soldiers returning from the killing fields of Central Asia and the Middle East. “Afghan Heroes: Give Us Time” allows traumatized British soldiers and their families to use the summer homes of the well-heeled to try and come to terms with limbs, souls and comrades lost. It will surely bring succour and relief to those in need. And it looks like it may well be rolled out around the world.

The scheme has some big corporate backers. A major sponsor is Serco, a disreputable private firm which runs into controversy every other day over its transcontinental profiteering.Whenever I meet widows, bereaved mothers, disabled soldiers from the countries that began wars on developing nations, it never ceases to amaze me how poorly treated they are by their governments. On one of my TV shows – now banned in Britain – we had the estimable killer, Colonel Stuart Tootal of the British Third Parachute Regiment talk about it. Tootal led the British advance into Afghanistan’s Helmand province in April 2006. The combat intensity of just his six-month tour of duty has apparently not been experienced by the British since the Korean War.

Tootal resigned from the army, condemning the poor pay of British soldiers, the lack of equipment, the standard of UK Army housing and treatment by Britain’s National Health Service. He had no regrets when I asked him whether he felt his actions might be “disloyal.” He is seen as a hero by his colleagues.

It was the British Labour party that began the UK’s involvement in these wars and Liam Fox, who was beaten by David Cameron to lead the Conservative Party, inherited them as defence secretary when the Tories came to power in 2010. Fox then resigned his position in October over apparent misuse of public money so it was a little ironic to hear him speak of the need for a bootstrap, private charitable approach to the after-care of ex-servicemen and women. But, then, he is deeply Thatcherite in his belief that it must be private charity not the taxpayer that should pay for curing the scars left by the mental and physical torture of tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The problem is that there are just so many charities, now – seemingly one for each regiment. Each one desperately tries to get basic care for those who fought in these recent, idealistic campaigns.

Fox is a steadfast supporter of the Bush-Blair-Obama wars. He was the UK-chairman of Atlantic Bridge, a self-styled organization of Atlanticist warmongery which counted Karl Rove as its cheerleader in the Bush White House. The Advisory Council of this neocon outfit that tried to tie UK foreign policy to that of U.S. wars reportedly includes Britain’s Finance Minister, George Osborne, its Education Minister Michael Gove and its Foreign Minister, William Hague. Doubtless the charity, “Afghan Heroes: Give Us Time”, founded with deep empathy for the suffering of soldiers, will gain patronage from such ministers. They, like most Britons, would wish that the sacrifices of servicemen and women are not forgotten after being sent to the frontline.

Fox chose, though, to allude to a minority that perhaps want them forgotten, pointedly emphasising the need to pour scorn on those who do not respect the troops. I presume he is right, as the only people who care to protest at the UK funerals of the fallen in Afghanistan or Iraq are bizarre collections of British Salafists. They are duly despised in the media and there is an on-going campaign to ban their demonstrations. Everyone, it would seem, would want to curtail the freedom to demonstrate against those who fight for freedom.

And surreally, NATO again allies itself with Salafists (cf. 1980s Afghanistan, 1990s Yugoslavia, 2000 Iraq and 2011 Libya) in yet another self-defeating adventure abroad, this time in Syria. Munitions of NATO and her allies are being smuggled across the Lebanese and Turkish borders to the Jihadists. But if the latest madcap operation requires money, it may well also require blood. If so, NATO soldiers will again need after-care. One hopes that the well-heeled have enough summer homes to fit them all in.

I would advise the rich who are fretting about lack of room, let alone worrying about the current catastrophic economic crisis, to read an essay written one hundred and twenty-one years ago. If they believe in the honour of military sacrifice and pity those who have fought and who are now poor, they can surely spare the time to read “The Soul Under Man..” by Oscar Wilde. It is instructive about feeling bad for NATO military families who have been ripped apart by neo-colonial liberal forays, instructive about the need for a government bailout rather than private charities. It isn’t chippy. In fact, if they can’t spare the time – it is Royal Ascot in Diamond Jubilee year – they could even just read the Wikipedia entry:

In “The Soul of Man”, Wilde argues that, under capitalism, “the majority of people spoil their lives by an unhealthy and exaggerated altruism—are forced, indeed, so to spoil them”: instead of realising their true talents, they waste their time solving the social problems caused by capitalism, without taking their common cause away. Thus, caring people “seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see in poverty but their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it” because, as Wilde puts it, “the proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible.”

Wilde did not see kindness or altruism per se as a problem; what worried him was its misapplication in a way which leaves unaddressed the roots of the problem: “the altruistic virtues have really prevented the carrying out of this aim.”

So, let’s spare a thought for military families in NATO countries but also, the bane of Charity – even more so now, when the only jobs in NATO countries are for soldiers. Maybe it takes an understanding of the bane of Charity before one can even begin to comprehend how to give comfort to the millions in developing nations whose lives have been destroyed by the NATO alliance.

AFSHIN RATTANSI runs Alternate Reality Productions Ltd. One of its commissions is Double Standards, a political satire show for Press TV, broadcast every Saturday at 2230 GMT. Shows can be accessed via www.doublestandardstv.com. He can be reached via afshinrattansi@hotmail.com

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