Zionism and international ultra-right parties – the warm embrace of political brethren

The fascistic President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, visited the state of Israel in March/April this year, where he was warmly welcomed. His tour of that state is just the latest in a series of building connections and links between far-right anti-Semitic political figures and the Israeli government. In December last year, the Italian Interior Minister and leader of the racist anti-immigrant Lega Party, Matteo Salvini, visited the Israeli state where he declared his unconditional support for the regime in Tel Aviv.

It is no exaggeration to state that Israel has actively courted the friendship and connections of ultra-rightist and anti-immigrant parties and ideologues from around the world. In turn, the latter have expressed their ideological support for the ethnocratic Zionist project, while holding explicitly anti-Semitic viewpoints. Why is there an open and burgeoning alliance between the far-right fascistic parties and the state of Zionist Israel?

It is interesting to note that Salvini, a powerful member of Italy’s rightist coalition government, has revived the politics and themes of Italian fascism for a modern audience. The late Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, enacted anti-Semitic legislation in the 1930s, leading to the deportation – and subsequent murder – of Italian Jews in concentration camps. Salvini has declared his intention to rid Italy of its Roma population in language reminiscent of the anti-Semitic terms deployed by Italian fascism against Jews.

The Zionist state has become a pole of attraction for various anti-immigrant, neo-fascist politicians and far-right ideologues because of the shared ideological kinship between Zionism and other ultra-rightist political philosophies. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has framed his outreach to neo-fascist and ultra-rightist forces as an exercise in pragmatic realpolitik, this rationale ignores the underlying commonalities between Zionism and ultra-rightist nationalism.

Political Zionism, being one variant of extreme ultranationalism, is admired by the international far-right for its push to construct an ethnocratic state based on the exclusion and dispossession of the Palestinians. Zionism regards the Jewish people worldwide as forming one, biologically-based indivisible nation, incapable of assimilating into the countries of their residence. This is a mirror reflection of the basic logic of the anti-Semite.

Netanyahu’s embrace of anti-Semites and ultra-rightist figures is neither opportunistic in origin nor accidental. Yvonne Ridley, writing about the open alliance between Zionism and ultranationalist, racist groups, states that:

Israel certainly has hooked up with some of the world’s most odious anti-Semites since the State was founded on Palestinian land in 1948. Such links would, no doubt, have had the blessing of Theodor Herzl, the godfather of political Zionism. Promoting Jewish migration to Palestine around the turn of the twentieth century he wrote, “The anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.”

One of Israel’s staunchest European allies is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The latter travelled to the state of Israel in 2018, and expressed his support for that nation. Orban makes for a seemingly strange political bedfellow of the Jewish state, having stated his admiration for wartime Hungarian dictator Admiral Miklos Horthy. In the 1930s and 40s, Horthy implemented anti-Semitic measures, cooperating with Nazi Germany in deporting and killing thousands of Jews. Orban’s praise of a wartime Nazi collaborator and killer is apparently no obstacle in forming friendly relations with Tel Aviv.

Not only anti-Semitic heads-of-state are welcomed by Israel’s supporters. Steve Bannon, former chief strategist for the Trump administration and ultra-rightist political operator, is a strong supporter of Zionism. Feted by the Zionist Organisation of America at a gala dinner in November 2017, Bannon has maintained strident anti-Semitic viewpoints, but these have posed no difficulties in acquiring friends in pro-Zionist organisations.

Let us not underestimate the influence of Islamophobia is cementing the alliance between Zionism and the far-right. Ramzy Baroud and Romana Rubeo, writing in Al Jazeera, make the perceptive observation that ultra-rightist groups and political ideologues view Israel’s suppression and exclusion of Palestinians as a strike against a common Muslim enemy. With increasing numbers of refugees from Muslim-majority countries seeking asylum in Europe and America, the far-right has fixated on a new enemy out-group, and seeks ways to counter what they perceive as ‘encroachments’ on Western civilisation – in their distorted worldview.

The ultranationalist right looks to Israel for ways to deal with the Islamic outsider. Consider the following statement by Dutch ultra-rightist MP Geert Wilders. In 2015, warning that Islamic immigration posed a threat to Europe, he stated his proposed solution:

Look at Israel, learn from Israel; Israel is an island in a sea of Islamic barbarism. Israel is a beacon of freedom and prosperity in a region of Islamic darkness. Israel refuses to be overrun by jihadists. So should we.”

The Israeli government is itself a contributor to the resurgence of far-right and ultranationalist politics worldwide. Netanyahu’s willingness to ally with ultra-rightist militarists and Islamophobic fanatics in his own cabinet make him a willing accomplice in an international far-right project to acquire ideological rehabilitation – a crucial step towards state power.

When ultra-rightist Islamophobic parties make common cause with Israel’s ongoing offensive against the Palestinians, they are not only making Israel’s fight their own, but are also making Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land into a global cause. By cleverly affixing the tag ‘clash of civilisations’ to Israel’s construction of settlements on and annexation of Palestinian territory, the far-right’s ideology gains legitimacy among Israel’s supporters.

Creating an ethnic majoritarian nationalism on the ground in the Palestinian territories is a shining example of how the ultranationalist right intends to carve out a ‘cleansed’ whites-only majoritarian project on what it regards as its own turf. By applauding far-right bigotry under the guise of ‘countering Muslims’, the ultranationalist right is only emboldened to increase its attacks on all ethnic and religious minorities. There is an alternative course of action: rather than constructing alliances with far-right and white supremacist groups, Jews and Muslims can and must combine to fight the menace of bigotry and oppose the violence such hatred engenders.

A grim milestone – the four-year anniversary of the Saudi attack on Yemen

March 26 this year marks the fourth anniversary of the Saudi war on the nation of Yemen. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is also a major participant in this assault, committing thousands of ground troops. This Saudi-Emirati campaign would not be possible without the unending supply of armaments, logistical and tactical support from Britain and the United States. It is no exaggeration to say that this war has inflicted untold misery and suffering upon the people of Yemen.

The United Nations has stated that this war has produced the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe with 80 percent of the Yemeni population requiring humanitarian assistance. Among that number are 11 million children – and the spectre of famine looms over the Yemenis. The UN estimates that 1.3 million children have suffered acute malnutrition over the last four years. Millions of Yemenis have been pushed to the brink of starvation.

The Saudi-Emirati war on Yemen has imposed a severe economic and trade blockade, resulting in the deterioration of the Yemeni economy. These punitive measures, which restrict imports, have hit the civilian population and driven people into economic misery. While the constant Saudi air strikes on the country have received strong criticism, the sea blockade of Yemen by the Saudis which is taking a toll on the fishing industry and on all those whose livelihoods depend on it.

In October last year, Saudi operatives in the Istanbul embassy murdered the Saudi Arabian dissident and Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi. His gruesome killing was the subject of justifiable outrage, and prompted renewed examination of the Saudi war on Yemen. However, no less murderous are the numerous air strikes by Saudi forces on the people of Yemen, but these attract less outrage and media attention.

During the last week of March 2019, the Saudi forces carried out an air strike on a rural hospital in Kitaf, northern Yemen. The casualties included five children. The air strike, conducted by Saudi personnel flying American and British supplied fighter jets, disrupted the operation of the hospital and medical workers in providing health care for the sick and wounded. The Save the Children charity, which supported the hospital, condemned the attack as a violation of international law.

The Saudi-Emirati offensive against Yemen was launched to prop up the government of Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The latter was installed by Riyadh in 2012 as part of a political settlement ensuring overall Saudi dominance in the internal affairs of Yemen. The nationalist Zaidi Shia Ansar Allah movement – the Houthis in common parlance – rose up in rebellion against this arrangement. Since the Saudi offensive, Hadi’s government has been in exile in Saudi Arabia.

The Emiratis, while being active participants in this war to crush the Ansar Allah movement and restore President Hadi, have been pursuing their own agenda in Yemen. The UAE has been striking out on its own, investing its considerable finances throughout the Middle East and also in Africa. The Emiratis increasing economic and military clout sometimes puts it at odds with their Saudi partners in Yemen.

The Emiratis have been quietly and busily constructing their own Yemeni proxies and burgeoning state in southern Yemen. Prior to unification in 1990, Yemen had been divided between the conservative northern Yemen Arab Republic, and the socialist-Communist state of the southern People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. While the southern secessionist movement remained quiescent, it noted its chance to revive southern nationalism out of the chaos engendered by the latest Saudi war.

The Emiratis have sponsored, with armaments and money, the establishment of a Southern Transitional Council (STC) as a rival authority to the Saudi-supported government of Hadi. The STC provides security and stability for southern Yemen, and intends to reestablish a Communist-style system in the country. The Emiratis are strongly opposed to any such measures by the STC, and intend to acquire south Yemen as an economic colony of their own.

The patronage of the southern movement by the Emiratis is backfiring. Apart from their shared hostility to the Houthi movement, there is not much else that unites them politically. The Emiratis, for their part, have been building their own Yemeni militia groups, paid for and armed by them, with unquestioned loyalty to the UAE. Writing in The Guardian, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad elaborates the Emiratis measures to build their own networks, extending their power beyond their own borders.

The Security Belt is the name of the Emirati-supported militia that is resorting to brutal suppression of its opponents in the south of Yemen. This group has been accused by human rights organisations of torturing and brutalising their political opposition – which includes not only Ansar Allah members, but anyone opposed to the Emirati project in south Yemen.

The Houthis have managed to establish themselves as a governing authority in the north of the country despite the Saudi-Emirati offensive. The southern movement is now demanding that its push for a revival of the separate south Yemeni state be given its due consideration. If anything, the Saudi attack on Yemen has been a failure, because the political opponents of the Saudis are the only forces capable of exerting authority in their respective regions of the country.

As this war enters its fifth year, we cannot continue to pretend that we in the West are innocent bystanders. The Saudi assault on Yemen would not be able to continue were it not for the constant pipeline of armaments from the United States and Britain. Five British elite special forces commandos were injured in a gun battle in Yemen at the end of March. Questions are being asked in London as to why British troops are deployed in Yemen.

British and American forces are deeply involved in the Saudi campaign against Yemen; British commandos on the ground in Yemen provide intelligence and direction for Saudi air strikes. British military cooperation with Riyadh continues unabated. Let us stop pretending that this war is occurring in some far-away country about which we know nothing.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury and current chairperson of Christian Aid Rowan Williams stated it plainly when he wrote that the UK’s complicity in this Saudi war on Yemen must end. The catastrophe in Yemen, while directly caused by the Saudi-Emirati war, is enabled by Britain and the US acting as willing accomplices. We must step up our efforts to expose the criminality of this predatory war.

15 March 2019 – Christchurch, New Zealand

The Christchurch mosque attacks have received international coverage, and there has been an overwhelming and encouraging outpouring of compassion, sympathy and solidarity for the victims of this atrocity. The racist murders of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch constitute the worst mass killing in New Zealand’s recent history. While the motivations and ‘manifesto’ of the Australian-born racist killer are subjected to rigorous examination, it is worthwhile noting that his ideology is not out of place in today’s toxic political climate.

The Washington Post, examining the racist murders in Christchurch, noted that Australia has been a fertile ground for the growth and dissemination of Islamophobic culture and ideas. Ghassan Hage, an academic at the University of Melbourne, observed that Islamophobic ideas have been circulated by rightwing, Murdoch-owned publications for many years. Murdoch’s News Corp media company has been peddling Islamophobia for decades. These publications normalise extremist and racist ideas, and provide rightwing online communities with a sense of legitimacy.

The racist murderer in Christchurch made no secret of his political ideology – that of white supremacy and neofascism. His self-described ‘manifesto’ recycles the same anti-immigrant and Islamophobic themes that form the main talking points of the European and American ultra-right. He referenced the Norwegian racist killer, Anders Breivik, and the latter’s 2011 mass murder motivated by white supremacy and hostile to immigration.

Interestingly, the ‘manifesto’ of the Christchurch racist murderer contained numerous references to the Crusades and Crusader battles. He was attempting to rationalise his actions as purely self-defensive, and motivated by a desire to counter Islamic ‘invaders’. This notion of Muslims and Islam as ‘invaders’ pervades not just the ultra-right, but informs mainstream media commentary as well. Scrawled onto his machine gun were neofascist symbols and slogans.

The portrayal of European Christendom as a bastion of white Christian harmony fighting off hordes of Muslim invaders is a popular notion among the online communities of the far-right; it is also very simplistic and tailored to meet the requirements of today’s anti-immigrant politics. In fact, as much as the Crusades have come to dominate popular stereotypes of the Middle Ages, multiethnic and religious cooperation across the ethnic/religious divisions were a common feature of Middle Ages life.

Historical accuracy, however much commendable is not the goal of the Islamophobic Right. What concerns us here is how seemingly fringe ideas have become powerful motivators for lethal terroristic behaviour. The ideas in the ‘manifesto’ have been circulating for decades in the mainstream corporate media. The Australian conservative political establishment – embodied by former prime minister John Howard – vilified refugees, migrants and in particular Islam as ‘invaders’ intent on undermining the allegedly ‘Christian’, white Anglophone values that underpin the Australian state.

Current Prime Minister Scott Morrison, while he was immigration spokesperson in 2013, suggested that anxieties about Muslim immigration and anti-Muslim sentiment be cultivated and used for electoral purposes. His condemnation of the white supremacist murderer of Christchurch sounds hollow, given his track record of fully supporting Islamophobic ideas and measures.

Jason Wilson, writing in The Guardian newspaper, elaborates that Islamophobia and racism have been ratcheted up in popular culture and media discourse throughout the last few decades. Islamophobia has basically been adopted as a plank of Australian foreign and domestic policy. Racism in Australian society did not begin only in the last few years, of course. But with the Australian government’s active endorsement of and participation in the American-driven ‘War on Terror‘, a singular and exclusive focus on Islam as the official enemy has dominated political culture.

While the notion of a ‘foreign invasion’ of Australia by immigrants has a long and sordid pedigree, we can look to recent commentary to find recycled examples of this xenophobia. It was not too long ago when Andrew Bolt, a leading blatherer of the Australian conservative commentariat, was complaining of a ‘foreign invasion’ by immigrants in one of his regular columns. By inciting racial hatred in his writings, Bolt was giving a veneer of respectability for xenophobic and racist viewpoints. In this particular case, he vented his anger against Jews. It is not difficult to see that moral panics about ‘foreign invasion’ can transfer across ethnic and religious groups.

While the Labour governments of Rudd and Gillard denounced expressions of open racism, they did not challenge the underlying logic of the bigotry. Labour governments have presided over and encouraged the spread of Islamophobic bigotry, if only in more subtle ways than their conservative counterparts. With every move rightwards by the political establishment, the so-called sensible ‘centre’ does nothing to distinguish itself from the conservative drift.

Muslim migrants as ‘invaders’ has gained normalised acceptance in the toxic political culture of Western nations. The Trump administration in the United States, and its co-thinkers, have long demonised immigrants – in particular migrants from Muslim-majority countries – as a threat to be countered. The ideas expounded by the Christchurch racist murderer are not unusual among members of the US congress and rightwing punditry. Former chief of staff for Trump and Alternative Right political operator Steve Bannon, regularly cites the anti-immigration novel The Camp of the Saints as an inspiration for his politics. The novel, written in 1973 by Jean Raspail, depicts a fictional invasion of Western Europe by dark-skinned migrants.

The Christchurch mosque shootings have produced a national conversation, in Australia, about the ideas and ideology that drove the white supremacist killer to take human life. Greg Barton, a professor at Deakin University, notes that we must all be vigilant about the toxic political culture which allows racist hate to flourish. Professor Barton is correct to point out the online subcultures of white supremacist hate in which persons such as the racist killer in Christchurch could become radicalised.

However, this is only one side of the story. We need to examine the political trajectory of the last 18 years, focusing exclusively on the ‘war on terror’ and Islamist groups. With this narrow outlook, the racist killers such as the one in Christchurch have flown under the radar, so to speak. Intelligence agencies have subjected Muslim communities to constant surveillance and police actions, and their resources have greatly expanded since the beginning of the ‘war in terror’ in 2001. White supremacist ideas, aided and abetted by willing politicians, have made their way into the mainstream.

It is commendable to condemn the Christchurch mosque attacks, but mere platitudes are not enough. We need to stop the Islamophobic rhetoric emanating from the corporate media and conservative commentariat. With Muslim communities worldwide experiencing dehumanisation with the ‘war on terror’ campaign, white supremacy has shown itself to be a powder-keg of violence, stoked by mainstream politicians. The racist murderer in Christchurch is responsible for his own actions – of that there is no doubt. But we cannot ignore the complicity of the political establishment that allowed his ideology to grow.

The ultra-right terrorist threat, race war, and moving into the mainstream

In February 2019, US Coast Guard officer Christopher Paul Hasson was arrested by federal authorities. He had been plotting to carry out terrorist acts against US Democrat politicians, socialist groups, journalists and media personalities. Hasson, a self-confessed white nationalist, had the presence of mind to compile a spreadsheet of targets, which included Senator Ilhan Omar (D), a black Muslim, and “Sen blumen jew”, an anti-Semitic reference to Senator Richard Blumenthal (D).

Hasson was inspired by the Norwegian racist killer Anders Breivik, from whose manifesto Hasson quoted. Stockpiling weapons, and steroids to beef up, Hasson was driven by ideas of instigating a race war in the United States. Steeped in the literature and online propaganda of the white nationalist Right, Hasson intended to carry out mass killings in the hope that ‘whitey would get off the couch‘, to use his words.

He conducted internet searches regarding the location and movements of US politicians he deemed to be a threat, monitored their security arrangements, and absorbed racist and white nationalist literature in online forums. In 2017, in the aftermath of the racial violence at Charlottesville, Hasson wrote that a whites-only homeland in the United States was necessary to preserve the future of his people.

He corresponded with other neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups in the United States, and followed the workings and ideas of European neo-fascist and ultra-rightist parties. Denouncing those whites who accepted racial integration and equality as ‘race traitors‘, he expounded his apocalyptic views of a race war that would result in the extermination of non-white peoples and the establishment of a white homeland.

Domestic terrorism offences

At the time of writing, Hasson has been charged with drug and illegal firearms offences, but not domestic terrorism. Documents filed with the federal court set out the white supremacist views that Hasson expressed, and the stockpiling of weapons for the terrorist acts he intended to commit. This is a glaring omission, and speaks volumes about the hypocrisies which underlie our conversations about terrorism.

A perpetrator of Islamic or Middle Eastern background would have received saturation coverage in the corporate media. There would be panels of self-proclaimed experts analysing the alleged ideological origins of the perpetrator’s actions in the philosophy and teachings of Islam. Hasson is a typical example of an ever-growing, yet under-examined, menace of ultra-right terrorism.

Thomas Cullen, the US Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, wrote of this rising and serious threat of white supremacist terrorism. Cullen writes that not only have hate crimes risen significantly over the last two years, murders committed by groups and individuals associated with the far-right have increased dramatically. A hate crime is defined as a violent act against a victim because of the latter’s race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Hasson is not an isolated example. The Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) documents in its yearly hate crimes report that there has been a 30 percent increase in active hate groups over the 2014-2018 period. The incidence of hate crimes and terrorist acts has not only increased, but the majority have been perpetrated by groups from the far-right. Entitled Rage Against Change, the report elaborates how white nationalist ideas have been popularised not only by Alt-Right followers, but also by the Trump administration.

Enabling violent nostalgia

Since his 2016 election campaign and rise to the White House, Donald Trump has enabled the spread of extremist ideas, allowed attacks on the achievements of the civil rights movement, and used his political office to launch tirades against racial and ethnic minorities – accompanied by a good dose of misogyny and homophobia. Nostalgic for a mythologised past of white supremacy, the Trump administration has done its utmost to expound the underlying logic – if you can call it that – of bigotry and prejudice.

When Trump and his colleagues demonise refugees, Muslim immigrants, and Hispanics, they are actively cultivating the misleading notions of non-white immigration as a threat to the majority white population. By cultivating hysteria about the purported influx of Hispanic immigrants at the US-Mexico border, Trump is manufacturing a crisis, and recycling long-standing white nationalist paranoid fantasies about a racial influx.

Portraying whites as victims in this racially-paranoid worldview is not an invention of the Trump campaign, but has a long pedigree in the white nationalist Right.

The Turner Diaries

While Trump is careful not to suggest that all-out race war is inevitable, he does insist that a mythical ‘racism against whites’ is a socially significant force in American politics. The idea of an apocalyptic race war, brought on by a tyrannical combination of anti-white discrimination and liberal cosmopolitan elitism, is nothing new in American society. Prior to the rise of the Alternative Right, there was The Turner Diaries.

That last statement is not my own, but rather comes from an article in The Atlantic magazine. A self-published political dystopian novel, The Turner Diaries tells of a fictional white supremacist guerrilla fighting in a white nationalist uprising which leads to the extermination of the non-white population in the US, and eventually throughout the world.

Published in 1978 by American white supremacist and neo-Nazi William Luther Pierce, the Turner Diaries has achieved a kind of Bible-status among the white nationalist Right. The themes elaborated in the novel have inspired terrorist actions in the US, including the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

The novel elaborates how ‘race traitors’ are disposed of as enemies of the white race, along with African Americans, Jews, Hispanics and other minorities. This book, rather than extolling a bygone era of slavery, the hooded bedsheets of the Klan and goose-stepping Nazis, shifted white nationalism onto a futuristic perspective. It provided a blueprint for white nationalist action, and served to unite previously fractured groupings.

The tone of the novel is lurid and violent – with misogyny and anti-Semitism dripping from its pores. While a bad book, its impact cannot be underestimated – it has become a seminal text in the canon of racist hate literature. It has served to inspire terrorist violence, and has spawned a veritable genre of racist literature. A hero fighting against the odds is not a new idea in American literature – but Pierce gave it a white supremacist spin.

While the focus of terrorism discussions has been narrowed to groups such Islamic State, Al Qaeda and similar outfits, the growing threat of domestic ultra-rightist terrorism has been ignored. We need to confront the ideology that had produced distorted and violent racial-war fantasies of Hasson and his co-thinkers.

The POW/MIA myth and the rehabilitation of the Vietnam war – Part Two

The issue of the POW/MIAs from the Vietnam conflict was the main lens through which the Vietnam war was viewed by successive US administrations. The Johnson administration had kept the existence of captured American military personnel a strict secret. Nixon, and his defence secretary Melvin Laird, made the conscious to turn the POW/MIA issue into a public relations campaign.

In 1969, Nixon and his colleagues went public with this issue. The notion of American rescue of POWs became the overriding theme of the Vietnam war. The National League of POW/MIA families has its origins in this campaign. The Nixon government spared no expense in promoting the POW/MIA issue, ensuring that the negotiations between Vietnam and the United States remained deadlocked. On the domestic front, the POW/MIA issue achieved national media coverage, celebrity endorsements and profile. The POW/MIA bracelet became a best-selling item – along with the ubiquitous POW/MIA flag.

The POW/MIA issue was accompanied by a mass marketing campaign – bumper stickers, t-shirts, coffee mugs, home windows, badges, motorcycle gang patches, postcards – all featured the black POW/MIA flag. The POW bracelet was a resounding success, with numerous Hollywood celebrities wearing the bracelet as part of the effort to raise awareness of the issue. The POW/MIA flag is sewn into the sleeve of the official white robe of the Ku Klux Klan.

On the international stage, the POW/MIA myth was deployed by the Nixon administration to scuttle peace talks between the United States and Vietnam. Ruling circles in Washington were intent on maintaining some kind of client regime in Saigon. With public opinion turning against the prosecution of this war – and Vietnam veterans were heavily involved in the anti-war campaigning – Nixon and his colleagues exploited the grief of those who had lost loved ones in Vietnam for particular political purposes.

Hanoi insisted that the US contribute financially towards the reconstruction of the country is had spent so many years damaging. The US insisted that first, a full accounting of all live captives and unaccounted for be provided by Hanoi. This is where negotiations deadlocked. In fact, Vietnam was anxious to begin the long and costly process of reconstruction. All the live POWs had been returned by Vietnam in 1973 during Operation Homecoming.

By holding back aid for Vietnam until every single last mythical POW/MIA had been accounted for, the US was effectively imposing an economic embargo on that nation. Let us be clear – there are always missing in action after every conflict. There are still thousands of American military personnel still unaccounted for from World War Two – yet the United States contributed millions towards the post-WWII rebuilding of Europe.

In 2017, the case of the late US Army Air Staff Sergeant Alfonso Duran was closed. A field mission recovered his remains, where the locals had buried him after his plane was shot down – by the Germans. Duran’s case is not from the Vietnam conflict, but from World War Two. He was shot down on February 25, 1944, and his remains were buried in a town in Slovenia. His case serves to illustrate that POWs and MIAs are not equivalent, and that the search for missing personnel continues.

Vietnam cooperated with field missions and fact-finding groups that sought to resolve the issue of POWs and MIAs. Such cooperation continues until today. No prisoners were left behind by the United States. In fact, keeping live captives and then strenuously denying they even exist makes no logical sense from Hanoi’s perspective. If you had captives to be used as bargaining chips to extract concessions, repeatedly denying that you have such captives is hardly logical.

Numerous congressional committees and investigations have taken place into the issue of any remaining living POWs in Vietnam, and no credible evidence has ever emerged that Hanoi secretly detained such captives after the war’s end. Back in 1985, when former US President Ronald Reagan elevated the issue into a national electoral priority, the New Republic wrote that “real-life Rambos have no one to rescue.”

Professor Robert Brigham from Vassar college has stated that it is understandable that those who have loved ones who served in Vietnam have clung to hope – however remote – that there is a possibility that their relatives survived that conflict. What is scandalous is the cynical manipulation of their grief to continue refighting and rehabilitating a predatory and criminal war.

The Vietnamese were defending themselves – first against the French colonial power, and then the Americans – and fighting for their self-determination. The POW/MIA myth inverts history and turns the Vietnamese from fighters into captors. The savage and near-apocalyptic violence visited upon Vietnam left scars on the nation until today. Rather than understanding that essential history, the POW/MIA myth deliberately distracts from it.

When former Senator John McCain passed away in August last year, his funeral was turned into an exercise of near-canonisation. Eulogies flowed endlessly from political figures both Republican and Democrat. He has passed on – rest in peace. His passing should not be an occasion to speak ill of the dead – but uncritical eulogising should not remain unchallenged. He participated as an airman in a vicious and predatory war – a war which inflicted unimaginable suffering on its Vietnamese victims.

McCain himself undoubtedly suffered when he was held as a POW for five-and-a-half years. But his torment was only the resultant outcome of an illegal and savage war in which he voluntarily participated. In fact, we should adopt the same attitude towards McCain as we do towards the Confederate soldiers who fought in the US civil war. Their suffering is undeniable, but they fought for a cause which was criminal and contained a strong undercurrent of racism.

McCain, having dropped bombs on the Vietnamese from a great height, finally faced the consequences of his actions when he was downed and captured. He remained an unrepentant proponent of imperial wars throughout his life. Let us reserve our compassion for human agony for the thousands of Vietnam veterans who returned from that war suffering from PTSD, facing homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, and numerous mental health issues as they struggled to reintegrate into civilian life.

Let us remember that there are Australian Vietnam veterans who struggled with PTSD on their return home. Perhaps my own bias as an Australian is showing through here, but nevertheless PTSD issues are not confined to one particular nationality. Let us grieve for Warren, a Vietnam veteran who has lives most of his adult life with PTSD. There is an ongoing problem of homeless veterans in the United States, which requires urgent attention.

It is time to take down the POW/MIA flag. We would do well to honour the veterans by stopping the imperialistic wars which inflict untold suffering and trauma on their victims and participants.

The Vietnam POW/MIA issue needs to be laid to rest – Part One

The issue of the Prisoners of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) is one of the last remaining leftover campaigns from the Vietnam War. This refers to the fate of American military personnel still listed as Missing in Action or Prisoners of War in Vietnam and the related military operations of the United States forces in Southeast Asia.

The issue has its own very public and heavily promoted symbol – the POW/MIA flag. This flag has attained particular prominence since the conclusion of the Vietnam War – it is flown alongside the American flag atop many government buildings throughout the United States.

In Honolulu, the POW/MIA flag is flown at the headquarters of the American Legion, a military veterans organisation. The motorcycle group Rolling Thunder, dedicated to the return of all ‘live captives’ from Vietnam, held their rally through the streets of Honolulu in late last year. Alongside the American flag, the standard bearer of the rally held the POW/MIA flag. Though the popularity of the motorcycle group has declined, the POW/MIA issue still holds a special place, almost that of a national religion, in the American cultural consciousness.

Is there any truth in this widespread belief that the North Vietnamese kept live American POWs after the conclusion of the Vietnam hostilities? Even a cursory examination of the popular culture reveals that the belief in POW/MIAs still persists. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, numerous movies were made in Hollywood depicting attempts by private individuals – usually Vietnam veterans – to launch rescue missions despite official resistance and denials by the US government that such captives exist. Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo, Chuck Norris’ numerous Missing in Action movies, Gene Hackman in Uncommon Valor – all had as their common theme a rightwing version of Watergate.

The US government and its various agencies, the Pentagon, the US Congress, the military intelligence agencies – all are engaged in a deceitful and monumental coverup – namely, denying the existence of live American captives in Vietnam after the end of that war – so we are led to believe by the partisans of this conspiratorial viewpoint. This conspiracy reaches the highest levels of the American government, and it is only the lonesome and courageous efforts of unrepentant Vietnam war warriors – such as Bo Gritz, aided and abetted by organisations such as the National League of POW/MIA Families – that has kept alive this issue in the face of government attempts to squash it.

It is worthwhile examining this issue – and being skeptical of the continued existence of live captives after the Vietnam war – for a number of reasons. The POW/MIA myth – because that is what it is – is unique to the Vietnam conflict in that it has provided a never-ending rehabilitation of that war.

There have been – and still are – military personnel unaccounted for from every war. At the end of World War 2, there were 79 000 American military personnel still unaccounted for. That is out of a total of 16 million Americans who served in that conflict. The Department of Defence’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency is still researching and updating their records as new information about the MIAs filters in.

It is not just from the World War 2 conflict – 7800 Americans still remain unaccounted for from the Korean conflict. There is no residual campaign to liberate American captives from either of these conflicts. The POW/MIA issue is a deliberately constructed propaganda exercise – originating with the Nixon administration – to justify American efforts to continue the Vietnam conflict in a different way from open military intervention. Examining this issue forces us to ask serious questions about ourselves and our own political culture – a culture which exploits the legitimate grief of loved ones of unaccounted personnel for imperialistic political purposes.

Prior to American involvement in Vietnam, there was no such category as POW/MIA. The military had maintained a strict distinction between those who were known to have been captured by the enemy, and those personnel who were unaccounted for. The category Killed in Action/ Body Not Recovered (KIA/BNR) was used in those instances where the body had disintegrated, or was lost in totally inaccessible locations. Aircrew whose plane had been shot down, or who were lost at sea, or downed over dense tropical jungle, were included in this category.

Prior to the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, this category was kept separate. The Nixon administration cleverly lumped all MIAs and POWs into one conflated category. It was a brilliant, if malignant, propaganda coup. For now on, any MIA personnel would immediately and inevitably be associated with POW. Once MIAs could be directly linked as possible POWs, the Nixon administration created a category that could never be falsified – if a soldier is listed as MIA, surely they could possibly still be alive somewhere in Southeast Asia as a captive in a secret POW camp?

H Bruce Franklin, an American cultural historian and author of books on this subject, wrote that:

Arguably the cagiest stroke of the Nixon Presidency was the slash forever linking POW and MIA. In all previous wars, there was one category called “Prisoners of War,” consisting of those known or believed to be prisoners. There was an entirely separate and distinct category of those “Missing in Action.” The Pentagon internally maintained these as two separate categories throughout the war and its aftermath. But for public consumption, the Nixon Administration publicly jumbled the two categories together into a hodgepodge called POW/MIA, thus making it seem that every missing person might possibly be a prisoner. Because this possibility cannot be logically disproved, the POW/MIA invention perfectly fulfilled its original purpose: to create an issue that could never be resolved.

Why did the Nixon administration do this? By the late 1960s, despite intensive aerial bombardment of Vietnam, the prospect of outright military victory was remote. The 1968 Tet Offensive by the North Vietnamese demonstrated to the American military that victory was virtually impossible. Nixon’s predecessor, Johnson, had kept the issue of captured American military personnel, most of them air force pilots, under wraps. Increasing number of Vietnam veterans were protesting the war, most notably organised into the Vietnam Veterans Against the War group.

In addition to the deteriorating military situation for the Americans, the routine torture and killings by their allies, the South Vietnam Saigon regime, was achieving greater publicity and generating further domestic opposition to the war. The Saigon puppet government, a collection of corrupt generals and thieving politicians, was a kleptocratic dictatorship that used savage violence against any and all opponents. When the Vietnamese Buddhists rose up and protested the discriminatory policies of the Ngo Dinh Diem regime in the early 1960s, protesters were locked up in so-called ‘tiger cages’ where they were manacled, beaten, malnourished and tortured.

When Diem failed to successfully suppress the non-violent Buddhist opposition, he was assassinated in a CIA-backed coup by his generals in November 1963. This coup had the support of the Kennedy administration. Diem was gone, but the client regime remained. Torture and violence was the way the Saigon rulers stayed in power, a regime US forces were supporting. News about this client regime’s brutal measures filtered out, influencing American domestic opposition to the war.

Nixon, inheriting this mess, decided to change the goalposts. No longer was definitive military victory promised, but the rescue of American POW/MIAs. Shifting the moral onus of the war onto North Vietnam, he portrayed the situation as one of helpless captives being held hostage by the scheming, maniacal North Vietnamese. After all, Asian Communists make for convenient villains in American culture. No longer was the Vietnam war a case of American aggression against a weaker opponent. Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia – none of these nations ever attacked America. Even if they wanted to, they did not have the capacity to attack.

Forgotten were the lies fabricated by the United States which served as a pretext to invade Vietnam. Forgotten was the constant napalming of villages, burning and mutilating Vietnamese with overwhelmingly firepower. Long forgotten were the millions of Vietnamese victims, and the 300 000 Vietnamese missing in action. Forgotten is the fact that the United States dropped more tonnage of bombs on Vietnam than it did during all its participation in World War Two.

Distracting the domestic opposition to the war, the Nixon campaign found an issue that would serve to deflect criticism of its war policies, and refocus energy on continuing the patriotic effort to fight the Vietnam war. Singling out the POW/MIAs in Vietnam was a cynical manoeuvre to counter the Vietnam veterans who were organising protests against this war and exposing the crimes of the Saigon allies.

The Nixon administration, and subsequent presidents, made the rescue of the POW/MIAs a top priority. Former President Reagan declared that if the Vietnamese government did not provide a full accounting of the POW/MIAs, he would resume bombing that country. Actually, the defence department accounting agency keeps detailed statistics about those personnel unaccounted for. The latest information places the number of unaccounted for from Vietnam at 1247. Out of those, 470 are deemed to be non-recoverable. That leaves 777 as the remainder.

Since the war’s end, there have been numerous investigations – congressional committees, federal departments and agencies, as well as private organisations – and no credible or verifiable evidence has yet emerged that a single POW is being held by Vietnam after the end of the war. Yet, we are still gripped by a fever to find those missing POWs.

How did the POW/MIA myth take hold and become such a powerful factor in American culture? How does this issue contribute to an unending Vietnam war? We will examine these issues in the next part. Stayed tuned.

In the meantime, you may wish to read the magisterial study of this issue written by Professor Michael J. Allen, called Until the Last Man Comes Home: POWs, MIAs, and the Unending Vietnam War.

The Covington kids, the MAGA hat and Donald Trump

The Indigenous Peoples March, held in January this year, has been overshadowed by a controversy regarding the confrontation between a Native American Omaha elder and a group of Make America Great Again (MAGA) teens from Covington Catholic school. The students, ostensibly attending a misnamed ‘pro-life’ rally in Washington, were filmed harassing the indigenous American elder. No doubt millions have viewed the viral video footage of the confrontation, and various interpretations have been offered regarding the responsibility for the altercation.

The most public image of the conflict is that of a smirking Nick Sandmann, one of the dozens of Covington Catholic school students wearing the MAGA hat, confronting the indigenous American man. The MAGA-wearing students, after initially being blamed by social media commentators for harassing the Native American elder, have been turned into victims by right-wing and conservative media outlets willing to excuse or at least minimise the causative factor of racism and white supremacy in this incident.

Jason Wilson, writing for The Guardian newspaper, documents how the conservative Right reframed the confrontation into one of a ‘rush to judgement’, where the Covington students are the victims and the indigenous peoples marchers are the aggressors. Wilson perceptively deconstructs the PR campaign the conservative and right-wing media have waged to promote the myth of white victimhood. Much has been made of the presence of a cult, the black Hebrew Israelites, at the indigenous peoples march.

There is no question that the black Israelites are a cult, who misuse and misread history for their own narrow purposes. It is true that this grouping in homophobic and anti-Semitic. But it is interesting to note that the black Hebrew Israelites were never directly confronted by the Covington Catholic MAGA teens. The latter harassed and intimidated the one person who was trying to bring civility and maturity into the incident, the indigenous Omaha elder.

Interestingly, a Louisville public relations company, RunSwitch PR, was hired by the Sandmann family to promote the version of events supportive of the Covington MAGA students. In this age of perception management, having a PR company on side definitely tilts the balance in one’s favour. Propaganda is not the exclusive preserve of Communist systems. Corporate propaganda has become a mainstay of capitalist societies.

The MAGA hat

There is no question that the slogan “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) is an effective propaganda weapon. The MAGA hat, emblazoned with the Trumpist slogan, is now a ubiquitous feature of American political life. It has become a statement of tribal loyalty, a shared white victimhood that rages against ethnic minorities, civil rights, and any perceived encroachment on the privileges of the nativist white majority.

In fact, the MAGA hat has become a more successful and widely implemented symbol of white supremacy than the white hood and bedsheet of the KKK. In the past, there was (and in some Southern states still is) the Confederate flag, a relic of a bygone era of slavery and white privilege. That flag has an atavistic quality about it, symbolising as it does, an economic and political system that was defeated in the ravages of war.

There exists, until today, a neo-Confederate movement, which attempts to rehabilitate the slaveholding South and resist racial integration. This movement, with its own reservations, has endorsed the presidency of Donald Trump. Proponents of the neo-Confederacy look to the antebellum South for values, ideals and as an exemplar of “Anglo-Celtic” heritage. But this movement cannot shake the stigma of being stuck in the past – it required an update for the 21st century.

The MAGA hat is the perfect upgrade for an outmoded and obsolete racist message. Robin Givhan, writing in the Washington Post, states that the MAGA hat is not only an expression of garrulous narcissism – exemplified by Trump himself – but something much deeper:

The MAGA hat speaks to America’s greatness with lies of omission and contortion. To wear a MAGA hat is to wrap oneself in a Confederate flag. The look may be more modern and the fit more precise, but it’s just as woeful and ugly.

By turning the Covington MAGA teens from perpetrators to victims, the conservative media have successfully ignored the legitimate issues raised by the indigenous peoples march – one major issue being the mistreatment of indigenous children. Trump, by allying himself with the MAGA teens, disguised his intervention as concern for the well-being of the Covington students and the alleged ‘rush to judgement’ by the media. However, his posturing of concern for children is rank hypocrisy, given the Trump administration’s mistreatment of children at immigration detention centres.

Donald Trump is the modern version of George Wallace

When discussing the Trump presidency, much is made of the contrast between him and his predecessor Barack Obama. Trump’s detractors on the conservative side of politics emphasise the differences between past Republican presidents and the current incumbent. The implication of this viewpoint is that Trump represents a striking break with the past. While there is merit in this evaluation, I think it falls short in one major respect. We have seen Donald Trump before – his name was George Wallace.

The late George Wallace, the former racist governor of Alabama and diehard segregationist, gained national attention in 1963 when he made his symbolic stand in the schoolhouse, protesting the racial integration of the University of Alabama. After that stunt, Wallace became the public candidate of white resentment, the counter-reaction to the growth of civil rights and formal racial equality. While ultimately unsuccessful, his campaign advocated many of the themes and ideas updated and recycled by Donald Trump.

Wallace, when campaigning for the presidency, tapped into a reservoir of white racial resentment against the perceived rising tide of civil rights. But he also portrayed himself as the anti-establishment candidate, the maverick outsider willing to take on the liberal and cosmopolitan elites that have purportedly excluded the white working class. In tones eerily echoed down the ages by Trump and the Republican right, Wallace contemptuously sneered at the media and the federal government for allegedly giving too much ground to those pesky and demanding ethnic minorities.

Trump is not a brazen segregationist like Wallace, and his only fixed ideology is that of financial speculation. However, his politics has strong similarities to that of Wallace – while Trump popularised MAGA, Wallace had the similar ‘Standing up for America’. In fact, when comparing the political rhetoric of the two candidates, it is difficult to determine where Trump’s viewpoints differ from those of Wallace.

Indigenous nations and anti-racism

There can be no serious anti-racist politics without including the recognition of the indigenous nations of the Americas. Multiethnic solidarity does not submerge all nationalities into one ‘rainbow coalition’ – as nice as the latter sounds. Anti-racist politics recognises the specific demands of each ethnic group, but brings them together to create a nation of solidarity. Focusing on issues of race and gender does not involve marginalising class-based struggles or ignoring economic issues.

It is appropriate to highlight an article by Armenian American writer Anoush Ter Taulian, who wrote about the reasons why she marched in the indigenous peoples march earlier this year. We would do well to learn from her example.