When we downplay the crimes of Nazi-era collaborators, we help to revive the doctrines of the far right

World War 2-era Eastern European Nazi-aligned collaborators are being hailed as heroes in Europe today. By rewriting their criminal histories, we are assisting in the rehabilitation of their white supremacist and fascistic doctrines. This is a goal of today’s ultrarightist political parties.

Let’s examine this subject more thoroughly. This is not just an exercise in refuting historical falsification – important as that is. It is also an examination of how the Eastern European far right, and their ideological brethren in the West, are gaining ground at the expense of those who gave their lives fighting fascism.

Chetniks march on Anzac Day

Australian readers will appreciate the following observation, because of its connection to Anzac Day. During the march on the said Anzac Day, a Serbian paramilitary formation, the Chetniks, are allowed to participate. The Chetniks are a Serbian ultrarightist group who collaborated with the invading Nazi forces in World War 2.

The Chetniks, responsible for numerous atrocities against Jews, Croats, Roma and antifascist Serbs, have been getting a makeover of sorts since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Chetnik military and political commanders, once condemned as mass murderers and war criminals, are currently being exonerated by an ultranationalist rewriting of World War 2 history.

Serbian diaspora communities, which are solidly ultranationalist, are contributing to this whitewashing of Nazi-era crimes. The supporters of today’s Chetniks are being welcomed in, among other places, the Anzac Day march in Australia. This action, endorsed by the Australian Returned Services League (RSL), is a disrespectful slap in the face to all the Anzacs who fought against fascism in World War 2.

The Chetniks found a working alliance with Hitler’s Germany to be a logical consequence of their racist, ultranationalist ideology. They were already loyal participants in an anti-Communist military formation, fighting under the command of Mussolini’s fascist Italy. Cooperating with Nazi Germany was neither opportunistic nor involuntary; their crimes of ethnic cleansing were carried out in accordance with Nazi-aligned political objectives.

The rewriting of history throughout Eastern Europe

It is not only in the former Yugoslavia where there is a concerted, sustained campaign to rewrite WW2 history along ultranationalist lines, and thus forgive the horrendous crimes of Nazi-collaborationist groups. With the dissolution of the Eastern bloc, the former Communist nations began to explore the deepest corners of the Soviet experience – that is to be welcomed. But what has happened is not a mere academic exercise in historical rectification.

From the Baltic states to the Balkans, there has been a systematic campaign to deny or exonerate the crimes of Eastern European ultranationalism, rehabilitating those who cooperated with the Axis powers. This historical revisionism is a cynical and perverse exercise in restoring the reputation of convicted Nazi collaborators, and thus absolve East European nationalism of its complicity in the Holocaust and associated ethnic cleansing.

This ultranationalist rewriting of history has contemporary ramifications – feeding the nationalist resentment that underpins today’s European far right political parties. The goal of Eastern European ultranationalist parties is not only to remove their own culpability for war crimes, but also to reinforce current geopolitical motives that sees the West – mainly the United States – build up an anti-Russian, militarised coalition in the former Eastern bloc.

The Baltic states have led the charge, so to speak, in pursuing a path of obfuscating their own role in the killing of Jews, and contributing to the perverse historical fiction of ‘red equals brown’. After all, if the Soviets can be portrayed as being ‘just as bad, even worse’ than the Nazis, then Eastern European nationalism can occupy the ground of a perpetual victim. Its active participation in the anti-Semitic killings can be washed away amidst this tide of pseudo-historical revisionism.

Horseshoe theory is horse manure

The ‘red-brown symmetry’ – the claim that the Nazis and Soviets were just as bad, indeed the same, as each other – has a certain appeal in the West because of the pseudo-clever ‘horseshoe theory‘. This academic thesis contends that the far left and far right do not occupy opposite ends of a political spectrum, but are actually more alike – hence the metaphor of the horseshoe.

This ridiculous fiction has a superficial appeal – the capitalist system and its supporters like to smear any deviation from the ‘sensible centre’ as extreme. This shallow and anaemic claim overlooks the many and varied links between the capitalist ‘centre’ and its bastard progeny – the ultraright. Capitalist powers routinely encourage and nurture a fascistic presence in order to confront an organised working class.

Nazi Germany, in the process of smashing trade unions and the organised Left, looked for inspiration in passing its laws of racial segregation, to the United States. While the two nations had significant differences, it is crucially important to remember that the racial project of Nazism was inspired by the ‘successful’ example of American racial legislation. The far right commonly employs a leftist mask, employing the rhetoric of the Left while targeting the most vulnerable sectors of the community.

It is one thing to denounce the crimes and distortions of the Soviet system, as the current Russian government has done. It is quite another to draw an equals sign between the system that produced Auschwitz and those that demolished it. The falsity of the ‘red-brown’ equivalence is tuned for political expediency. As David Broder has written in Jacobin magazine, this perverse distortion of WW2 history relativises the crimes of fascist ideology and its doctrine of race war and conquest.

While the Soviets did sign the often-condemned Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in 1939, singling out this event as a unique occurrence and evidence of conjoint Nazi-Soviet responsibility is hypocritical in the extreme. The Eastern European nationalist regimes had a long history of pacts and alliances with Nazi Germany, beginning back in the 1920s. The Soviet foreign ministry’s repeated attempts to formalise an anti-fascist alliance with Britain and other Western European nations were routinely rebuffed.

Primo Levi, Holocaust survivor and writer, stated that while the gulag was appalling, the Soviets never produced an Auschwitz. Last month, on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet army, we must remember that while the Nazis were the main architects of industrialised racial mass murder, they had willing accomplices in Eastern Europe.

The Iraqi protests – an ongoing nationalist uprising

Since October 2019, Iraqis have taken to the streets in a sustained, organised, community-based uprising against the corrupt and sectarian Baghdad regime. Installed in the aftermath of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, the government of Iraq has been unable to unify the country, or provide basic social services. The regime propped up by the US has institutionalised a sectarian-based power sharing agreement.

Over the last week, a new Prime Minister, Mohammed Allawi, has been selected, breaking months of deadlock. The protesters have rejected his appointment, stating that he is still part and parcel of the Baghdad regime. Camped out in Tahrir Square in the capital city, the Iraqis on the streets have undermine the entire structure of the regime and its political parties. In Nasiriyah, a southern city of Iraq, anti-government demonstrators issued a statement rejecting the sectarianism of the regime and vowed to continue their protests.

Let’s examine the background of the current events, and place them in a wider political context. The current uprising represents a crisis of the Baghdad government and is a striking rejection of the entire post-2003 American-imposed political structure. There is intense and widespread outrage at the catastrophic results of the 2003 invasion and the corruption of the political elites.

In January this year, a ‘million-man march‘ was organised by the powerful political cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The latter, a populist-nationalist Shia politician, has joined the protest movement, but also leads the largest political bloc within the current Baghdad government. While his supporters have participated heavily in the antigovernment protests, Sadr has played a balancing act, negotiating between the bourgeois parties and the demonstrators.

The march brought into focus the continuing presence of US troops in the country. No doubt among the demonstrators are those whose lives have been scarred by the 1991 First Gulf War, the punitive US sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s, through to the 2003 full-scale invasion of that nation. These measures amount to an act of criminal and predatory sociocide carried out by US imperialism.

While the Sadrist bloc has participated in the protests, the party that has seen its fortunes rise most noticeably and appreciably is the Iraqi Communist Party. No single political group leads the demonstrators, however, the Communist party’s activists are solidly embedded with the protest movement. The party has a practical alliance with the Sadrists, while maintaining its own independent political platform.

The Iraqi Communists have demanded that only a complete overhaul of the entire post-2003 regime will suffice. The sectarian power-sharing system, established by the US occupation authorities after 2003, seems on the surface a reasonable idea. However, the purpose of such a confessional-based system is to purposely divide the Iraqi population into sectarian-ethnic components, thus implementing the old tactic of divide-and-rule.

The rise of sectarian violence is a direct consequence of the US invasion of 2003. The role of the United States has been, whether overtly or covertly, to increase and exacerbate the religious-sectarian divide. Let us dispose of the tired cliche of ‘ancient hatreds’ as an explanation for sectarian violence in Iraq. Professor Stephen Zunes writes that it was deliberate US policy, not ‘ancient hatreds’, to cultivate a system based on sectarian hostilities.

The current armed Shia militias, commonly called Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) are for the most part allied with Iran. These forces arose after the 2003 invasion and subsequent dissolution of the Iraqi Army. Iran has gained influence in Iraq, and the US believed that the Iranian-backed militias would be effective in fighting all those Iraqis who opposed the US occupation. Having fought ISIL, and becoming incorporated into a new Iraqi army, the PMU groups are now turning against the United States, particularly in the aftermath of the assassination of Iranian General Qasim Suleimani.

Resorting to the explanation of ‘ancient hatreds’ between Sunnis and Shias may be popular among the American punditocracy, but has no bearing to reality. In fact, such cliches only serve to shift culpability for the US invasion and its destructive consequences onto some mythical ‘historic forces’.

It is worthwhile to note that the demonstrators have denounced the economic and social inequalities of the post-2003 invasion regime. Since the US invasion, Iraqi society has been marked by high unemployment, rampant corruption and poverty. Indeed, corruption has become an institutionalised feature of the Baghdad government, in much the same way as corruption was a feature of the US-backed client state of South Vietnam in its day.

The protesters, by emphasising their rejection of sectarianism and corruption, pose a striking similarity to the Iraqis of earlier generations who rose up in rebellion in 1920. The nationalist uprising of that year, opposing the then-colonial power Britain, rejected sectarian divisions and demanded greater social equality. The British government at the time, one of whose ministers was a young Winston Churchill, responded with unrestrained savagery. Churchill, for his part, recommended the use of poison gas against the Iraqi insurgents.

It is imperative, for us in Australia, to build up an antiwar movement capable of responding to the manoeuvres of the pro-war and imperialist Australian ruling class. Australia, as a junior partner of American imperialism, has consistently joined every measure of the US ruling class to carry out its colonial ambitions. From Vietnam to Iraq, Australia has voluntarily joined – even pushed its way – in every American overseas war. It is time to break this pattern and listen to the Iraqi people’s demands for sovereignty.

Travel guides, being a tourist in Tel Aviv, and the unreality of reality TV

Being a tourist is an enjoyable and enriching experience. Understanding the nation you are traveling in is another story.

The Australian TV series Travel Guides, based on a British series of the same name, is only one of a number of so-called ‘reality tv’ shows sweeping across free-to-air television programming. It features several groups of Australians, mostly but not all of them families, who go on holidays to various destinations. Their experiences are captured and then broadcast for the entertainment of the viewer. The participants take on the role of travel critics – and in one episode, they venture to Tel Aviv, a major city of Israel.

The following comments are directed at my fellow Australians – please understand that the Middle East does not consist purely of camels and tents; yes, Tel Aviv is a built-up city (just like Miami, according to the surprised observation of one traveller), and yes, people from the region are capable of speaking more than one language. Let’s clear up one thing for the benefit of one pair of travellers on the show – Tel Aviv is a city; ‘Tal-i-ban’ is something completely different.

You may watch the episode and make your own judgement. However, my purpose is not to ridicule the – shall we say uninformed perspective – of the show’s participants. It is to make a suggestion to my fellow Australians. Have fun and enjoy wherever you go. If you want wine, music, beaches and hooking up with the locals – go for it. But also, please understand the country in which you are travelling.

Reality TV is heavily edited and choreographed by its producers to create an entertainment product; it is not an educational or informative piece of television. Every now and then, reality actually seeps through the scripted lens of ‘reality TV’. Jaffa, featured in the travel guides episode above, is described as the old quarter – which it is. But how did it become the old quarter?

Jaffa was the epicentre of economic and cultural life in historic Palestine, prior to 1948. It had a population of around 120 000 thousand Palestinians, living in the city and its surrounding districts. With the growth of its agricultural sector, Jaffa developed bustling commercial/banking enterprises, financing local industrial production. The city had a vibrant cultural life, producing Arabic-language newspapers, athletics and sporting clubs, and cultural societies.

All of that came to an abrupt end in 1948-49, with the seizure of Jaffa by Zionist forces and the subsequent expulsion of the Palestinian population. From March through to May 1948, the Zionist military laid siege to Jaffa. After seizing the city, the majority of the Palestinians were forced out, constituting an act of land armed robbery. The remaining Palestinians were ghettoised, surrounded by what became the new Jewish-only city of Tel Aviv.

The Palestinians lost the city, their economic and cultural life, and were corralled by Israeli authorities into a ghetto. Today’s Tel Aviv is a thriving city, but its Palestinian history has been largely excluded. Just like reality TV, the authorities in Tel Aviv have constructed an exclusionary reality.

Our intrepid band of Australians travel from Tel Aviv to the Masada fortress. A long journey, they made the trek to learn about the holy land and Jewish history. It is a historic location, majestic in its beauty. Archaeological tourism is one of the great drawcards for the Israeli authorities, and that is all well and good.

What is less well-known is the ongoing efforts by the Israeli government to weaponise archaeology, linking that discipline with an ideological quest to eradicate the rich archaeological heritage of multiple societies that have settled in historic Palestine. Archaeology has become an exercise in displaying raw religious-nationalist muscle, excluding the non-Jewish inhabitants and their cultural legacy in Palestine.

In Forward magazine, authors Talya Ezrahi and Yonathan Mizrachi elaborate how the Israeli Culture Minister, Miri Regev, intends to ‘bring the Bible to life’ through the promotion of biblical archaeology. The purpose of encouraging a biblically-based archaeology is to provide another buttress for nation building. Religious nationalism infuses the archaeological project, and the Israeli authorities have the advantage of controlling access to major archaeological sites.

The promotion of tourism to the Masada fortress are not just an exercise in archaeological appreciation, but helps to construct a historical perspective of the Jewish people – today in the state of Israel – as an embattled minority, obscuring the colonial settler annexationist designs of Israel’s founders and leaders. The heritage of the Palestinians, Byzantines, Romans, Ottomans, and others does not fit neatly into the Zionist project of nation-building.

As Palestinian villages and archaeological sites, such as Silwan in East Jerusalem, are gradually eroded, a new imaginary historical reality takes its place. Archaeology itself is being annexed into the service of a religious-colonial nationalism. The Israeli Culture Ministry proceeds to build access tunnels, infrastructure and projects that demolishes – at least bypasses – non-Jewish archaeological heritage. Unesco has repeatedly protested this kind of cultural vandalism, only to be perversely accused by the United States – a strong supporter of Israel – of having ‘anti-Israel bias’.

Everyone should enjoy travelling while they can. If we ignore the Palestinian struggle for human rights, my fellow Australians will continue to have an understanding of the Israel/Palestine conflict as shallow and unrealistic as the end-product of the shockingly misnamed reality TV.

The Black Hebrew Israelites are a hate group – and they operate within the toxic ecosystem of American racism

Over the last few months of 2019, there were several anti-Semitic attacks in the United States. Two of them, occurring in December last year, were perpetrated by assailants described by the authorities as having links to the black Hebrew Israelites. The latter, designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) does not have a history of violence, but has become more apocalyptic in its rhetoric in recent years.

If you are asking yourself who the black Hebrew Israelites are, you are not alone. Let’s get some details first, and unpack these issues.

It is undeniable that anti-Semitic attacks have increased under the Trump administration. The latter has directly contributed to the rise of anti-Semitic hate crimes, platforming a range of anti-Semitic themes and providing political cover for white nationalist groups. The attacks on Jewish communities in December last year fit into an overall pattern of hate crimes.

The attack on the Hasidic Jewish community during Hanukkah in late December last year was carried out by Grafton Thomas, an African American man said to be linked – at least interested in – the black supremacist theology of the Hebrew Israelite church. Earlier in December, two assailants attacked the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community in Jersey City, New Jersey. In that fatal incident, the New Jersey authorities have stated that the killers expressed interest in the black Hebrew Israelite movement.

The majority of anti-Semitic killings have been perpetrated by white supremacist groups – and while African American organisations have trafficked in anti-Semitism, black American attacks against Jews are exceptionally rare. These recent murders have thrown the spotlight on the Hebrew Israelite theology. This focus is to be welcomed, but the speed of the media in highlighting black anti-Semitism stands in stark contrast to the decades it took for the US ruling class to admit the lethal threat of white nationalist domestic terrorism.

The black Hebrew Israelites, a theological movement that dates back to the nineteenth century has splintered into different sects, factions and detachments – but all of them share a basic set of beliefs. Black Hebrew Israelism dates back to the days of emancipated slaves and Reconstruction after the civil war.

The various churches that belong to the Hebrew Israelite tradition regard the black population as the literal descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. In their worldview, it is the blacks who are the original chosen people – the Israelites. Today’s Jewish population, they contend, are mere imposters, falsely claiming that they are the Hebrews of the Bible.

While the roots of Black Hebrew Israelism are nonracist, they have adopted anti-Semitic rhetoric, denouncing the Jewish people as usurpers of the ‘chosen people’ mantle, engaging in worldwide financial conspiracies to enrich their own people at the expense of others. Their adherents have been non-violent, however, there are sects within the overall church that have encouraged confrontations with persons from non-African American backgrounds.

With the dispersion of ten out of the twelve ancient tribes of Israel after the Assyrian conquest, the black Hebrew Israelites contend that their mission is to regain their biblically-sanctioned rightful place as the descendants of the dispersed Hebrews. Drawing up a tortuous, bizarre theological ancestry from the purportedly lost ten tribes of Israel, the black Hebrew Israelites promote a theme of an oppressed people returning to their promised land.

The myth of the ten lost tribes of Israel, familiar to Western audiences through their knowledge of the Bible, has long provided fertile grounds for the growth of increasingly bizarre, pseudoarchaeological theologies that underpin many Christian-like cults until today. The Mormons, formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), have incorporated into its theological doctrines a story of descent from the mythical lost tribes of Israel.

Certain Mormon doctrines hold that the indigenous Americans are the literal descendants of those scattered lost tribes. That sounds unusual to those of us on the outside of the Mormon church, however, the English-speaking world is not unfamiliar with such doctrines. Anglo-Israelism, sometimes called British Israelism, is the pseudoarchaeological contention that today’s people in Britain are the genetic descendants of the lost tribes of Israel.

The black Hebrew Israelites are a minority group, but they have shown a willingness to commit acts of politically motivated violence. This move away from their traditional nonviolence takes place within the toxic ecosystem of white American racism – an ecosystem fed by the Trump administration and its supporters. The Hasidic Jewish community has faced growing expressions of intolerance and hate as it has moved out of New York and into the suburbs.

As the ultra-Orthodox Jews have moved into Monsey, Rockland County – the scene of the Hanukkah attack – local authorities have passed zoning laws preventing the construction of ‘new places of worship’, such as synagogues. Republican party legislators and their supporters in the area have spoken of a ‘Jewish takeover’ of the county, undermining the ‘American way of life’. Such rhetoric has entirely foreseeable consequences.

Perhaps what makes the black Hebrew Israelites so outrageous for the white power structures is that they see a reflection of themselves. An oppressed group, such as African Americans, will search for a sense of belonging and cultural fixation in a system in which they are lost.

While conducting this search for meaning, and looking for a way to explain their suffering, they have adopted the doctrines of their white American oppressors. The black Hebrew Israelites are a reflection, in their own way, of the religiously-informed political outlook upon which the white American state is founded.

Nikki Haley, the Confederate flag and the fraudulent ‘Lost Cause’

Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina – and previous US ambassador to the United Nations – made a curious remark about the Confederacy. Earlier in December 2019, Haley stated that the Confederate flag represented ‘service, sacrifice and heritage’ until it was ‘hijacked’ by Dylann Roof. The latter is a white supremacist murderer responsible for the shooting deaths of multiple African American worshippers at a predominantly black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

When carrying out his attack, Roof was wearing, among other racist emblems, the flag of the Confederacy. Haley, who was governor in 2015, oversaw the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina legislature building. Her remarks defending the flag as an honourable emblem may seem surprising, at least initially. Haley, the child of Indian immigrants, represents an American success story. Intelligent, articulate and resourceful, her life typifies the social mobility of non-white migrants for which America is supposedly famous.

So why, as a member of a racial minority, is she defending a symbol of an openly racist enterprise? Haley has positioned herself – with help from her colleagues in the Republican party – as a moderate and reasonable voice, in contrast to the overtly misogynistic, vulgar and racist Trump. With her comments defending the Confederate flag she has, in one swoop, demolished her status as a ‘moderate’, but has also used her racial-minority status to deflect from her party’s racist platform.

The Confederate flag – a response to civil rights

The deployment of the Confederate flag, and the building of statues of slave-owning Confederate generals, is not a benign exercise in remembering the past. The flag, and associated monuments to the military leaders of the Confederacy, were erected as a direct response to the push by African Americans for civil rights. As black Americans organised themselves to fight segregation and racist legislation, politicians from the former Confederate states – such as South Carolina – raised the Confederate flag on state buildings.

In the immediate aftermath of the US Civil War, Confederate monuments and symbols all but disappeared. They were resurrected after World War 2, as the struggle of black Americans for civil and economic rights gathered momentum. National Geographic magazine published an article, in 2015, detailing how white segregationist politicians revived the Confederate flag in order to promote the white supremacist cause. Rather than being simple reminders of the Civil War, the Confederate monuments provided a rallying point for modern-day white racism fighting a rearguard action.

Since the end of the Civil War, there have been attempts by the neo-Confederate partisans to whitewash the purpose of the Confederacy by claiming that states’ rights was the main rationale for secession. Today’s defenders of Confederate monuments make the same claim. But this dishonest explanation is undermined by the words of those who began the Confederacy – slavery and white supremacy was encoded in the founding documents of the slave-owning states.

The ‘Lost Cause’

White supremacy was defeated, but it also metamorphosed – into segregation and legalised discrimination. In the 1950s and 60s, as segregation was being rolled back, the Confederate flag reemerged as a symbol of a white racist backlash. In the discussions about race and racism in the United States, the myth of the ‘Lost Cause’ was born – the Confederacy’s violence against African Americans was obfuscated by a wilful rewriting of its history. Racist vigilantism against black communities was rationalised as defence of a ‘lost cause’ and the values of an imagined past.

White Southerners have been passing on this mythology of the ‘lost cause’, wrapping the Confederacy in a reimagined past of honour and sacrifice. The South consisted of ‘gentlemen’ willing and able to sacrifice themselves against the Northern invaders – the Confederacy became a fixture of regional identity. Reinventing the Confederate flag as an emblem of ‘Southern pride’ allows white supremacy to cast itself in the role of victim – precisely the kind of voters Haley’s political career depends upon.

The neo-Confederate revision of history – sanitising the racism of the white South and promoting a fictionalised version of the Confederacy – is a main plank in the platform of the Alternative Right today. When Haley contributes to this fictional portrayal, she is actively aiding and abetting the extreme racism of the white Right. Dylann Roof did not ‘hijack’ the flag, but carried out the kind of violence the flag represents. Since the conclusion of the Civil War, white supremacy has fought a racial-vigilante-type of warfare against the African American community.

Lawless racist vigilantes – the forerunners of the Ku Klux Klan – may sound like relics from a bygone era, but today’s white supremacist terrorism falls squarely in that tradition. The main emblem of these killers is the Confederate flag. It is not unusual for white vigilante groups to direct their violence against federal authorities – white victimhood at the hands of ‘multicultural elites’ is a recurring theme of racist organisations.

When Haley defends the Confederate flag, she is providing a platform for recycled racism – or at least a ‘respectable face’ for white supremacy. She has proven that she is articulate and intelligent, unlike Trump – but just as extreme as the US President in her ideology. When she excuses Trump’s racist comments directed at Representative Ilhan Omar – ‘go back to where you came from’ – she is facilitating a white nationalist agenda. There is no rehabilitating white supremacy.

The slogan ‘Support our troops’ is meaningless

The South Korean mercenaries who fought in the Vietnam war are not heroes. The statement ‘support our troops‘ is not only completely meaningless and idiotic, it exhorts us to uncritically accept the agenda of the politicians who have deployed them.

Let’s unpack all of this, because while the Vietnam war finished decades ago, its repercussions are still with us today.

When we memorialise soldiers and the wars they fought in, we must ask ourselves what exactly we are being asked to remember. It is possible to recognise the suffering they endured, but be critical of the predatory and imperialistic goals for which they fought.

This sentiment is not original, and is certainly not my own invention. Sam Husseini, writing in Counterpunch magazine, stated his reflections on the passing of Vietnam veteran and POW John McCain. He, similarly to the Confederate soldiers of the slave-owning South, endured horrendous suffering, but fought for a cause that was economically predatory and motivated by racist misconceptions regarding the official enemy.

Current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces strenuous criticism from, among others, South Korea and Australia, when he attempts to rewrite the history of Imperial Japan’s conduct in World War 2. Abe, like other conservative Japanese politicians before him, visits the Yasukuni Shrine in his endeavour to minimise the crimes of the Japanese military during WW2.

The shrine is ostensibly dedicated to honouring the Japanese soldiers who died serving in that conflict. When Abe, and rightwing Japanese politicians, visit the shrine to honour the dead soldiers – the equivalent of ‘support our troops’ in our political culture – they are engaging in a concerted campaign to rewrite the history of WW2 to absolve the Japanese ruling class of its culpability for crimes against humanity.

South Korean troops in the Vietnam war

Another imperialistic war fought for economically predatory and racist motives was the American assault on Vietnam. This attack, more so than other overseas wars, has attracted more than its share of attempted rewriting and mythologising, in particular along the lines of ‘supporting our troops’. While the overwhelming focus of retrospectives on the Vietnam war examine the conduct and suffering of American soldiers, less well known are the contributions of their South Korean allies.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has honoured those troops who served alongside the Americans in Vietnam. His comments have been criticised by the government of Vietnam as an attempt to whitewash the numerous crimes committed by Republic of Korea (ROK) forces in that conflict. The South Korean President in the 1960s, General Park Chung-hee, sent the first contingent of thousands of South Korean soldiers into the Vietnam war in 1965.

Overall, 320 000 South Korean troops would participate in the Vietnam conflict, forming part of the American-led effort. By the early 1970s, South Korean soldiers outnumbered their American counterparts, and the ROK became a model client state. In fact, much of South Korea’s success in transforming its economy, and becoming an economic miracle’ story, is because of its participation in the Vietnam war. The Park Chung-hee era, a military dictatorship characterised by its cultivation of clan-based conglomerates, the chaebol – was a solid ally of the US in the Vietnam war.

In the aftermath of the 1968 Tet Offensive, the American government and its ROK allies embarked on a massive campaign of retaliation. Unleashing an orgy of violence, South Korean soldiers targeted civilians, killing women and children, and committed terrible atrocities. While the voices of South Korean veterans from that conflict are steadily being heard, the war crimes they committed have not received the attention they warrant.

In much the same way as South Korea demands an apology from Japan for the latter’s kidnapping and use of Korean ‘comfort women’ during WW2, Vietnam is demanding answers from the Seoul government regarding the exploitation of Vietnamese women, raped and abused by South Korean troops in the Vietnam conflict. Campaign groups are urging recognition and for Vietnamese women afflicted by sexual violence from South Korean soldiers, and their children produced by such forced unions.

Cliches are soothing for the conscience

Empty slogans such as ‘support our troops’ make us feel good about ourselves, but they do nothing except shut down critical debate about the role of the military in overseas wars. In fact, such slogans help to disguise the criminal character of imperial wars, and implicitly portray anti-war dissidents as potential traitors – why would you not ‘support our troops!?’ Steven Salaita, writing in Salon magazine, states that unthinking patriotism, typified by the ‘support our troops’ slogan, makes for an exploitable consumer commodity.

Salaita makes an interesting observation:

Who, for instance, are “the troops”? Do they include those safely on bases in Hawaii and Germany? Those guarding and torturing prisoners at Bagram and Guantánamo? The ones who murder people by remote control? The legions of mercenaries in Iraq?

The Vietnam Veterans Against the War campaign organisation, in gathering evidence about the conduct of American troops in Vietnam, detailed how US troops cut off the heads and ears of Vietnamese deemed to be the enemy, used electric shocks on their victims, poisoned the wells of Vietnamese farmers, killed their livestock, burned down villages and scorched the countryside of South Vietnam. Future Secretary of State and Vietnam veteran John Kerry has stated how such crimes were known at all levels of command.

Such war crimes cannot be covered with anodyne slogans and ridiculous cliches.

The US left the Marshall Islands with a toxic nuclear legacy – and a looming environmental disaster

The Marshall Islands, a stereotypically picturesque getaway in the Pacific, is the scene of a looming ecological catastrophe. The toxic legacy of nuclear weapons testing remains with the Marshall Islanders.

The Marshall Islands, located midway between Hawaii and Australia, was the site where the US conducted nuclear weapons testing, such as exploding their first functioning hydrogen bomb. Reefs and atolls were pulverised by these tests, 67 in all.

The nuclear weapons testing, conducted between 1946 and 1958, left a staggering legacy of ecological damage and associated health effects. The US authorities buried irradiated soil from the ‘ground zero’ of the weapons tests, the Enewetak and Bikini atolls in a massive concrete bunker. Decades after the military had stopped testing, the Runit Dome was constructed to store the waste from the numerous underwater and atmospheric nuclear explosions.

While weapons testing ceased, the nuclear waste problem did not go away.

The Washington Post reported, in May this year, that the concrete dome facility housing the radioactive waste was cracking. An ageing structure, as the dome is cracks, and sea levels rise due to climate change, lethal plutonium-239 waste threatens to leak into the Pacific. Water has begun to penetrate the dome, sparking fears of an environmental nightmare scenario for the Marshallese. Rising sea levels, and the increasing occurrence of typhoons and severe weather events are impacting the structural integrity of the concrete dome.

In the 1980s, the US military built a concrete dome – a ‘kind of coffin’ according to current UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres – to house the radioactive debris and waste. As a result of disrepair, and the increasing effects of climate change, the dome is cracking threatening to unleash an environmental catastrophe in the Pacific Ocean.

The US authorities did not admit to the Marshallese that they had transported tonnes of radioactive waste from Nevada to the atolls. The US military also did not disclose that they had conducted biological weapons testing in the Marshall Islands, in particular on Enewetak atoll.

Cracks have developed in the dome after decades of exposure

A study commissioned by the US Department of Energy in 2013 acknowledged that the Runit Dome is leaking while however downplaying the possibilities of environmental damage and health risks. Climate scientists have insisted that the Pacific waters are rising, and warming, and thus present a growing threat to the old concrete structure. Not only would the bunker be damaged, but groundwater reserves would become polluted.

After the US withdrew its forces, having occupied the islands in 1944 in the days of World War 2, the United States government accepted responsibility for compensating the Marshallese and cleaning up the toxic legacy of nuclear waste. However, the Marshall Islands authorities reported that compensation has been woefully inadequate, and cited a history of distrust towards the US.

The US signed a Compact of Free Association with the Marshall Islands – coming into force in 1986 – in which the latter gained nominal independence. As part of this compact, the US was released from all liabilities arising from the nuclear weapons testing and storage of plutonium waste in the dome.

The Los Angeles Times, in conjunction with the Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, sent teams of reporters to the Marshall Islands five times over a period of 15 months. They documented the ongoing environmental damage, and outbreaks of disease, that afflict the atolls.

From the Los Angeles Times:

“Marshallese leaders acknowledge that America doesn’t bear full responsibility for their nation’s distress. But they say the United States has failed to take ownership of the environmental catastrophe it left behind, and they claim U.S. authorities have repeatedly deceived them about the magnitude and extent of that devastation.”

The dome itself, containing 3.1 million cubic feet of radioactive soil, debris and plutonium, is the consequence of the US saddling the Marshall Islands with a polluting legacy. No other country has to face such potentially devastating consequences from nuclear testing – not even Belarus and the Ukraine, the nations immediately affected by Chernobyl.

Nejre Joseph is now 72 years old. At seven years of age, living on Rongelop Atoll with her family, she witnessed the largest thermonuclear explosion ever conducted by the United States, codenamed Castle Bravo. The nuclear weapons test, carried out on Bikini atoll in 1954, was in the words of Joseph, like watching two suns rise – the usual sunrise and then the explosion. This was the first weaponised hydrogen bomb detonated by the US military.

The fallout from that test rained down a white powder over hundreds of miles, contaminating the water, marine life, and the food and homes of the islanders. People on and near the atolls experienced skin burns, nausea, burning and eventually cancer. The Marshallese were unwitting human guinea pigs for the US military, which was testing the effects of radiation exposure on the human body.

Joseph has suffered radiation poisoning and has had her thyroid removed. She has been taking thyroid medication her whole life. Her example is typical of the health impacts suffered by the Marshallese in the aftermath of US weapons testing.

If the relevant authorities handling the fallout and consequences of the Chernobyl or Fukushima disasters had simply poured concrete on the area and left it, there would be howls of outrage in the media. Stinging condemnations would issue forth from international bodies, and activist-environment groups would find a receptive media willing to broadcast their message. The Marshall Islands are the forgotten ground zero.

This however, is a catastrophe which originates in, and is nurtured by, the actions of the United States. In our corporate media, outrage is selectively deployed against official ‘enemy’ nations – Russia, China, Iran, North Korea – the list is endless. The arrogance of our imperial overlords are rarely if ever questioned. A kind of tribalism is encouraged and promoted – surely we do not do things like that.

Do I think that the Marshallese are super-fantastic people deserving of special privileges? No, I do not. Do I think that there are no other equally important issues deserving of attention? No, I do not. Every political leader must take responsibility, and be accountable for, their decisions and actions. The US has consistently denied, or at least avoided, taking full responsibility for the mess which their predatory actions have created.

The Marshall Islands is where the Cold War legacy of nuclear weapons meets the modern, ongoing problem of climate change. Marshallese Islanders were exiled frim their homes, left in impoverished conditions, and with horrendous health impacts. The United States is a cowardly environmental vandal, damaging the lives of the Marshallese, and refusing to accept culpability. It is time to hold them to account.