At around 11.30 yesterday while in my garden in Norwich, I heard at short intervals - three times - the deep vibrating roar of a jet aircraft passing somewhere overhead. It was not like the sound of regular scheduled or tourist aircraft from Norwich airport so I imagined it might be military planes on their way from RAF Marham to bomb something or someone in Libya.
2 April 2011
The noise filled the air in every direction as if it was being captured in a confined space, exploding off transparent but solid walls of a tomb. Clouds made its origin impossible to determine. As the sound approached crescendo, there was a brief moment when I wondered if the volume would ever peak. Has something gone wrong? Should it be so close? It maintained that heightened, rumbling rage for a disturbingly long time. That’s the moment when the hair raises on your neck and the noise is frightening in reality as well as by association. And then the all consuming roar diminished, though retaining its guttural, animal threat which you know could return, still hiding its location and direction. It eventually declined as if a volume control was being manipulated - the bass being faded more slowly, reminding you of its continuing presence. And then it was gone. Afterwards, the birdsong in my garden seemed somehow fresher and more innocent than it had sounded before that invasion.
A couple of thousand miles and a few hours away, someone else may hear that roar approach and with similar trepidation, wonder if it will cease or intensify. Wonder if the target is some miles away, or much closer. And suddenly the awful thought: ‘Perhaps it’s here?’ Perhaps the French or the Americans or the British – whichever it is this time – have made a mistake. Why here? WHY HERE?
For some it could be the last thing they hear. It won’t be the sound that kills them but the ‘precision’ bombs. Perhaps not targeted at civilians but that won’t matter to the victim. This sound, we are told by UK and US military public relations people across East Anglia, and by the arrogant bumper stickers on black-windowed gas-guzzlers, is the ‘Sound of Freedom’.
It’s not of course. It’s the sound of war. It’s the sound of death. And all too often the sound of unnecessary and counterproductive death. To Al Qaida and other extremists wanting to find new excuses for barbarity, it is the sweet opening bars of another recruitment refrain.
I hold no brief for Gaddafi and his regime. I hope the Libyan people win their freedom from him and from others who would control them, some of them gathering now. I feel as much concern as anyone for the vulnerable rebels and others in Benghazi. I felt the same way for the children of Iraq when the US led coalition tried to weaken Saddam Hussein’s regime after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The comprehensive UN sanctions which they obtained denied Iraq almost every possible import and contributed to the premature death of half a million Iraqi infants, according to UNICEF, the UN children’s organisation. I have spoken with Denis Halliday, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq (1997-98) who resigned from that role not wanting to administer ‘a programme that satisfies the definition of genocide.’ Other officials said the phrase was inappropriate because there had been no intent to cause suffering. But the sanctions continued. Military hawks even used the suffering to justify war and invasion as a more ‘humane’ option which would protect the civilian population. War followed, shrouded in this and other lies, with even more devastating consequences for millions of innocents.
We are again hearing of the ‘humanitarian’ case for war. Yes the innocent will be protected. Our intentions are honourable. No, we are not after resources or power for our own benefit. Our fighters are compassionate. Gaddafi is a monster using his own people as human shields. All so familiar. It’s the subtle softening up of public opinion, harnessing the excitement of conflict and exploiting the concerns of decent people while intensifying their sense of loyalty to region, nation and their local military forces.
Witness some recent local coverage: Bombers from RAF Marham, we were told (EDP 22 March), declined to release bombs in a raid on Libya because they were somehow informed at the last moment of ‘a number of civilians within the intended target area’. A senior military figure is quoted saying: ‘We don’t want to fall into the propaganda trap that Mr Gaddafi is obviously trying to set us’. Explaining the pressures of quick decisions to avoid innocent victims, a pilot added: ‘Your whole career can be on the line in those 30 seconds’. Well we certainly don’t want to damage anybody’s career, do we.
I don’t doubt the honest wish of the pilot to avoid civilians (though some of his US peers in Iraq enjoyed their ‘turkey shoots’ immensely). But as for the claimed humanitarian intentions of the politicians, I don’t believe a word of it. If humanitarianism is the aim of these militarised democracies, why did they perpetrate the atrocity of Iraq? Why are drones still destroying wedding parties in Afghanistan? Why were the abuses of favoured dictators indulged for so long – and even now? Why have they tolerated decades of Israel’s impoverishing occupation of Palestinian land? Why no NATO or UN No Fly Zone over the West Bank? Why is there no selective targeting of the Saudi tanks helping to put down democratic demands in Bahrain?
The examples of double standards, hypocrisy and damned lies are just too many.
Now we watch again the ‘mission creep’ as aims shift from the protection of civilians to regime change. And as NATO, with only a Qatar fig leaf, tells us No Fly Zone means arming of the rebels. William Hague adds another aim: the people of Libya ‘want access to free markets’, he says. Has that become a prerequisite for supporting rebels, one wonders? But don’t worry, Qatar is currently managing the oil interests of East Libya, on behalf of the people. At least it’s not the US, where post-war oil concessions in Iraq bring the words fox and hen-house to mind.
No, we don’t want to fall into propaganda traps that Mr Gaddafi is obviously trying to set us. Or anybody else’s traps.
We are told the imperial powers – declined and declining- fear Gaddafi may slaughter the Libyan rebels. But why did air raids begin on Libya just before an African Union delegation was set to arrive, seeking a ceasefire and negotiated settlement? Could it be that the West fears even more the idea that rebels in Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere might actually eventually succeed without western support? This would deny the West the opportunity to impose its now familiar Shock Doctrine of economic and institutional rebuilding, which guarantees the safe and profitable incorporation of liberated territories into the western orbit.
Let’s have a No Fly Zone. Let’s start here. Keep the Marham tornados on their home ground. And ship the US planes from their East Anglia bases back to the US. Keep other NATO planes on their European tarmac and get their aircraft carriers out of the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. And just possibly, the rebellions sweeping North Africa and the Middle East will be able to proceed without the fear that if they go too far or too fast the ‘Sound Of Freedom’ will come deafeningly to their rescue.