Unlike India, in most of the world it is still art that imitates life. A slew of new war movies give a good glimpse at what the mood is like in the USA. The transatlantic flight from Vienna to New York is long enough for three movies. I managed one - Behind Enemy Lines - before sleep got me. It is about a US Navy pilot who gets shot down for flying over where he should not have gone in the first place, the no-man's land between Bosnia and Serbia, and about his eventual rescue. But not before the commanding admiral played by Gene Hackman disregards standing orders, and in keeping with the highest traditions of the US of not leaving behind even a single soldier, dead or alive, launches a rescue mission to get his errant pilot back. In the process, they destroy about half the Serbian army. The Serbians are portrayed as cold and cruel killers, as all current adversaries of the USA are, such as their one-time friends, the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Down here in New York City, another big movie is "Black Hawk Down", which is about an abortive US Special Forces raid in Mogadishu in October 1993, to rescue, what else, a downed helicopter pilot taken prisoner by a Somali warlord. In the real incident, the US lost 18 men in that mission. From all reviews the movie is "a visual treat with brilliant technical effects" and apparently quite enjoyable if you enjoy the notion of hordes of Somalis being mowed down by the trigger-happy US forces. I didn't think I could hack another "Behind Enemy Lines". But that's not all.
We have "We Were Soldiers", another "bloody piece of hero worship devoted to an ideal commander" - Mel Gibson - and about fighting and dying the right way. This was in 1965 in Vietnam, where the US Army's vaunted Seventh Cavalry runs into the North Vietnamese. That was another war from which the US withdrew in defeat. But the movie salvages a great victory with masses of Thai extras portraying NVA infantry hurling themselves against American riflemen, who were just a bunch of good guys fighting for a just cause.
The mood here reminds me of some lines from a Pete Seeger song that goes "we fought in Germany, we fought in France, and someday I will get my chance." It would seem that there are still a lot of Americans wanting to get their chance, even if it were only in movie hall. This is patriotism in the wired world; you show it by opening your wallet. Dying is for the "allies"! Understandably after 9/11 the US is in the midst of a flag-waving frenzy. Patriotism demands that the US must "kick some ass" as they say it here, in that typically evocative American way. The March 2 military action in the Shahikot valley in Afghanistan has much of the stuff from which Hollywood squeezes out blockbusters. It has all the ingredients for a great screenplay if you can tweak a few facts here and there for the convenience of the patriotic public.
The real story is somewhat like this. The March 2 operation called Operation Anaconda is described as a "defining moment". The US Army's 10th Mountain Division and an Afghan force commanded by General Ziahuddin, suitably stiffened with US Special Force elements, is supposed to sweep through the small 18 square kilometer Shahikot Valley where a "huge number" of Taliban/Al Qaeda are supposed to be concentrated. All escape routes into the surrounding snow-clad mountains are blocked off. It's supposed to be a classic hammer and anvil action. Operation Anaconda is supposed to do to the Taliban holed up in the villages of Shahikot Valley what the anaconda does to its prey in the Amazonian forests. Take hold of it in its mighty jaws and squeeze the life out of it. But it doesn't happen that way.
The Afghans baulk after being ambushed, apparently betrayed by a disgruntled Pashtu warlord unhappy about the Tajik character of Ziahuddin's force. The US forces entrusted with the more cushy blocking roles also run into trouble. Near the feature called Ginger a giant MH-47 Chinook helicopter dropping a mixed team of Rangers and Seal's draws heavy fire. As the chopper hastily pulls up it jerks and out falls US Navy Seal Neil Roberts, but his comrades are so busy doing their own thing that they don't notice the rear gunner is missing. A Predator unmanned drone then picks him up real time surrendering to three Taliban/Al Qaeda fighters who in the time-honored Afghan way slit his throat. But the US military doesn't leave its boys behind and so a mission is launched to extract the Seal. Really speaking it is a dual mission. A hill feature called Ginger at the southwestern end of the valley has to be taken to block the Taliban/Al Qaeda fighters from escaping. So it's not just about Roberts' body, but somehow here it is all about not leaving a man behind. The rescue Chinooks draw withering fire and one is downed. The action now centres on extricating the extractors. Great stuff for a movie.
In real time what happens is that giant B-52 bombers are flying so high that you can't see them drop long sticks of bombs on what are supposed to be hundreds, if not thousands, of Taliban/Al Qaeda men. Huge AC-130 fixed wing gun ships rain deadly canon fire, as do Apache helicopter gun ships. The unmanned Predators loose off a few Hellfire missiles. Later that night when the smoke and din of the battle clears a bit, the US forces depart from Ginger, but not before losing seven more dead and eleven injured. Back at US military headquarters at Bagram airbase outside Kabul, Major General Frank "Buster" Hagenstack, the US commander, is extracting a great victory with all stacks smoking furiously. First it is reported that over five hundred enemy forces were killed. In Hagenstack's words "the bad guys were drinking tea when we arrived. We whacked a whole lot of people." Like Chinese GNP figures these estimates kept shrinking when subjected to some close scrutiny. Oh well fog of war you know!
But the ground truth was still quite removed from what was being claimed. When the New York Times correspondent arrived he could spot just three bodies which were apparently left behind to show the patriotic press reporting a war in a distant place for the patriotism inflamed readers back home. Not surprisingly, the NYT reports started suggesting that what Hagenstack was claiming didn't stack up with what was on the ground. But few here are in a mood for all that. So next year we have another big budget beautifully staged Hollywood war in the making and Afghan troops being paid $200 per month can hope to see some extra bucks in the movie parts. After all, there is nothing to beat dying to fight another day!
But all this is not important. What is relevant is that the USA is in an inflamed mood. And with its British servitor ever ready to do its bidding we are looking at some troubling times ahead. Already Bush is talking about taking out Iraq. Iran has been listed along with North Korea, Syria and some others as being evil. A Pentagon document, conveniently leaked out, lists Russia, China and India as countries that can be subject to US nuclear attack. And with a new anti-ballistic missile defence in place soon, the USA will be invulnerable to mutual destruction threats to exactly what it pleases. This is the message Washington wants to send out though Jaswant Singh's hooded eyes do not seem to have registered it. Bush the younger has embarked on what Bush the elder could not proceed with, the creation of a new world order with the white man firmly on top. And Britain would like nothing more than being Washington's top dog!
The fight for democracy and liberty is taking the Washington-London axis to all parts of the world. In the recent weeks the new axis has launched a vigorous campaign against Robert Mugabe. They allege that he has rigged the elections and are threatening sanctions to bring him down. Now we know of their commitment to democracy and liberty. We see evidence of that commitment in their support to the Saudi regime. To the Pakistani dictator. To Sardar Advani's friend General Ariel Sharon whose tanks are razing down hundreds of homes down in the West Bank, often with their inmates in them. Quite clearly the ire against Mugabe is not about his commitment to democracy, which even may not be there. It is about his stated determination to expropriate land from the white expropriators who even as recently as 1950 were forcing Africans out of their lands in Zimbabwe.
The Lancaster House agreement of 1980 very clearly stipulates that the ZANU PF government will stay its policy of restoring land to the Africans for a period of 10 years. During this time, as committed by President Jimmy Carter, the USA was supposed to compensate the white farmers for the "loss" of their prime agricultural lands. Reagan followed Carter and was quick to renege on this promise. Mugabe's position has always been that Zimbabweans will not pay for land forcibly taken from them.
The openly perfidious role played by British media, particularly the BBC, in reporting the elections, even if they are rigged ones, was quite unbelievable. One could have believed the BBC even if they were a fraction as outraged when the US Presidential elections were quite openly rigged to deny expression to the votes of predominantly black areas. Obviously de-colonization is not a part of the neo-liberal outlook any more?
To those who watch these events a bit more closely than our two foreign policy experts, Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh, there are ample signs that even President Thabo Mbeki is beginning to feel the white mans anger over his increasing insensitivity to the maintenance of the exclusive position of the white minority in South Africa. Western media has begun to attack him. Even Nelson Mandela, now increasingly Uncle Tomish, has begun sniping at him. If the West could find a hero in Tsavangarai, then in South Africa it will be easier. One can always dust up a Buthelezi? It was exactly to obstruct the process of de-colonization continuing in South Africa that it was ensured that the more radical Cyril Ramaphosa, the Secretary general of the ANC at the time of the transition, was eased out, with the possible connivance of Nelson Mandela.
What Mugabe proposes to do is to make continuing de-colonization the centerpiece of state policy. For the entire hullabaloo in British media over the alleged violent takeover of white "owned" farms, less than a handful of whites have actually died. In South Africa by contrast, since 1996, National Public Radio here reported this morning that 1096 whites have been killed. Here also blacks are restive about the gains of apartheid remaining with the whites, but it is not an expressed policy of the African National Congress. So it is being expressed as individual acts of violence against the expropriators. In southern Africa at least "expropriation of the expropriators is the right of the people" and if the governments wont enforce that the people will. This is not the stuff for a movie, buts that's life!
Published in Tahelka.com