With the impending US partial withdrawal from Afghanistan looming closer, some sections of the liberal intelligentsia and the ex-left civil society in Pakistan tacitly try to portray US imperialism as a lesser evil in comparison with the Taliban and the fundamentalist terror groups who have wreaked havoc in the region. However draconian and brutal these Islamists are, which no doubt they are and perhaps worse, this does not exonerate the harrowing crimes that imperialism has committed against mankind throughout its history.
Marx described imperialism in the first volume of Capital as: “If money, according to Augier, ‘comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek,’ capital in the form of imperialism comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt” (Chapter 31). The whole history of imperialism is riddled with occupation, plunder, subjugation and bloodshed. The first and second world wars were the outcome of this imperialist lust for land, markets and profits. Millions perished. Since 1945, to counter the revolts in ex-colonial countries and to protect similar vested interests, imperialists have been waging wars relentlessly with more destruction and loss of innocent lives than in the two great wars of the last century.
In the last half-century, western imperialists waged many wars of aggression such as in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Imperialism faced ignominious defeats. However, the mainstream media concealed their brutalities. In Vietnam, according to US investigative journalist and author Nick Turse in his book Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, a book based on classified documents, spells out that the intentional killing of civilians was quite common in this war, which claimed two million civilian lives, with 5.3 million civilians wounded and 11 million refugees. On top of this, more than four million were subjected to toxic defoliants like Agent Orange. Vietnam’s government claimed that 400,000 people were killed or maimed as a result of Agent Orange and that 500,000 children were born with birth defects.
German historian Bernd Greiner mentions the investigation by the Peers Commission and the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group: “In the course of Operation Speedy Express large-scale operations an unknown number of non-combatant civilians were killed either accidentally or deliberately. The total number of victims may have reached tens of thousands during the entire war.” Air force captain Brian Wilson, who carried out bomb-damage assessments in free-fire zones throughout the delta, saw the results firsthand: “It was the epitome of immorality...One of the times I counted bodies after an air strike — which always ended with two napalm bombs, which would just fry everything that was left — I counted 62 bodies. In my report, I described them as so many women between 15 and 25 and so many children — usually in their mothers’ arms or very close to them — and so many old people.” When he later read the official tally of the dead, he found that it listed them as 130 Viet Cong killed.
In Iraq, the killings have been much higher than those slaughtered in Vietnam by the imperialists before and after the invasion. The sanctions that were enforced by the US and UK remained for more than 13 years. They were ‘weapons of mass destruction’ far deadlier than anything Saddam had developed. Two UN administrators for relief operations at the time resigned, baptising the embargo as a “crime against humanity”. More than 70 percent of the food supplies to Iraq were imported from its oil revenues. From vaccines to hospital equipment and even medical journals were blocked from entering Iraq. According to Denis Halliday, a UN humanitarian coordinator, “US theory behind the sanctions was that if you hurt the people and kill children particularly, they would rise up in anger and overthrow Saddam...the people blamed the US and the UN for the pain and anger these sanctions brought to their lives.” In 1999, a UNICEF study concluded that, “Half a million Iraqi children perished in the previous eight years because of these sanctions.” The occupation of Iraq in 2003 devastated the social and physical infrastructure. Sown were seeds of division, enmity between Iraq’s disparate peoples. Since the withdrawal of imperialist troops, this sectarian and ethnic orgy of bloodshed and terrorism verves on, slaughtering in 2013 more than 10,000 Iraqis. This frenzy of religious butchery and mayhem rages on with no end in sight.
The situation in Afghanistan is no different. After 13 years of the imperialist invasion, and bombings by cluster bombs and daisy cutters, the country is in the throes of a conflagration. None of the war aims have been realised. Karzai is confined to his bunkers in Kabul and Taliban attacks are on the rise. Along with the rhetoric of talks, atrocities against women, children and civilians are worsening. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans have been killed and maimed; millions are displaced with no prospects of any tranquillity in the period ahead. However, detestation of the imperialist invaders is seething. A report in Toronto’s Globe and Mail says, “A new large scale poll has found that Afghans overwhelmingly favour the Taliban over NATO forces and their chosen government.” A UN report released last week showed that malnutrition increased by more than 50 percent. There has been a 25 percent increase in the violence against women, matching the Taliban’s years in power. Even the CIA’s report admits that life expectancy fell from 46.2 years in 2001 to 45 years in 2011. Sixty percent of children are malnourished and only 27 percent of Afghans have access to safe drinking water. Officially, 2,806 US and 447 British soldiers have been killed since 2001. According to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, the total cost of the war has been a colossal $ 641.7 billion.
The conditions of the people are pathetic. Patrick Cockburn writes in The Independent: “I interviewed an estate agent who pointed to some workmen outside his office window saying they earned between five and six dollars a day in a city where to rent a decent house for their families would cost $ 1,000 a month. He went on to say, “It is impossible for this situation to continue without a revolution. Elections are now so fraudulent as to rob the winners of legitimacy. The April 2014 election is likely to be worse than anything seen before, with 20.7 million voter cards distributed in a country where half the population of 27 million is under the voting age of 18.”
These are the harrowing tales of imperialism’s naked aggression in these wars. The liberal apologists of imperialism only play in the hands of obscurantist Islamists. The imperialists are not alien to these ‘terrorists’, had no hesitation in the past and will have no qualms in the future to engage Islamic fundamentalists for their strategic interests. After all, they are two sides of the same coin.
The Israeli attack on Gaza, to say the least, is entirely despicable. Press coverage in the US ...