The Not So Lone Gunman

Tariq Ali

In most colonial wars people are arrested, tortured at random and killed. Not even a façade of legality is considered necessary. The ‘lone’ American gunman who butchered innocents in Afghanistan in the early hours of Sunday morning was far from being an exception. For this is not the act of a deranged maniac killing schoolchildren in an American city. The ‘lone’ killer is a sergeant in the US army. He’s not the first and won’t be the last to kill like this.

The French did the same in Algeria, the Belgians in the Congo, the British in Kenya and Aden, the Germans in South West Africa, the Boers in South Africa, the Israelis in Palestine, the US in Korea, Vietnam and Central America; and their surrogates have behaved similarly against their own populations throughout South America and much of Asia.

The Russian occupation of Afghanistan also witnessed ‘lone gunmen’ behaving in this fashion, but better-educated than many of their US counterparts they would write about the whys and wherefores in anguished diaries after they had been withdrawn. Rodric Braithwaite’s Afgantsy cites chapter and verse. There is no such thing as a ‘humanitarian’ war. The sooner this fact is accepted by the citizens of the occupying countries the easier it might become to mobilise support to oppose neocolonial adventures and the attendant atrocities.

It’s hardly a secret that most Afghans are opposed to the occupation of their country. Occupying soldiers are well aware of the fact. The ‘enemy’ is not hidden. It is the public. So wiping out women and children is part of the war. Helicopter gunships, bomber jets and drones are more effective killers than ‘lone’ gunmen. The situation in Afghanistan today is so dire that the occupying forces have no way of telling whether Afghans working with them are actually on their side or not. Some of the recent attacks on US and Nato soldiers have come from Afghans wearing police and military uniforms tailored by Nato. So everyone is now the enemy – even the puppet president Karzai, who knows his days are numbered though he, at least, has a few safe havens and numbered bank accounts waiting for him. For the US, the contradictions are implacable. The Afghans want them out and the war has become unwinnable.

So what is to be done? Get out now. These wars that dehumanise the ‘enemy’ also dehumanise the citizens of warmongering nations. We are made to live in a state of ignorance, but by our apathy contribute to making sure that such a state continues indefinitely. The individual gunman will soon disappear from our thoughts and we can then settle down to the routine killings that take place every day, carried out collectively on the orders of politicians that we elect.


  • 13 March 2012 at 6:13am
    SpinningHugo says:
    So was Lee Harvey Oswald not a 'lone' gunman because other people had previously shot other presidents?

    Laughable, and offensive at the same time. Well done.

    Nice use of scare quotes too.

    • 13 March 2012 at 2:02pm
      Geoff Roberts says: @ SpinningHugo
      Was Oswald still in the Marines? Try reading some of the comments on this massacre on American blogs and then give us the benefit of your wisdom. (The Daily Dish will get you there.

  • 13 March 2012 at 1:59pm
    Geoff Roberts says:
    For those who have not come across it, I would recommend reading "Achilles in Vietnam" by Jonathon Shay. In the First World War, they called it 'shell shock'. A friend told me that some of his older patients suffer from nightmares resulting from the horrific experiences during the Second World War. Women and children are most often the victims in the name of a 'just war' or a 'war on Terror'.

  • 14 March 2012 at 6:24pm
    Jacob says:
    'Lone gunman' or not, the wars are not simply examples of Western neo-colonialism or imperialism. Iraq is no longer under despotic rule of a dictator, Afganistan is no longer under the heel of a regressive, theocratic criminal regime. Libya is no longer run by a madman. Surely no-one would argue that those countries were better off under Saddam, the Taliban, and Gaddafi. While imperialist notions may have driven in part the actions of the US, NATO, and other countries that participated in those invasions, they are better off than under autocracy or theocracy. War is never humanitarian, yet there are times when war is neccesary, whether to prevent atrocity or defend legitimate national interests. And in war, there will always be casualties. These, more often than not, will be civilians and innocents.

    But there is a time and place for intervention, even if it is decried as neo-colonialism by critics. Iraq, Afganistan, Libya - every country suffering under the rule of an autocrat is the place, and the time had long passed. There is no such thing as a 'benevolent' or 'good' dictator, there is only a dictator. The results may be flawed or failures, such as the Iraq and Afganistan debacles, yet any gain in liberty is worth the cost of war. The Arab Spring showed the lengths a people are willing to go to depose their illegitimate rulers, yet it needs Western help. Libya would still be embroiled in a civil war, far bloodier and violent than it was, and due to Western inaction, the Syrian civilians and protesters in Homs and other places now tell stories of death squads and flagrant executions.

    Western moral legitimacy had been squandered with the facetious 'War on Terror'. But to regain it, the West needs to show that it will intervene, invade, and wage war on those who would oppress their countrymen. And there will be civilian deaths, 'lone gunman', and My Lai's. That is the nature of war, and the result of training young men to kill. It is unavoidable, and understandably avoided at almost any cost. But not at all costs. Afganistan is better off now, under the corrupt oligarchy that reigns than under the auspices of a murderous band of hypocritical zealots. To abandon them now back into the arms of a resurgent Taliban would negate all the pain and suffering both sides have struggled through. No war is just, and no nation-state's motives are pure. That does not discredit the neccessity of engaging in it.

    Liberty, equality, democracy, freedom. These are not 'Western' ideals - they are universal ideals. Ideals that apply equally to every man, woman and child on this planet, to all of humanity. If war provides some measure of advancement of those ideals, then, just or not, that war is neccesary.

    • 15 March 2012 at 1:43pm
      Oriole says: @ Jacob
      "every country suffering under the rule of an autocrat is the place..." And who decides? Is Kazakhstan suffering under the rule of an autocrat? Russia? How about the US, where the head of state proclaims the right (and has exercised it) to assassinate citizens who have not been accused of any crimes and where the evidence on which the killing presumably is based is not made public?

      You tell us that Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya are all better off. But Iraq and Afghanistan have seen massive loss of life and and forced migration, too, so it is clear that not everyone is better off from the foreign interventions. What is clear is that unleashing a war involves lots of killing, lots of suffering, in the here and now. This can't be justified by some vague hope that down the road, the invaded country will be better off. Rather, the evidence that things will be better, and quickly, too, has to be very substantial before letting loose the dogs of war in a foreign land, one not threatening to your own, can be justified. It is not true that "any gain in liberty is worth the cost of war." Like everything else, it depends on the size and likelihood of the gains and the costs. And in war, it is the costs that are more certain, and frequently immense.

    • 15 March 2012 at 6:04pm
      Jacob says: @ Oriole
      Common sense decides. It is not difficult to distinguish a legitimate government drawing its authority from the people, and a tyrant drawing his authority from excuse, whether it be ideology, religion, force or arms, etc. Despite the unfortune acts passed by the US government, it is still a legitimate government accepted by the majority of the people. That is, a democracy. Russia, the central Asian nations, and many other countries are not democracies, even if they take the ritual of republic. Tyranny by definition is illegitimate. That doesn't justify invading unprovoked, but there are two simple reasons when to intervene: either when a people have declared their government no longer represents them, or there is a clear and present danger to civilians.

      A regime that represses its people daily and forces fully half of its population into a status lower than dogs is one that presents 'a clear and present danger'. Afganistan is better off now, even with the fractious government and tribal rivalries than it was under the Taliban. Iraq is better off now, even with an ongoing civil war, than it was under Saddam Hussein, a man who'd not hesitated to gas tens of thousands of people. Should they have been left in power, Afganistan would still be a proxy state of the ISI and run by a glorified band of criminals cloaked in religious law. Iraq would perhaps have undergone its own Arab Spring, with the same reaction as Assad, Mubarak, Ben Ali, Saleh, and Al Khalifa - repression and murder.

      There is no just cause for war. There is neccesary cause. Iraq was a mistake, a neccesary mistake. When launching a war, you can never be sure that things will get better quickly. To use that as the only justification, as many of the world's nations do, including the West, consigns millions to live in poverty and suffering. That is unconsciousable. So yes, the costs are outweighed by the benefits of liberty.

    • 16 March 2012 at 7:23pm
      Oriole says: @ Jacob
      Jacob, my friend, we remain far apart. You invoke "common sense" and "two simple reasons," but these pleasing phrases are too vague. Is it really all that obvious when a people declares that their government no longer represents them? Russia again comes to mind.

      Bringing liberty to a country through the barrel of a gun is a parlous business. You keep telling us that Iraq is better off, Afghanistan is better off -- but your telling us this does not make it so. We don't (and can't) know the counterfactual; surely reasonable people could decline to share your opinion. How many more hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would have had to have lost their lives before you would be willing to say that the country is not better off for the invasion? As it stands, you seem to hold that the benefits of (some increase in) liberty are worth any cost, that more liberty, even if imposed by external force, trumps all. Once again, reasonable people, and perhaps those who bear those costs, might not sign on.

      Let me suggest another view about exporting democracy via military invasion. (Of course, the original justification for the Iraq war wasn't so much about promoting democracy, as I recall). Just a general rule, not a theorem: if a democracy installed through a foreign invasion can be sustained, then the invasion is not necessary: internal forces could bring about democracy. (The invasion or other forms of foreign intervention might be helpful, of course). If the democracy proves not to be sustainable, then the invasion is much worse than unnecessary.

    • 21 March 2012 at 5:40am
      Davidx says: @ Jacob
      How breathtaking arrogant to say: "Iraq is better off now,even with an ongoing civil war, than it was under Saddam Hussein", when it's not your world that has been turned upside down. Perhaps you should ask some people who live in Iraq what they think.

  • 15 March 2012 at 7:58pm
    rdeprospo2 says:
    Recall also what the New York Times reported, 3/15/12:

    — The mullah was astounded and a little angered to be asked why the accidental burning of Korans last month could provoke violence nationwide, while an intentional mass murder that included nine children last Sunday did not.

    “How can you compare the dishonoring of the Holy Koran with the martyrdom of innocent civilians?” said an incredulous Mullah Khaliq Dad, a member of the council of religious leaders who investigated the Koran burnings. “The whole goal of our life is religion.”

  • 15 March 2012 at 10:23pm
    MWJ says:
    Really a very nasty bit of cant & piffle.

    One represents all, of course. Very old sophistical trick.

    I just hope noone imagines that this is analysis. Marx & Engels on their worst day were never so feeble.

    But yes, we must be going. Soon the Americans will be gone and then we'll see how the "unoccupied" Afghanistan fares.

  • 16 March 2012 at 1:11am
    gotnotruck says:
    Marx, and Engels are doing well now they've taken Capitalism, like Jesus, into their lives. I was against all wars until someone asked me about our revolutionary war. If you'd won, you'd be the 52nd state. Then there's the American Civil War. My family owned slaves in Charleston, SC, which, a majority white city, voted for Obama in '08. I was in the civil rights movement in the South. WWI was a truly stupid one in which we joined you. Something about a special relationship, not blue blooded. Leading to the Biggie. We were all so good until the end. We were "over sexed, over paid and over here". We gave $ to our enemies, but to you, blown to smithereens? O? Was it good to stop at the border of that People's Paradise, N Korea? Cuba, El Salvador, NIcaragua, are leftist icons. Carter tried to give aid to the Sandanistas. "No thanks!" We need you as the Evil Empire. Don't want you to gag but we were attacked, so are legally in Afghanistan. Obviously a BAD idea. First because war doesn't stop terrorism, and second, counter insurgencies don't work at all. Unless you're on your own turf, as we were against you. Or as you in the one you don't mention. You'd been a long time in Ireland. Weren't allowing people burials by Catholic priests.The left in America and Canada usually sided with the IRA. People at airports openly soliciting funds in labeled buckets. Annoyed me when a snotty sounding Irishman on the BBC today said that Americans didn't get St Patrick's Day. Irish Americans just get drunk. He instructed them not to drink Black and Tans, and explained why. He didn't seem to know what we know, so assumed we don't. How novel. No novels about Vietnam. How bout films?

    • 19 March 2012 at 10:51am
      Harry Stopes says: @ gotnotruck
      You what?

  • 16 March 2012 at 10:26am
    Greco1 says:
    Jacob's arguments supporting the various interventions on the grounds of removing dictators and occasionally to reduce torture or bloodshed do not stand up I fear.

    In Iraq & Afghanistan, the common result has been the devastation of the country's infrastructure for years to come, the creation of millions of refugees, the death of uncounted hundreds of thousands of the locals. The same, on a smaller scale, is true of Libya which has plunged into a new dictature and an unreported chaos at a cost in lives which has been far higher than the supposed threatened massacre in Benghazi which provided the excuse for Nato intervention.

    The final position is one in which democracy is not assured in any way, communities are at each other's throats, the US attempts to secure bases and client states from which to control the area in the long term and counter any anti American sentiment or Chinese influence while Western commercial interests benefit from the destruction and lack of security and also secure valuable oil contracts.

    A year ago a French journalist outlined how Qatar and Saudi Arabia (democracies??) were planning to infiltrate arms and subversive forces into Syria to eliminate almost the only country left in the ME which was not under Western control. And no doubt they had the covert support of the CIA, MI6 and the like, as well as Mossad.

    This replication of the Libyan scenario, except so far for the NATO bombing, is well under way, and Israel is now preparing the ground for the elimination of Iran as the only remaining counter to its regional military domination and threat to its ongoing oppression and elimination of the Palestinians, gradually reduced to
    little enclaves without economic viability or any independence of action.

    The hypocrisy of the West and of the reporting in the West is shameful. Poor Syria, poor Iran, poor Somalia too by the way.

    • 16 March 2012 at 4:38pm
      Jacob says: @ Greco1
      As I stated, the costs are immense, but I've yet to see an argument that those countries would have been better off if the US and the West had not interfered. I agree that the hypocrisy is shameful, but there are strong and growing secular and liberal forces in Israel mobilising to stem the tide of ultra-conservative ideas.

      It is a common mistake amongst my fellow socialists now to equate the West with imperialism. First liberty, then equality. History has taught us that the other way around only breeds tyranny.

    • 17 March 2012 at 2:58pm
      Greco1 says: @ Jacob
      Jacob, yes as you say there are such liberal forces in Israel and the diaspora, and our hopes rest with their rapid growth. My good wishes to you.

  • 18 March 2012 at 6:31pm
    lizburbank says:
    Based largely on official documents and analyses, the following reveal a systematic foundation for winning support for imperialist-colonialist wars- exemplified in 'a lone gunman'MSM coverage:

    3/8 The Real News: “Public Diplomacy Grand Strategy”

    3/11/12 “Kony 2012″ & US AFRICOM

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