Sunday, March 14, 2010

The further five o'clock follies....

Here’s a family anecdote. My grandfather survived three years in the trenches in the First World War. Sometime after he returned home to Manitoba (miraculously) and had a family of his own, he and my grandmother and their three children were having dinner one evening when my aunt, who was old enough to be aware of the war that her father had lived through but too young to see emotional pitfalls, asked: “Did you kill any Germans during the war, Daddy?” According to my father, my grandfather turned “white as a sheet” and rushed from the room. The subject was never again discussed, which of course was how people dealt with what couldn’t be dealt with.

These days, soldiers return home from wars with well described physical injuries, but also with unseen injuries of the heart and soul, much as my grandfather had. These wounds are now well known, but not well spoken, and even with the best of care their effects go on for lifetimes and further. Nevertheless, there exist many cheerleaders for war.

Consider from recent history the fabled Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) which applied the most powerful techniques of public relations to the moral and military disaster that was Vietnam. The daily press briefing (“the five o’clock follies”) was memorably described by Michael Herr in Dispatches as “an Orwellian grope through the day’s events as seen by the Mission”.

Now, we have a new “Mission” which in Canada at least is Afghanistan, and we have a new savage reincarnation of MACV as ISAF (International Security and Assistance Force), a wholly-owned subsidiary of NATO. You just can’t make this stuff up. On Friday, June 13, 2008, and one day after a “donors’ conference” promised $21 billion to Afghanistan (as long as it wasn’t going to be wasted like the first billions of dollars, or euros, whatever) the Kandahar central slammer, the Sarpoza Prison, was totaled in a highly professional hit, releasing almost all the prisoners, the whole thing having been organized by the Taliban. In recent memory there was an interview with Brigadier Gordon Messenger in Helmand, who was quoted by the Guardian as saying that “the Taliban's command structure had been 'fractured' and its fighters forced on to the backfoot”.

'[NATO forces] are disrupting areas where the Taliban have traditionally held sway', said Messenger, who led 40 Commando Royal Marines during the Iraq war and was recently appointed as an aide-de-camp to the Queen.”

Maybe the Queen bought it, the Taliban didn’t.

Meanwhile back at the world’s most highly defended Tim Horton’s, “Canadian forces and other NATO troops have been deployed to Kandahar after the main prison in the southern Afghan city was attacked by militants, who set most of the prisoners free.

“Maj. Jay Janzen, a spokesman for the Canadian Forces, said troops were on the scene and had established a security perimeter in the vicinity.

"We believe the situation is under control,” Janzen said, without elaborating.”

Absolutely, under control. The horses have gone, but the stable door is like, slammed tight. Well, OK, there was no door at that particular moment, but if there was one, it would be totally secure. ‘He [Major Janzen] said that despite last night's assault, the overall security situation in Kandahar, a former Taliban stronghold and Afghanistan's second-largest city, has been slowly improving. "Obviously, there are still challenges, and we continue to meet those challenges," he said.

Meanwhile back in Brussels, ISAF had knocked off for the weekend. The leading item on their website from the day of The Great Escape from Sarpoza was “ISAF commander congratulates Ministry of Interior for likely world’s largest seizure of narcotics”.

Cool. We’re making progress.

So I waited very impatiently for ISAF to open up on Monday June 16, 2008, to find out how they were going to spin this one. I imagined something MACV-like, or at least a fitting tribute to the Maximegalon Museum of Diseased Imaginings . For entertainment during the wait, nothing beat a dispatch from AFP on Sunday, June 15:

A man claiming to be one of the escapees called AFP from an unknown location to say the rebels had made it to safe havens.

"They (Taliban attackers) came in and freed us," the man who identified himself as Abdullah told AFP over the phone, adding there were buses waiting outside.

"A number of us who would not fit in the buses escaped through pomegranate gardens. We all are in safe places now," Abdullah said.

Buses? How can you organize buses without somebody noticing? So, on Monday June 16 some three days after the break, the freshly updated ISAF home page showed……nothing….. The Great Escape didn’t happen.

Finally, Wednesday June 18, 2008, ISAF admitted that: “ISAF bolster ANSF in Kandahar City”.

Whatever that means, you wouldn’t guess that about 1000 prisoners got broken out of Sarpoza Prison under the noses if ISAF five days previously, the jailbreak having been conducted in a highly organized and professional manner, the details including chartered buses for escaping prisoners. And so it goes on. The spirit of MACV, ISAF, Goebbels et al., that part of the human spirit that wants to sell lies in place of truth, is probably eternal. But as George Orwell showed, this malignancy can be fought: tooth, claw, and pen.

Meanwhile, we have further bombings in Kandahar, despite massive NATO reinforcements:

"The provincial governor, Tooryalai Wesa [the man from Coquitlam], was more circumspect. “We cannot say whether the prison was the main target,” he said, “or whether it was an attempt to get revenge on the Marja military operation or just to show they can sabotage the operation.”

"Mr. Wesa said the Taliban wanted to send the message, 'We can do whatever we want, everywhere in the city of Kandahar.'”