My favourite gen-x pop culture and nuclear holocaust obsessive does a quick explanation of how fucked up growing up as a kid in the shadow of mutually assured destruction was in the eighties, compared to in hindsight much less scary fifties and sixties:
While the early Atomic Era spread its cultural tendrils far and wide, they were nowhere near as up front and morbidly (and joyously) blatant as they were when I was kid. It was prevalent enough in the mellow malaise of the late Seventies, but went into hypercriticality after Reagan took office and ramped up the belligerent rhetoric alongside the nation’s nuclear stockpiles. The specter of armageddon overshadowed every aspect of my formative years. There was no escape even in the traditional avenues of escapism.
It’s not that a nuclear war wouldn’t have mussed up our hair had say the Cuban Missile Crisis turned hot — and certainly we here in Europe would’ve been screwed — but there were so many more nuclear weapons aimed at us in the eighties, so many more opportunities to see it all go horribly wrong. We all know that on at least one occasion only the willingness of a fairly low level Soviet officer to wait just a bit longer before launching the missiles. Or the other way around, having Reagan joke on live television that the bombing starts in five minutes, which almost starts the bombing for real. An aggressive military build-up by a Republican administration talking about a winnable nuclear war combined with a paranoid, verging on the senile Soviet leadership meant that when NATO started a particularly realistic military exercise including preparations for nuclear war, we got as close to the real thing as we’d ever got. Note that this happened only a month or so after Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov managed to save the world from nuclear death by false alarm.
The weight of it actually broke my brain during junior high school. There was stretch of my eighth grade year where I lived in constant panic of sirens, the sound of jets overhead, and unexpected interruptions during TV or radio broadcasts. I was afraid to sleep, because it brought nightmares where my family and friends would rot away and die from radiation poisoning. It was triggered by reading a book club edition of On The Beach, but amplified by years of ceaseless atomic anxiety.
It’s no wonder that pop culture and the public consciousness was drenched in nuclear war. I remember the nightmares, triggered by reading pop science articles or seeing something about Pershing or cruise missiles deployments on the evening news. The Netherlands is not quite small enough that a single h-bomb would destroy it, but it was pretty clear even as a kid, especially one like me who was a bit of a military nerd, that there were enough targets here that it didn’t matter much where in the country you lived come World War III. I wasn’t quite as traumatised as Andrew Weis describes here, but the nuclear nightmares recurred through most of the eighties.
It doesn’t matter that Brian Haw was hanging around with D\avid I\cke kooks too much at the end of his life or that his death was posibbly hastened by putting his trust into quackery rather than proper medicine, nor do questions of how effective an anti-war protestor he was. After all, none of us managed to prevent the Wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, while the War on Libya has proved we haven’t even learned anything from those disasters. What mattered was that Brian Haw had the courage of his convictions to camp out in front of Parliament for years, serving as a living reminder to the fuckers who had voted for these wars that no, the people of Britain did not agree with them and thought them wrong.
He did this so well that the then Labour government created and implemented a law designed specifically to stop him demonstrating in Parliament Square. In typical New Labour fashion, they did this so ineptly that the resulting law applied everybody but him, as he was grandfathered in. (The law only allowed demonstrations to take place if at the start of a demo it had police approval, but Brian Haw had started his demonstration years ago, so…)
Somebody who managed to get under the skin of Blair and co to such an extent that they had to change the law to get rid of him (and failed) and who did so for all the right reasons, deserves our deepest respect.
The arrest of Ratko Mladić today has put the Srebrenica massacre back in the spotlight. It was the greatest warcrime in postwar European history and it’s our national shame. Srebrenica is the reason why I stopped believing in humanitarian interventions: here finally there had been a clearcut case, a chance to stand against the same sort of evil we had been liberated from fifty years before and we fucked it up.
In Srebrenica Holland had the opportunity to prevent genocide, but instead we enabled it. For fifty years we’ve grown up with the stories about World War II and the moral choices our parents and grandparents had to make, for fifty years we had known that we would’ve made the right choices, that we would have been part of the resistance, as every book, movie and television series told us we would’ve been. Yet at the first real test, the first chance for us to prevent the same sort of evil we had read so much about, we fucked up. Our commanders liked the Serb leaders much better — so cultured and European — than the not quite civilised Muslim combatants. Our soldiers were glad to trade in their guns and bullet proof vests for a chance to go home and tried to think too hard about the men they were supposed to protect. Our politicians spoke of a tragedy and a crime but were firm and insistent that the Netherlands were not to blame, that “our boys” had “done their best” and that there had been nothing more that they could’ve done. It would’ve been better had we not been there.
Had we not been there to establish a safe haven that wasn’t, had we not been there to give people a false sense of security, all those Bosnian Muslims wouldn’t have been trapped there and some 8,000 men and boys might still be alive today. At the very least they wouldn’t have been trapped unarmed and been handed over to their murders so easily. Our humanitarian intervention only make things worse and since then I’ve always been convinced it almost always will.
The current Dutch government has decided the department of defence needs to save one billion euros on its budget to help pay for the bankers crisis, which in concrete terms means that the current support for NATO’s airwar in Libya is Holland’s last imperialistic adventure for the foreseeable future. To pay for its deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade the Dutch army already had had to cannibalise itself, selling of equipment like the brand new Panzerhaubitze 2000 only afew years after they had been taken into service. Now the army is going to get rid off even more stuff, including all its remaining tanks and nineteen more F-16 fighters, as well as four out of ten minehunter ships, not to mention a fair few airforce and army bases. More importantly, 10,000 jobs will disappear: some through natural wastage, others by not filling in vacancies but most, some 6,000 in total will be through redundancies.
It will be hard on these people of course, not to mention on the towns and cities dependent on the bases threatened with the chop. Yet I can’t help but wonder, as I’ve done before, why we’re keeping an army anyway if we’re not willing or able to spent the money to support it properly. What do we really need an army for when the chances of war breaking out in our corner of Europe are the lowest they’ve ever been in the past two thousand years. Is it just there to, like we did the past decade, tool about in other people’s countries in service of some vaguely worded humanitarian interests everytime the US or UK ask us to? Now we can’t even do that anymore the moment is there to give it the chop entirely, transfer those few elements we might still need to the police forces, then spent the money we would’ve spent keeping useless armour in service to retraining our soldiers for more useful vocations.
the case for or against a ‘humanitarian intervention’ rests on answering two broad questions: has the level of violence reached such a threshold that the use of counter-force is morally justifiable and is it a practical, strategic option that will actually make things better for the people concerned?
I do not know what the end game is. I accept that the campaign will result in people being killed by allied airstrikes and I presume that the intervening governments have selfish as well as altruistic motives for their actions. However, I think that the situation in Libya immediately prior to the intervention passed the threshold test that I set out above. I think that the UN is fulfilling its responsibility to protect the lives of civilians in this case.
My own view: never support a military action you are not in control off. Because whatever your motivations might be, you can never be sure they are shared by those actually waging the war. And while Conor might disdain the “search for the hidden ‘real reasons’ for military interventions”, motivations do matter. What is the intervention attempting to achieve? What are the countries participating prepare to do to reach this goal? How well does this goal match Conor’s own reasons for supporting the intervention? Can we be sure the desire to protect Libyan civilians — any Libyan civilians, even those supporting Khadaffi — is as great as the desire to get Khadaffi? Can we stop the intervention if it’s clear it makes things worse? Can you really trust countries that only months ago were eager to embrace Khadaffi, sell him weapons and buy his oil? What will happen if Khadaffi is killed or goes into exile? If the airstrikes don’t work, what then?
All questions we don’t have the answers to, nor have the power to decide upon ourselves and because we don’t, time and again we find that the wars we supported for the best of reasons actually make things worse. Never support military interventions you don’t have any control over.