How Israel weaponizes International Law

Palestinian rally - Abou Ghost, 1936

Palestinian rally – Abou Ghost, 1936

More on Palestine

How Israel weaponizes International Law

[This version of the article first appeared on the Portside Snapshot page on 7th June 2021.]

In an article published last winter in the Harvard International Law Journal, legal scholar Naz K. Modirzadeh criticizes contemporary scholars working on the laws of war for their “distanced, remote, and abstract” work. Often devoid of both political context and historical background, such scholarship, Modirzadeh laments, often makes “no reference to . . . people, to their experience of war, to our political responsibility for the war they [live] through, or to our fundamental and simple sense of how international law did and should see them.” Instead, Modirzadeh implores scholars to engage in “passionate” writing that “reflects a kind of moral situatedness, a willingness to take seriously the professional ethics and moral agency of writing about international law and war to audiences that have power to make decisions about war.”

Against the backdrop of yet another Israeli onslaught against Palestinians in Gaza, I hope to heed Modirzadeh’s call—to speak about Israel’s violent weaponization of international law not from a place of manufactured scholarly neutrality but from within the colonial context that has made Israel’s repeated crimes in Gaza, as well as the rest of historic Palestine, possible.

This reality—more than seventy years of Israeli settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing—has long been crystal clear to Palestinians themselves, to scholars of Palestine, as well as to Israelis, many of whom support these policies. It is just beginning to make its way into mainstream media discussions of Palestine in the United States. But most Western legal analysis of Israeli violence in Gaza still ignores this colonial backdrop, as well as the anticolonial nature of Palestinian resistance to it. This context is vital to understanding the Israeli government’s manipulation of international law to avoid its humanitarian obligations in Gaza and wantonly kill Palestinians living in the besieged strip.

***

Attacking Gaza. . . Again

To appreciate Isreal’s legal distortions and their relationship to its colonialist project, it is essential to place the current crisis in context. The latest onslaught in Gaza was prompted most immediately by various Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem over the last few weeks. In April Israeli police raided the al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, on the first night of Ramadan and then barricaded Damascus Gate plaza, a popular gathering place—severely limiting what little remains of Palestinian communal space in the city.

Israeli authorities also joined forces with Israeli Jewish settler groups trying to evict and displace Palestinian families living in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Throughout April and early May, Israeli forces harassed these families and brutally cracked down on protests and sit-ins organized in Sheikh Jarrah to support Palestinian efforts to remain in their homes. As this repression continued, Israeli forces escalated events even further, starting on May 7 and continuing throughout the last days of Ramadan, by once again attacking the al-Aqsa mosque compound, where they launched stun grenades, rubber bullets, and tear gas, including against worshipers praying inside the mosque.

All together, these various incidents sparked solidarity protests organized by Palestinians across historic Palestine. Though it is hard to pin down the exact date, these demonstrations appear to have substantially increased in early MayIsraeli police and military forces, in tandem with roaming groups of armed Israeli Jewish settlers, responded to these protests with lethal violence, home invasions, and arrests, in the West Bank as well as in various cities within Israel itself.

Hamas, which won political power in Gaza in 2006 elections, responded with a warning to the Israeli government: either stop the attacks or face armed resistance. Israel’s attacks did not cease, so on May 10, a few days after issuing its warning on May 4, Hamas launched its crude unguided rockets into Israel. While its Iron Dome defense system repelled most of these rockets, Israel pummeled Gaza with its advance weapons technology. By the time a ceasefire took hold on May 20, Israel had killed at least 243 Palestinians, including 66 children. Israeli violence has also injured approximately 1,900 Palestinians and displaced 90,000 residents of Gaza; Hamas rockets killed 12 Israelis, including 2 children.  

But even these recent events do not tell the whole story. Understanding Israel’s violence inside Gaza today requires a longer-term perspective on how occupation and colonialism transformed the region into an extreme site of Israeli state violence.

Since the 1967 Six-Day War, the international community has recognized Israel as occupying Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. Given the long-standing, indefinite nature of this occupation—including large settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank—United Nations officials have begun to refer to it as an “occu-annexation.” While Israel asserts that its occupation of Gaza ended with the withdrawal of settlements there in 2005, the claim is obviously belied by the unconscionable facts on the ground and rejected by the international community. Hamas has only nominal political authority; effective control of the area remains with Israel. In 2007 the Israeli government supplemented its occupation of Gaza with an economic and military siege of the strip, which continues to this day. In addition to controlling Gaza’s air, land, and sea borders, Israel dominates all aspects of Palestinian life in Gaza, from access to food and medicine to the availability of electricity. As a result of this occupation and siege, Israel has effectively turned Gaza into a “maximum security prison” that, according to the UN, became unlivable in 2020.

Inside Gaza, nearly 2 million Palestinians reside in a space of only 140 square miles, making it one of the most densely populated areas in the world. This extreme density is the result both of Israel’s current occupation and siege of Gaza—which makes it nearly impossible to leave the area—as well as the ethnic cleansing Israel conducted in the 1947–48 war. That war, fought by Israeli forces against the indigenous Palestinian population and its Arab allies, aimed to secure as much of historic Palestine with as few Palestinians as possible for a future Israeli state. As Israeli historian Ilan Pappé has shown, to achieve that goal Israeli forces pursued an official policy of ethnic cleansing and displacement of the indigenous population. As a result of this policy, 80 percent of Palestinians fled their homes, and many sought refuge in Gaza, which fell under Egyptian control after the war. Today approximately 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza—about 70 percent of the strip’s population—are refugees or the descendants of refugees displaced by those eliminatory policies.

Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians continues to this day. As various organizations have documented—Palestinian (including Al Haq, amongst several others), Israeli (B’Tselem), and international (Human Rights Watch)—the Israeli government has systematically pursued an apartheid policy of ghettoizing, discriminating against, and displacing Palestinians across all of historic Palestine for decades.

Israel has pursued these policies of subjugation and ethnic cleansing in their most absolute and unrelenting form in Gaza. In 1969 the Israeli cabinet considered a plan to transfer Gazan Palestinians to Paraguay, while in 1992 former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, hailed in Israel as a peace-maker, declared that he “would like to see Gaza drown in the sea.” In 2007 Rabin’s monstrous dream became Israeli state policy. As part of its siege of Gaza, Israel has purposefully worked to negatively impact the health and well-being of Gaza’s population. As part of these efforts, Israel monitors and controls the caloric intake for Palestinians in Gaza, which has resulted in chronic (and intentional) malnutrition of the local population. As a result of the siege, the neonatal mortality rate in Gaza is seven times higher than that in Israel. Israeli authorities have also systematically prevented vital medical equipment and medicines, including COVID-19 vaccines, from entering the region, and made it nearly impossible for Palestinians in Gaza to leave in order to receive medical care elsewhere. In the words of one doctor who has worked in Gaza, this situation makes “the prevention, treatment and management of . . . chronic diseases much harder and causes avoidable death and disability.”

But it is the full-scale, Israeli-launched massacres in Gaza—including the current onslaught as well as other massive attacks launched in 20082012, and 2014—which have resulted in thousands of deaths that make Israel’s onslaught against Palestinian life in Gaza clearest. In various ways, this long-standing war on Gaza has much in common with the colonial wars waged by European imperial powers in the nineteenth century—including Israel’s legal acrobatics to justify and legitimize its attack on Palestinians.

***

Israel’s Rewriting of the Laws of War

This historical perspective is crucial for understanding the way Israel has simultaneously avoided and exploited the law to facilitate its violence in Gaza. On the one hand, Israel has denied that occupation law—a branch of IHL that incorporates human rights norms and is made up of provisions from the Hague Regulations of 1907, the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and Additional Protocol I of 1977—applies to its actions in Gaza. At the same time, Israel has relied on colonialist arguments about the laws of war to justify its actions against the Palestinians of Gaza. Through these efforts, Israel has attempted to situate its relationship to Gaza within a war paradigm, which allows Israel far more flexibility than it would have under occupation law to engage in broad-based military attacks.

Israel’s claim to self-defense is a prominent example of these dynamics. In attempting to justify its massive onslaught on Gaza, Israel has repeatedly invoked the right of self-defense, which is recognized by Article 51 of the UN Charter as well as customary international law. The right of self-defense allows a state to do what it is generally forbidden to do: unleash military force against another state.

But there are a number of problems with Israel’s self-defense argument in relation to Gaza. First, as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has held, the right of self-defense is only a right that states have against other states. Israel and the United States disagree with this view, while others subscribe to the ICJ’s position and still other states take an intermediate perspective. Though the issue remains unsettled, the contention that states can invoke the right of self-defense to justify military attacks against non-state actors is rooted in part in the practices of European colonialist states. Take the 1837 Caroline Affair, which arose when Canadian rebels, actively fighting against British colonial rule, escaped from Canada and took refuge in the United States. British forces pursued the group into U.S. territory where they attacked the Caroline, a ship the insurgents and their supporters had been using. In defending its actions to the U.S. government, the British claimed they were acting in self-defense.

Since then, the Caroline Affair—steeped in the colonial interests of the British crown—has often been cited to justify the claim that states can, in certain circumstances, attack non-state actors residing on another sovereign’s territory. This has been particularly true since the September 11 attacks in 2001, when the question of whether states have a right of self-defense against non-state actors has become increasingly pressing. Like the Caroline Affair itself, the post–9/11 push to recognize such a right has had colonialist reverberations. While the response to 9/11 was immediately framed in terms of war and self-defense, the decision to adopt such a framing, in the words of Antony Anghie, reflects the view that “the threat of terrorism can be addressed only by the reconstruction of a new, imperial order.” Through this war framing of self-defense, the “terrorist,” like the colonial “other,” could be “excluded from the realm of law, attacked, liberated, defeated, and transformed”—results that have been clearly on display in the creation of the Guantanamo Bay military detention regime, as well as other U.S. counter-terrorism policies.

But even if there is a right of self-defense against non-state actors located on the territory of third-party countries, that right arguably does not apply, at least in its conventional sense, against groups that are subject to the occupying power of the state invoking that right. Though some of its judges dissented from this position, in an advisory opinion issued in 2004, the ICJ rejected Israel’s argument that it could invoke the right of self-defense against the Palestinian people. As the Court held, because Israel exercises control over the Palestinian territories and the purported threat to it “originates within and, not outside, that territory,” the right of self-defense does not apply.

Expanding on this position, legal scholar and human rights attorney Noura Erakat and others have shown, occupation law requires that occupying forces defend themselves through the use of traditional police powers. This police authority is “restricted to the least amount of force necessary to restore order and subdue violence.” Though there are some situations where lethal violence can be used, it must be “a measure of last resort.” And while even military force may be permitted in exceptional circumstances, it must be “circumscribed by concern for the civilian non-combatant population.” As Erakat argues, Israel’s use of the far more expansive right of self-defense may protect its “colonial authority,” but it comes at the “expense of the rights of civilian non-combatants” under occupation law.

***

Israel’s Manipulation of International Humanitarian Law

As with its approach to self-defense, Israel’s interpretation of international humanitarian law (IHL) has colonialist overtones. As positivist international law began to emerge in the nineteenth century, European countries insisted that IHL did not apply to the “uncivilized”—non-European, non-Western people of color—and, therefore, did not apply to Europe’s wars to take and occupy foreign lands. By placing people of the Global South outside the law, European colonialist gave themselves carte blanche to wage war as they pleased against those populations.

While this overt exclusion of non-Westerners faded away during the course of the twentieth century, it continues to be practiced by some states in other forms, most notably by the United States in its pursuit of its War on Terror policies. In Israel, as well, the government has extended IHL’s colonial legacy by creating new legal categories and interpreting elements of IHL in ways that aim to give itself carte blanche authority to target the Palestinian population.

These efforts are the subject of Craig Jones’s new book, The War Lawyers: The United States, Israel, and Judicial Warfare (2021), which demonstrates, in part, the extent to which Israel and its military lawyers have exploited and rewritten IHL to fit Israel’s colonial ends. Israel’s first major innovation was to create a completely new kind of “armed conflict.” Under IHL, armed conflicts are classified as either international or non-international. As Jones demonstrates, in order to unleash the full force of its military against its occupied Palestinian population, Israeli military lawyers invented a new category in 2000: “armed conflict short of war.”

Though Jones’s book does not unpack the underlying rationale, the scheme is designed, much like Israel’s efforts to invoke self-defense, to shift focus away from occupation law, which places limits on the force Israel can use, and emphasize instead the more malleable and potentially expansive categories of IHL that apply to armed conflicts. These categories revolve around four basic principles: military necessity, which limits attacks to strictly military objectives; distinction, which allows only combatants and military objects to be directly attacked and requires they be distinguished from civilians and civilian objects; proportionality, which prohibits attacks that would cause disproportionate or excessive losses to civilians or civilian objects compared to the anticipated military advantage of the attack; and humanity, which prohibits all suffering, injury, or destruction that is unnecessary to realizing legitimate military objectives.

As Jones’s book describes, in early 2001, the Israeli military wove these basic principles of IHL into a six-point test for killing Palestinians under its newly specified regime of “armed conflict short of war.” Under this test, several conditions must be met. First, the military advantage gained by the killing must be proportional to anticipated civilian casualties and destruction of objects of civilian life. Second, only combatants and those who engage in “direct participantion” in hostilities can be targeted. Third, if arrest rather than killing of a suspected “terrorist” is possible, then arrest must be attempted. Fourth, the obligation to arrest rather than kill only applies to those under “Israeli security control.” Fifth, Israel’s defense minister or prime minister must provide approval prior to a planned attack. And sixth, attacks have to be aimed at “terrorists” who plan to carry out violence in the “near future.” In 2006 the Israeli High Court—the supreme judicial body in Israel—set out its own test for the military’s extrajudicial killings, broadly adopting these same categories.

At first blush one might think this framework comports with Israel’s obligations under occupation law. After all, it seems to combine the basic principles of IHL with the human rights obligation to rely first and foremost on civilian policing. But because Israel claims that it does not occupy Gaza or have effective control of the strip, it does not consider itself bound by policing norms at all. As Jones’s book demonstrates, the test also has a number of other problems under laws of war, including adopting a very broad definition of what violence planned in the “near future” means (a point Erakat has also made).

But perhaps the most problematic aspect of Israel’s extrajudicial killing policy is its definition of “direct participants,” as well as its more general views on who counts as a combatant in Gaza. As Jones shows, from Israel’s perspective, “direct participants” include not only leaders, commanders, and foot soldiers, but also, as a result of the Israeli High Court’s 2006 decision, anyone who provides “support” to these individuals. As Jones points out, such support can include a range of activities, from someone who simply serves as a driver for Hamas politicians to those providing “political or religious support” to groups Israel has labeled as enemies.

Israel’s rules of engagement (ROE)—which are informed by IHL but provide more specific guidance to commanders and soldiers as to when force can be used—reinforce and further expand upon its expansive approach to categorizing combatants. In 2015 the organization Breaking the Silence—composed of active duty and retired Israeli soldiers exposing Israel’s crimes in the West Bank and Gaza—released a report detailing the ROE for Israel’s last major onslaught against Gaza in 2014. According to that report, Israeli soldiers “said they were told by commanders to view all Palestinians in the combat zones as a potential threat, whether they brandished weapons or not. Individuals spotted in windows and rooftops—especially if they were speaking on cellphones—were often considered scouts and could be shot.”

This broad definition of combatants is perhaps the most overt way that Israel’s approach to IHL aligns with colonialist approaches. As Frédéric Mégret observes:

It is arguably at this stage that the discrimination that had been abolished at the level of the actual operational rules of warfare sneaks back in and niches itself at the heart of the laws war. From ‘how should one deal with ‘savages’ in war?,’ the question becomes ‘who is a combatant?’ (and the implicit answer. . . is ‘not a savage’).

As part of its expansive, colonialist approach to who is or is not a combatant, Israel has pathologized Palestinian life itself as a potential threat. This policy is rooted in the ideology of Zionism, which treats Palestinians as a demographic threat to Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, and it has been operationalized through the Israeli government’s long-standing effort to make Palestinian identity synonymous with terrorism—another key word in Israel’s six-point test for killing.

Since at least the early 1970s, Israel has worked hard to transform “terrorism” from a neutral descriptive term for a particular kind of violent tactic to a normatively infused rhetorical weapon synonymous with unacceptable evil and existential destruction. As many scholars have argued, Israel’s goal in repurposing terrorism was to use it as to delegitimize Palestinian resistance to Israeli violence, colonialism, and occupation. This de-legitimization campaign has come to include all forms of peaceful Palestinian resistance and advocacy for Palestinian human rights. For example, in a report issued in February 2019, Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy insisted that peaceful Palestinian advocacy amounts to terrorism in a new form. “Terrorist organizations see the ‘civilian’ struggle against Israel—demonstrations, marches, fundraising, political lobbying and the so-called ‘peace’ flotillas—as a complementary effort of their armed attacks against the State of Israel,” the report says.

As far as the Israeli government is concerned, it is not just armed or peaceful Palestinian resistance that represents a form of terrorism; Palestinian life itself is connected to what Maya Mikdashi calls the “civilian infrastructure of terrorism.” As Mikdashi writes:

You do not have to pick up a gun in Palestine to be a revolutionary or an ‘enemy’ of Israel. You do not have to protest or throw stones or fly flags to be dangerous. You do not have to rely on underground tunnels for food and cancer medication in order to be deemed part of the civilian infrastructure of terrorism. To be a threat to Israel is easy: You just have to be Palestinian.

The vastly disproportionate numbers of Palestinian civilians killed in Israel’s bloodiest attacks on Gaza are the inevitable manifestation of these policies. In 2008, this toll amounted to 759 civilians out of 1391 Palestinians killed in Gaza; in 2012, 87 civilians out of 167; and in 2014, 1,462 civilians out of 2,104. By contrast, in 2008 just 3 Israeli civilians were killed; in 2012, 4 were killed; and in 2014, 7 were killed.

***

The significance of these facts is clear. Israel’s latest attacks on the people of Gaza is part and parcel of Israeli settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing. It is based on the Israeli government’s view that all Palestinians, especially those in Gaza, represent a potential or actual threat to Israel. It is grounded in the pathologizing and devaluing of Palestinian life. And it is all undertaken through uses and abuses of the legitimizing power of the law. It is unacceptable for people of conscience to deny or ignore these facts—especially in the United States, where taxpayer money and diplomacy have both fueled Israeli crimes against Palestinians and shielded them from accountability for decades. As Americans, we have a responsibility to reckon with our complicity.

More on Palestine


Maryam Jamshidi is Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where she teaches and writes in the areas of national security, public international law, the law of foreign relations, and tort law. Find her on Twitter @MsJamshidi.

November 11th – Armistice Day

Liverpool Cenotaph

Liverpool Cenotaph

More on the ‘Revolutionary Year’

November 11th – Armistice Day

The first commemoration of Armistice Day in Britain took place on November 11th 1919. In order to get men to fight in the new style of warfare brought about by the start of hostilities in 1914 what was euphemistically called ‘the Great War’ by the British was supposed to be ‘the war to end all wars’. With that as a background it made some sense to remember those who had died fighting for the interests of their respective imperialist countries. However, since the 20 million estimated to have been killed between 1914 and 1918 paled into insignificance in the century following that conflict the whole ethos of the day has changed.

Once the ink was dry on the Treaty of Versailles, signed on 29th June 1919, cities, towns and villages in Britain, France and Belgium (but not in Germany who had other matters – like starvation, an attempt at revolution and the rise of fascism – to concentrate the minds of the people following the draconian conditions of the ‘treaty’) made efforts to raise money so that those who died could be remembered in those places they lived before being shipped off to the trenches of the Western Front or other theatres of war. (The discrepancy about the dates you’ll see on such memorials stems from whether 1918 – which was the year of the end of the shooting – or 1919 – the year of the final treaty – had been chosen as the time when the war ended.)

Even the latter date might not have been totally accurate as the so-called ‘allied intervention’ in the Russian Civil War following the October Revolution – where 14 nations that had been trying to destroy each others’ armies and navies got together in an attempt to destroy the first workers state – continued until 1920. British fatalities in that conflict were, no doubt, listed on the local memorials to appear throughout the twenties although they were fighting in a completely different theatre of war and for completely different reasons.

So even before discussions on the treaty to end the war ‘to end all wars’ had even begun British forces were following the old imperialist road of killing all those who might challenge the right of capitalism to rule the world for the benefit of a few.

Added to that far off conflict the echoes of the guns on the Western Front had barely faded before those psychopaths from the British Army, who hadn’t had their fill of blood, volunteered to join the Black and Tans (the British equivalent of the proto-fascist Freikorps of Germany) who murdered with impunity in Ireland, when the Republican movement was a bit more principled than it is today.

When Nazi forces murdered without discretion, in various countries, during the Second World War the perpetrators were branded as war criminals. When the Black and Tans did the very same in Ireland between 1920 and 1922 they were commended as heroes fighting for the British State. Presumably those that were killed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Irish War of Independence are also commemorated on the World War One memorials, if not by having their names recorded at least by association with the recently concluded war.

As time went on, and not too many years at that, the emphasis of ending wars as they were too destructive, in terms of personal suffering as well as the destruction of what a society had already created, was being pushed into the background.

My point here is that the idea behind Armistice Day, November 11th had become a lie, even before it could be first commemorated.

People in Britain seem to have an unhealthy appetite for celebrating war anniversaries. It was in just such a climate that the decision was made to make a big issue out of the centenary of the First World War – I could accept (just) commemorating the centenary of the end of the war in 2018 but the beginning in 2014? That’s just bizarre. But here the politicians are being clever. They know that there’s a deep-seated jingoism in a sizeable proportion of the British electorate that they can tap into. They also know that those very same people aren’t prepared to be critical of what has happened in the past – especially if the British ‘won’.

We have already seen a lot being made of the 1914 ‘Christmas Truce’ and no doubt tours to the battlefields of the Western Front and the likes of the Menin Gate in Ypres have been selling like hotcakes but are we really dealing with the real issues at hand?

Although this particular ‘celebration’ was initiated by the Tories and the ersatz Tories of the liberal Party such pandering to the lowest political level is also a forte of the Labour Party. Through the centuries when the British armed forces had been killing, raping and looting throughout the world (of the 196 countries in the world today the British have NOT invaded only 22 of them) there had been no proposal of a day where those forces were celebrated – this was probably because even those in power at the time realised that making these killers out to be heroes would be tantamount to making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

So, if after so many years without a special day devoted to those who had fought and/or died in past conflicts, why did the Labour Party introduce Veteran’s Day in 2006 (3 years later to be called Armed Forces Day)? Because British forces were becoming even more deeply involved in a continuous series of futile, un-winnable, unpopular and more than probably illegal (on their own terms of reference) conflicts which are likely to go on for ‘a generation’. What better to throw in a parade every year and people can forget reality. It also makes it difficult for those who oppose such imperialistic shows of military might as they will be branded as being un-supportive of ‘our boys – and now girls – who are fighting for ‘us’.

Whenever I hear this type of ‘argument’ I always wonder how it would be received if it came from the mouths of the parents of German Waffren SS soldiers whose idea of fighting for ‘us’ was murdering all the villagers and burning every building, as they did in Borove in Albania, or corralling every villager they could into a large building and then setting it on fire, burning all of them alive, as happened in hundreds of villages in the Soviet Union during the Second World War.

There was a sound moral reason why ordinary people (not the ruling class) of Britain adopted the idea of a day to remember those who had died in the First World War. Of course, many had died in previous wars but, in numerous senses, the war that began in 1914 was different. Although for the first year or so the war was conducted by ‘professionals’ they were soon joined by ‘volunteers’ and when that wasn’t enough to feed Death’s insatiable appetite mass conscription was introduced for the first time in 1916. These were children in many ways. Whether from the factories or the farms the vast majority of them hadn’t gone much more than a few miles from the place of their birth before being shipped off to some ‘exotic’ location. They took much of the propaganda fed to them uncritically and therefore were like lambs to the slaughter.

Any leadership was denied them when the traitorous Labour Party (yes, it’s been betraying the workers from the earliest days of its existence) decided to go back on the decisions made at gatherings, in the years leading up to the war, in such declarations as the Stuttgart Resolution (1907) and the Basel Manifesto (1912) – which called upon workers not to fight in a bosses war – of the Second International.

Although there had been many casualties in previous wars the overwhelming majority of those from the ‘Great War’ were young men in their late teens and early twenties. This had a not before experienced effect on women who never got closer to the war than those living on the south coast hearing gun fire from across the Channel. For, more or less, each soldier who didn’t return there was a young woman who had little or no prospect of marriage (at a time when this was the norm in society) or experienced widowhood . And this doesn’t take into account the many more who did return but with severe physical disabilities and even more who fought the war every day for the rest of their lives due to the trauma suffered in the trenches.

In Britain the civilian population didn’t suffer in the same way as they did in France and Belgium during the actual fighting. The real suffering followed 1918 and that made Armistice Day commemorations much more meaningful for many more people in the 1920s. This was unprecedented and hasn’t really been repeated in any way close in Britain since (although other countries had to face a similar situation subsequently, most notably the Soviet Union in the Great Patriotic War).

This should have been a wake up call to British workers. It wasn’t, even with all the suffering caused, both economically and socially, in the 20s and 30s. Even though the conditions showed that the capitalist system offered nothing to the majority of the population the British working class weren’t prepared to go that step further and confine it to the dustbin of history. The working class were responsible for this but then they weren’t able to create in their midst a revolutionary party that would be able to lead such a struggle – not then, nor since.

Although the Treaty of Versailles officially ended the 1914-19 war that was only really a declaration that called for a time out. The war might have ‘ended’ but the same issues that caused the war in the first place remained. Those issues could have been resolved if the workers of Europe had stood firm with the young socialist state in the Soviet Union and changed their own countries but, for various reasons, they didn’t. The rise of fascism generally, the victorious coup carried out by Mussolini in Italy, the defeat of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War and, especially, the rise of Hitlerite Nazism in Germany made the World War, Part 2, inevitable.

The war in which British forces fought between 1939 and 1945 can safely be said to have been the only ‘just war’ in the history of the country. It was an ideological war for many of the soldiers involved (despite the overarching agenda of the politicians and those capitalists they really represented) with the defeat of fascism being the prime aim. For those who fought the gaining of land, resources and materials for the capitalist class was never an issue, unlike the majority of previous incursions abroad. (This is excepting, as it was fought solely on British soil, the English Civil War of the 17th century where the people rose up in a national liberation war against the God-crazed despot and dictator Charles Stuart.)

When that war officially ended in August 1945 that should have been the point when the world could have said that it had gone through the war to end all wars. But again it wasn’t. The enemy of the war that had been won, in great part, by the unimaginable sacrifice of the Soviet people, changed. Expansionist German had finally been defeated but that didn’t mean that the new kid on the block, the United States of America – together with its already tethered and dependent poodles, the United Kingdom and the other western European nations – hadn’t picked up the baton for world domination. The country which had fought fascism, as one of the ‘allies’, was now the enemy and communists seeking to make a world without war had to be defeated at all costs.

The British Armed Forces were to played, and play to this day, an important and crucial role is this battle against national liberation, progress and freedom.

Lest we forget:

Vietnam

From August to November 1945 Japanese soldiers in Vietnam were re-armed, by the British, to be used as a force against the Vietnamese Viet Minh, the national independence force led by Ho Chin Minh, in order to allow the French time to organise their forces to regain their colonialist control of the region. The Viet Minh had consistently fought against the Japanese invaders, the French had surrendered to the Nazis quite quickly and half the country was under a collaborationist government.

Indonesia

The British were involved in one battle during October and November 1945 against pro-independence Indonesian fighters in the battle for the city of Surabaya. British troops came with tanks, naval support – in the form of 2 cruisers and 3 destroyers – and air support from the RAF. The British ‘won’ but the battle became a clarion call for independence fighters in the future. Thousands of local people lost their lives.

Palestine

British forces had been in Palestine since the end of the First World War and became increasingly in conflict with the Palestinian population as more and more Jewish immigrants arrived in the country following the Balfour Declaration of 1917 – which promised ‘a national home for the Jewish people’. This decision didn’t take into account that there were already people living on the land and to make the declaration a reality some of these people would have to move. This led to increasingly violent conflicts between the British and the Palestinian Arabs before 1939 and once the war in Europe had been won and the Holocaust became widely known it was only a matter of time before the State of Israel would come into existence. A UN decision at the end of November 1947 came up with a ‘solution’ of the partition of Palestine. This wasn’t accepted by the Palestinians – it was their country and who were European powers to say otherwise – nor the Israeli settlers – who wanted it all.

Although the British were attacked by various Jewish terrorist groups (the leaders of which were later to hold high political office in the state of Israel) they stood aside as the date for the Declaration of the State of Israel (May 15th 1948) approached and the Jewish settlers carried out massacres such as the one of the village of Deir Yassin. This is a sore in that part of the world which has been festering ever since, with the suffering of the Palestinian people become greater day by day.

Greece

In March 1946 British forces continued its support of the Monarchist government in Greece. This had been ‘a government-in-exile’, i.e., the King ran away when the Fascists invaded. The Communist guerrillas who didn’t have that luxury stayed and fought against the invaders. Once the Nazis were thrown out at the end of 1944 the British were there to help reinstate the monarchy and gave support to a ‘White Terror’ against left-wing movements within the country. This ultimately led to the ‘Generals Coup’ of 1967 and then seven years of military, fascist rule.

Albania

In May 1946 a small convoy of the British Navy sailed through the narrow Corfu straights between the Greek island and Albania. This intimidation of a country with a tiny population who had liberated itself from the Nazi invaders in November 1944 was all part of the British plan, with the aid of its far superior armed forces, to undermine the Albanian Communist Government. As in Greece, Britain favoured the cowardly monarchy that had run away when the Italians had invaded in 1939, this time the self-proclaimed King Zog, and subsequently tried to infiltrate spies and saboteurs faithful to British interests, this all failed miserably.

China

In April 1949 the British Royal Navy ship, The Amethyst, was sent up the Yangtze River in China. This seems to have been more of an example of latter-day colonial arrogance on behalf of the British government and a similar attitude in the Admiralty. They seemed to be totally oblivious of the fact that tens of millions of Chinese men , women and children had died at the hands of the Japanese invaders; that the Communist Red Army under the leadership of Mao Tse-tung had played the major role in the defeat of that invading force of fascists; and that for four years they had been fighting, and were close to defeating, the capitalist favoured nationalist forces of the Kuomintang – who Britain subsequently recognised as ‘China’ (although limited to the island of Taiwan) in the United Nations until 1971. As in all these situations there’s a huge dose of hypocrisy. What would be the reaction of the British state if a Chinese warship were to start going up the Thames to ‘protect’ the Chinese Embassy, the excuse used in 1949?

Malaya

The British anti-guerrilla campaign in Malaya, starting in 1948, was euphemistically called ‘The Malayan Emergency’ – it’s interesting that after 6 years of war the use of the term was avoided so as to con the British populace that they hadn’t come out of one war to go into another. This was a dirty war fought in a manner that was to become the norm in Africa, Asia and Latin America for the next 50 years. Here the people were fighting for control of their own country opposed by a colonial power. As many of the guerrillas were of an ethnic Chinese background one of the tactics of the British was to use a ‘divide and conquer’ approach, pitting ethnic groups against each other.

The British troops in Malaya were also the first to use the tactics that the Americans were to perfect in Vietnam in the 1960s. Torture of captives was common, the tactic known as ‘search and destroy’ was widespread and the burning of villages was a matter of course, a shoot to kill policy was in place – meaning that if you were in the wrong place at the wrong time (even if where you lived) you could die, whole villages were ‘resettled’ (read imprisoned in controlled areas) so they could not aid the guerrillas, the use of defoliating chemicals was used to clear the jungle of shelter for the insurgents, and massacres of entire villages were part of the British tactics. One of those villages was a place called Batang Kali, the story of which is very similar to the case of My Lai in Vietnam in 1967, and like the later example of murder by imperialist troops not one British soldier was held to account.

Korea

The Korean War took place between June 1950 and July 1953, when an armistice was agreed but not a long-lasting solution. The division of the country was as a consequence of conferences between the Allies in the final months of the war and shows that matters were not always thought through by the Soviet Union – it seems they didn’t fully recognise the antagonism they would have to face from the capitalist nations, who were planning the ‘Cold War’ before the gunfire of WWII had ended. Using the Soviet Union’s boycott of the United Nations Security Council (in support of the People’s Republic of China’s rightful representation in the international body and hence unable to exercise the right of veto) with the US and the UK in the forefront of rhetoric and actual ‘boots on the ground’, an international force was sent in an anti-Communist crusade – a situation similar to which we can all recognise to date. A total of 87,000 British troops (including conscripts) were sent to Korea, resulting in a 1,000 fatalities. The country is divided to this day with occasional flare-ups, either militarily or in a war of words.

Kenya

As the British armed forces became involved in an increasing number of anti-colonial struggles on moving into the 1950s it’s possible to see how ‘tactics’ used in one place were repeated, and often refined, in others. The Mau Mau Uprising (again a loaded word that indicates the actions of the local populace was somehow illegitimate) was the name given to a liberation movement that fought the British from 1952 until 1956, when the struggle was all but lost by the Kikuyu fighters. In all these actions what are described as ‘war crimes’ can be attributed to the British forces, whether they be actual British soldiers or militias, auxiliaries recruited locally.

In Kenya concentration camps were established, often in very remote areas to keep the activities secret from the rest of the population. (Here it should be remembered that concentration camps were not the invention of the Hitlerite Nazis from the 1930s. No, the Nazis took their lead from the tactics used by the British at the end of the 19th century in their wars against the Boers in South Africa.) Torture was common and recent attempts by those who suffered at the hands of the British to get some sort of redress have been told, surprise, surprise, that the relevant documents have gone missing. There are a number of examples were captured insurgents were clubbed to death and a number of massacres of the local population are also documented.

Cyprus

A move by the British to move their Middle East Head Quarters from the Suez area of Egypt (presumably due to the hostility of the nationalist government of Nasser) to the island of Cyprus in 1955 was the spark to ignite both the Greek and Turkish populations desire to separate from the British and unite with their respective mainland countries. A total of 371 British soldiers died in the 4 year period but figures of Cypriot casualties are unclear – though they would have been much higher. Documents released in 2012 seem to show that, as in other places where the British fought to defend a dying colonialism, they were able to act with impunity in the way they dealt with the locals. To give an idea of the situation I’ll quote from an article in The Guardian newspaper just after the release of the documents: “A young British army officer recorded seeing 150 soldiers indiscriminately “kicking Cypriots as they lay on the ground and beating them in the head, face, and body with rifle butts”.”

Suez

In 1956, in response to the Egyptian President Nasser’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal the British, together with the Israelis and the French, concocted a scheme to invade the country. Although this was a short-lived occupation and really a debacle for the British and the French before they left there was a tally of 4 to 5 thousand dead Egyptians.

Oman

Oman in the 1950s was somewhere between slavery and feudalism. All power and resources where in the hands of the Sultan, who lived in a palace, which he rarely left, and was serviced by hundreds of slaves. There was no development, no schools, no health care and disease was endemic. As a result there was an inevitable rebellion. But, to paraphrase Franklin D Roosevelt when he was referring to the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, ‘He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s Britain’s son of a bitch’. He was also anti-Arab nationalist, something the British liked after the disaster of the Suez Crisis, and he allowed the British to build a couple of air bases in a strategically important part of the world.

This was a ‘war’, which began in the middle of 1957, fought almost exclusively, at least initially, by the Royal Air Force. In supporting the Sultan they followed the tactic of making it so dangerous and unpleasant for anyone to support any opposition to the staus quo that they would think twice to do so. They also attacked water supplies, crucial for survival in such a desert country. These were war crimes in anyone’s definition but the pilots seem to, literally, get away with murder as they are so far from the actual killing zone – just like drone pilots today. If force needed to be used on the ground the British were happy to provide the weapons. Once the RAF had bombed the rebel strongholds to dust the SAS were sent in to finish the job, in the process gaining a reputation for being the hard men of the British Army but really just carrying out mopping up operations. By July 1959, the Sultan, with the military might of the British behind him, seemed to have won.

Brunei

An anti-colonial rebellion broke out in December 1962. Intelligence of the intention of an insurrection got to the British about a month before it was due to begin, thus allowing themselves time to organise a response. It seems that overwhelming force, with infantry regiments, including a couple of Gurkha regiments, on the ground as well as Royal Navy and RAF support was able to stop the rebellion before it gained any momentum.

Indonesia

Although British troops weren’t directly involved in the October 1965 military coup which put the pro-Western Suharto in control of the country and led to the murder, over the next couple of years, of millions of Communist and trade unionists, the Royal Navy did play the role of protectors of a boat load of Indonesian soldiers on one of their killing sprees. This shouldn’t be a surprise. The Labour Government of Harold Wilson knew what was going to happen before the event, virtually giving Suharto the green light. Communist led attempts at insurrection in Sarawak and the anti-colonial (British) failed insurrection in Brunei had both been supported by Sukarno and his removal suited Britain’s political and economic interests in the region. As was, and still is, the case the question of oil came high on the agenda.

Aden

Aden, which is now part of Yemen, had been under the control of the British since 1839 but at the end of 1963 (I know that’s a long time before getting fed up with foreign domination) the local people had had enough of colonial rule. The British response to this was to declare another ’emergency’ and send in the Army’s 24th Infantry Brigade and nine squadrons, helicopters as well as aircraft, of the RAF. This was a short but very intense conflict, with the balance of power changing after each battle. The commander of the 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders was nicknamed ‘Mad Mitch’ so that will give you an idea of how the battle was fought on the British side. The British left, earlier than originally planned, in November 1967. Around 60 British soldiers lost their lives but the number of local fighters who were killed is unknown.

(As we were nominally supposed to be in ‘Peace Time’, it’s interesting to note that 1968 was the first year since the end of the Second World War when British troops were not in a combat role somewhere in the world. I think it’s true to say the only year from 1945 till now.)

Ireland

British troops were sent into Ireland, in the most recent version of ‘The Troubles’, on 14th August 1969. Although it could be true to say, initially, they were welcomed by the Catholic community that soon melted away. With Ireland it’s difficult to know where to start. It would depend where you stand on Ireland whether this was a national, civil conflict or the perpetuation of colonial rule. Whatever interpretation you choose it brings up difficult questions. If you think that Northern Ireland is part of the UK then British troops were mistreating, torturing and generally terrorising British citizens. If you believe in an All Ireland Republic this was a matter of the colonial conflict getting closer to home.

British troops in Ireland: kicked in people’s doors in the middle of the night; soon had their backs to the Unionist attackers and faced the Republicans trying to defend themselves; killed children by firing ‘battery enhanced’ rubber bullets into their faces; killed civilians in a virtual ‘shoot to kill’ policy; the ‘Bloody Sunday’ massacre in Derry – in recent days a soldier has been arrested for this, but, as always happens in these circumstances, a lowly soldier becomes the scapegoat for overall Army policy; the Springfield Massacre in Belfast where British snipers shot 5 people, including a 13-year-old girl and a priest; the Ballymurphy Massacre when eleven civilians were killed; introduced Internment; and generally made life miserable for the people of Northern Ireland and despite the Good Friday Agreement the underlying issues remain.

(When it comes to Army recruitment the worsening situation in Ireland changed the way the Armed Forces presented themselves. Into the early years of the 70s the call was for young people to ‘Join The Professionals’. When that was seen as joining a bunch of thugs who kicked in people’s doors in the middle of the night advertising for the army virtually disappeared from the scene.

Ireland has now been all but forgotten in the public consciousness – in the mainland if not on the island itself. Despite the disastrous wars that the UK has been involved in since 2002 there is a new level of confidence in the state. However many soldiers might die or return with psychological issues there seems to be no shortage of volunteers to join up. Whether the advertising campaigns are really necessary is another matter, it does shovel money into the pockets of companies who support the State but more importantly keeps the idea of an internationally capable armed force in the public thinking.)

Muscat and Oman

The issues that caused the people to rise up against the Sultan in the 1950s didn’t go away, although the revolutionary forces were severely weakened by British military action. By 1970 oil was a much bigger player in the country and the rebellions continued to break out. Instead of making efforts to ameliorate the condition of the people the British government (Labour) instituted a coup against the old Sultan (who was past his sell by date), brought the more compliant son to the throne, and then used the RAF to again bomb the poor peasants out of existence.

Malvinas

The war with Argentina over the Malvinas was a nasty, tacky war encompassing all those reactionary and archaic aspects of wars fought when Britain was dominant in the world and ‘the sun never set on the British Empire’ and the short campaign brought out the worst in the British population. Those aspects of racism and jingoism latent in the country were given free rein by the Thatcher government, who revelled in the opportunity to distract people’s attention away from their inability to deal with the economy. ‘Victory’ in the South Atlantic also allowed those war-mongers within society to attain a level of influence that was still palpable more than twenty years later when the never-ending ‘war on terror’ was declared. More than a thousand men were to die in that short war, a quarter of them British.

Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and ……

Perhaps it’s unjust to lump all these countries together but circumstances in the last 13 years make it difficult to separate what happens in one country from the effects on another. There is no perceivable end to this war, even politicians saying (in a perverse way to gain support for their policies) that this was is a generational war, one that will go on for years. ‘Victory’ in one place only means the fighting break outs in another. So far 465 military personnel have died in Afghanistan, 179 in Iraq. When it comes to wounded the situation is not so clear, in Iraq almost 6,000 but the figures for Afghanistan are obscured, presumably to keep as many people as possible in the dark about the true human cost.

But the figures become another matter when we consider casualties amongst those opposing the invasion of their country and civilians who get caught up in the fighting. Those figures are probably well over 200,000 but we’ll probably never know the exact figures as numbers are a political game. And from experience of the past the numbers of enemy combatants will always be exaggerated, and those of civilians played down, to demonstrate that the ‘good guys’, i.e., us, are winning.

Industrial Disputes in Britain

Another matter which is never considered is the role that the Armed Forces have played in industrial disputes in this country. Up to the mid-1980s, when trade union activity dropped considerably with the success of the Thatcher government’s anti-union policies, especially with the defeat of the miners in 1984/5, the British Armed Forces were called out almost 50 times to basically scab (strike break) on behalf of the employers. This was at a time when trade union membership was close to 12 million, so hardly a minority group within society – although lack of solidarity amongst trade unionists often meant that groups could be picked off one by one – the tactic learnt long ago by capitalism but still not by those who oppose the rotten system.

When it comes to party politics in Britain it should be pointed out that the colour of the government at any time in the last 70 years has played no part whatsoever in whether British Armed Forces were sent to other parts of the world or not. The Labour Party has been as willing to send troops to maintain British imperialism’s control of various countries, considered by capitalism to be of such importance that force was necessary, as the ‘traditional’ representative of the ruling class, the Conservative Party. Even in opposition these parties play a game and might make noises around the execution of the deployment but never, ever challenging the morality of the issue.

My reasons for this long list (longer than even I remembered) of occasions where British Armed Forces have been in action since 1945 is to argue that it is impossible – if you have any moral compass whatsoever – to consider those who have been killed or wounded as having done so in order to make the world a better place to live, the sort of statements that have been bandied around in the last week or so leading up to November 11th – a phrase which I can’t remember being used in such the same way in previous years.

It seems that the longer the ‘war against terror’ goes on the more the British population in general are prepared to accept the cost that will have to be paid in men, women and materials – those at the receiving end of this mayhem not really being considered at all. There are crocodile tears for the refugees but the bombs continue to drop, drones get used more and more (becoming more terrifying to the people of the ground with the use of the ‘double tap’ tactic – where the drone will stay for hours if need be just to ready to send another missile on anyone who tries to help the injured.

One of the stated aims of even an imperialist army is to defend the people from the country which they originate but do the people of Britain actually feel any safer as a consequence of all these wars against diverse people’s throughout the world?

If wars against poor peasants in the past didn’t affect the civilian population of Britain that is starting to change. In my travels throughout the world I was always amazed that it was very rare to come across hostility from local people who had suffered under the British Armed Forces over the decades. That has changed now. The combined efforts of Bush and Blair have created a genie which will be very difficult (if not impossible) to push back into the bottle.

So have British troops, in the last 100 years, made ‘the world a better place’? I would suggest not. A better pace for the rich and powerful but not for ordinary working people, in whatever country and at whatever level of economic development.

Why do young men and women still volunteer to join such an organisation when it has such a history? I don’t know. There will always be the psychopaths who, if they did what they do in the armed forces in civilian life they would be pariahs of society. Put them in a uniform and they become ‘heroes’. But they, I would like to think, are in the minority – although I find it disturbing when a parent of a dead serviceman/woman will say that their son/daughter died ‘doing something they loved’, when the job of a member of an infantry regiment is to kill people’.

Way back in the 70s and 80s it was suggested that those who join (especially the Army) do so because they come from poor working class backgrounds and there’s nothing else for them to do. Even if that argument is correct the poverty of their origin does not give them license to go to other parts of the world and terrorise the local population.

And where does anyone think the foot soldiers to defend capitalism are to come from anyway? The highest casualty rate in the First World War was among the lowest ranks of the officer corp. Either because they were in the first ranks of those going ‘over the top’ or because they were shot so that the rest of the soldiers didn’t have to go ‘over the top’ at least they were fighting for a society that had benefited them.

Even in the 21st century troops after coming back from the wars in the east are complaining about the lack of support in civilian life. Don’t they have any idea of history? In the 1914-19 war they were promised ‘homes fit for heroes’, they didn’t get them. Why should the State act any differently now, especially when we are in a time of austerity where we are ‘all in this together’ and everyone must play their part?

I don’t want this country to keep sending its young people to fight wars for whom the ruling class are the only beneficiaries. I don’t want that we have to keep adding different campaigns to the list on the First World War memorials. But unless the people of this country stand up against these wars that is what will continue to happen, and now in a climate where people are so full of hate (and why is that surprising?) that they are prepared to bring the war back to the country which had sent the bombs to kill families on the other side of the world. These are very dangerous chickens that are coming home to roost.

For a time leading up to and in the immediate aftermath of the war against Iraq many people wore badges with the slogan ‘Not in my name’. That should be the slogan all the time, a slogan which shouldn’t be forgotten once the fighting has started and the bodies of those young people start to arrive back home. If the country is not prepared to see the processions through ‘Royal’ Wootton Bassett (something which the General Staff of the Army hated and which will never be repeated however height the casualties) then it shouldn’t allow those young people to be sent out in the first place.

That would be in a world without war – but there are far too many vested interests to allow such a situation to arise without a fight. To attain that would be definitely worth fighting for – a war to end all wars.

More on the ‘Revolutionary Year’

Robert Mugabe – an appreciation of a revolutionary

Robert Mugame being welcomed by an independent Zimbabwe

Robert Mugame being welcomed by an independent Zimbabwe

I will be one of those today who will be saddened by the news of the death of Robert Mugabe. He was, without a shadow of a doubt, the finest leader the African continent has produced to date and because of this his death will be celebrated, although behind closed doors (hypocrites that they are), by those who regret the loss of the African colonies to the European imperialists.

In a version of the famous phrase of Chairman Mao ‘to be attacked by the enemy is a good thing and not a bad thing’ what commentators will be saying over the next few days about Robert Mugabe will be directly connected to the way in which they see the end of colonialism.

In an attempt to present themselves as ‘impartial’ many will praise Mugabe for the early years of his leadership of the independent state of Zimbabwe. But they will do this as the first 15 to 20 years or so of independence was when Mugabe (an honourable man as he was, sometimes to a fault) adhered strictly to the agreement made at Lancaster House in London at the end of 1979.

As part of that agreement the handful of whites that still lived in the country (an estimated 100,000 out of a population of 7 million in 1980) were given a ten per cent guaranteed representation in the Zimbabwe legislature for a period of ten years. This was as ludicrous a situation as the similar number of people who imposed the buffoon Johnson upon a population of more than 60 million Brits earlier this year.

Whereas the more recent example just demonstrates the stupidity of the British population the acceptance of this ‘crime’ in the Zimbabwean context was to ensure the speedy end of the war against white minority rule that had already cost the lives of 47,000 black Zimbabweans both fighters and civilians – the Rhodesian fascists considering anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time to be a guerrilla and therefore fair game.

Also as part of this agreement there would be no forceful takeover of the lands of the white colonialist farmers who controlled the most fertile land and with access to ample supplies of water – even in the situation of a drought.

As these measures didn’t affect the fundamental situation of who controlled the wealth of the country it’s no surprise that the ex-colonialists will consider this period to be the time of the ‘good’ Mugabe. Revolutionaries – although accepting that Mugabe only did this as he wanted to stand true to an agreement he had made in good faith – will consider this period as a time when the revolution lost momentum.

The British establishment didn’t like Mugabe preferring Joshua Nkomo, who they correctly thought they could use as their puppet and surrogate representative of colonial interests. Over the years many politicians around at the time of the agreement openly stated this. Neither did the British government, whether Conservative throughout the 80s or Labour when they came to power in the 90s, provided the monies and the expertise that was promised in order to transfer a great deal of the agricultural wealth of the country to the black majority. .

If I have any criticism of Mugabe at this time it was that he was too honourable and kept to an agreement which was being ignored by the other signatory.

Droughts caused local problems during the 80s and when the protection to white representation and the restriction on the takeover of white farms was effectively lifted Zimbabwe was hit by another blow in the way the country was denied credit and loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – unless Zimbabweans agreed to the privatisation of the principal wealth generating industries (which included the very lucrative mining industries) in the country. A combination of these varied pressures made things difficult for Mugabe as leader of the government and this allowed for the promotion of a so-called alternative in the jumped up trade union leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

His arrest and removal in 2017 was the result of frustration in the country that was unable to thrive under enforced international isolation. He became, in effect, a scapegoat for the problems that were not of his making.

The way in which the ex-colonialists supported this pretence of a leaders demonstrates the fact that should never be forgotten – the colonialists will NEVER give up and they will continue for decades if need be to re-establish their influence in those countries they have lost to independence struggles by the African majority. The bloodstained hands of the British, French and Portuguese can be seen in South Africa, Rwanda and Angola.

Mugabe also never gave up on the idea that armed struggle was the only way that colonised and oppressed peoples can ever gain their freedom and independence. This was something else for which the capitalist and imperialist could never forgive. Even though the wars they have instigated in the past, and will promote in the future, have cost the lives of millions and the suffering of many millions more with their highly sophisticated weaponry they cannot accept the taking up of the AK47 by the exploited and oppressed of the world. They will even go so far as to destroy the world if need be to achieve their goals.

Imperialism would rather those calling for reconciliation and a forgetting of the past – such as Nelson Mandela – be the role model for any future wars of independence. The economic situation in Zimbabwe is a result of the isolation and pressures placed upon the country by international capital but it would take a true optimist indeed, if not a blind fool, to argue that the situation in South Africa for the majority of the African population has improved substantially since the end of Apartheid. And South Africa is very much still in the clutches of the imperialists.

If Mugabe’s reputation and past will be trashed by those looking back to a time when the predominantly white countries of the world could rule wherever they wished with impunity his legacy will be treasured by those who fight for a better future for the oppressed and exploited of the world. It must be remembered that whilst the white cretinous leaders were fooling around and taking ‘selfies’ at Mandela’s memorial gathering it was Robert Mugabe who received the warmest welcome by the African crown.

Yes, Robert Mugabe made mistakes. Only those who don’t try something new will never make mistakes. Even the true giants of world Communism, Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin and Chairman Mao Tse-tung, made mistakes. Those mistakes don’t detract from their achievements and neither will those of Robert Mugabe detract from his.