Obviously, any British Service personnel in the conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan will never be able to say “they were obeying orders”, should some so-far fanciful idea of a Nuremberg Tribunal ever come to pass. So if we can ignore the possibility that all who took part in the occupations of these two countries could be liable under Principle IV established by the UN in 1950 let alone mounting evidence of the systemic use of torture by the U.S.-led alliance, let’s take a look at the forlorn veterans.
The U.S. army doesn’t seem overly concerned as they have only allocated $17m into research on the high rates of suicide amongst its 24 million veterans – about a tenth of AIG’s annual bonus payments last year. The U.S. Army Times reported back in April that every day, 18 veterans commit suicide. And we now know that more than 1,100 soldiers killed themselves between 2005 and 2009 – more than those killed in theatre, since the bombing of Afghanistan began in 2001. Britain fares much better, but even if it’s not a third of Britain’s male homeless population that are veterans (as is the case in the U.S.), many returning soldiers have to rely on charity to stay alive.
Organisations such as Veterans Aid in the UK, help homeless British vets but by far the biggest charity for those returning from the wars is the Royal British Legion. Founded after the war to end all wars, it’s run into controversy because it now benefits from the legacy given to it by Tony Blair. Blair got around seven and a half million dollars for his book advance and his money looks like the biggest ever single donation to the Legion. But the Legion’s fundraising has long been based around the selling of a symbol rather than Tony Blair’s excuses for war.
The British symbol of remembrance is a red paper flower on a green plastic stem. Newsreaders in Britain have been lashed in the media for refusing to wear them, such is the social stigma of questioning the wearing of a poppy in the weeks around the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. At least, the black plastic ‘stigma’ of the paper poppy no longer bears the words ‘Haig Fund’, referring to Earl Haig, who went down in history for his repeated orders for tens of thousands to die pointlessly at Passchendaele, Ypres and the Somme. Later, the Royal British Legion chairman Major Francis Fetherston-Godley would be photographed with Herrs Hitler and Goering, spending pleasant hours being photographed in the run up to the Second World War. Today, the Legion at least put forward a motion questioning medical treatment for troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq – around the time that scandals erupted both in Britain and, over the pond, at the Walter Reed facility.
Such is the tabloid frenzy over poppy day that the white poppy movement, dedicated to decoupling the military from remembrance never had much success, even if white poppies with ‘no more war’ in their centres were first sold in the 1930s. As for the meaning of the red poppy, it was clear what they meant in the north of Ireland – a clear sign of support for occupying UK troops, throughout The Troubles.
It is clear that while desperately poor war veterans may be grateful for charity, most grateful is the government which doesn’t have to shoulder the responsibility for after-care. And the corporate media are only too happy to back an appeal which — at its real core — is a demonstration of laissez faire: that taxes should not be raised to pay for the care of those who have been ordered to fight. Taxes are for privatisation-sweeteners and arms.
It is in this context that one has to view tabloid rants against Muslims in Britain – just at a time when the new coalition government here is using the solecism of ‘banking’ to excuse the removal of universal social services. There will be plenty of picking on the marginalised to accompany the cuts and it will be encouraged by the corporate media. It was in ecstasy when an ex-con Muslim called Omar Brooks said that people shouldn’t wear poppies because they show support for ‘murder and illegal war’. As the veils over radio talkshow hosts’ Islamophobia become thin enough to be invisible, it may well be too late for any Jon Stewart-style extravaganza, this side of the pond.
The BBC’s presenters, poppies in their lapels, keenly introduced a report on Gaza the other day. The story the Today programme uncovered concerned the competition between donkeys and Asian tuk-tuks instead of the abiding misery of, say, its tortured children. Between hiring spooky pro-Israel diplomatic correspondents like Mark Urban of Newsnight and cutting BBC World Service radio in English to pay for propaganda TV stations in Persian to destabilise Iran, it seems one should be wary of any British journalist wearing the Flanders poppy.
Of course, all of this ignores what I wrote in the first paragraph – that there are a fair number around the world who believe that anyone taking part in the recent U.S.-led wars of occupation could be culpable under Nuremberg. We know from Wikileaks of at least 21 British attacks on civilians, including children. And from a preliminary High Court hearing, here in the UK, we know of 59 cases of Iraqi civilians who say they were hooded by British troops, 11 subjected to electric shocks, 122 alleging that ear muffs were used for sound deprivation, 52 deprived of sleep and the list goes on. At least the poppy can symbolise inadequate funds for veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. Or perhaps just heroin what with the resurgent opiate production boosted by the orders of Presidents Bush and Obama.
AFSHIN RATTANSI has helped launch and develop television networks and has worked at the BBC Today programme, CNN International, Bloomberg News, Al Jazeera Arabic, the Dubai Business Channel, Press TV and The Guardian. His quartet of novels, “The Dream of the Decade” is available on Amazon.com. He is executive producer and host of “Alternate Reality” and co-hosts “Rattansi & Ridley” with Yvonne Ridley on international satellite TV channel, Press TV. He can be reached at email@example.com