Chris Trotter Finally Coming Right on Afghanistan?

Posted: July 8, 2011 by Nick Scullin in Afghanistan

by Don Franks

“Have a look at Chris Trotter’s blog on Afghanistan” one of my emails  suggested. “Most of the time his stuff is pretty awful, but once in a while he does write something decent and powerful”. I had a look at Trotter’s Bowalley Road blog, and he had indeed. Redline believes in giving credit where it’s due. Chris Trotter’s New Zealand Troops In Afghanistan: “Mentoring” What?  ( an asset to the anti-war movement. While his latest article doesn’t actually call for the withdrawal of NZ troops, it’s a heartening improvement on his initial approach to this crucial issue.

Falling under Tony Blair’s spell
5th October 2001 Dominion Post column by Chris Trotter
Words, words words. They are my trade and the trade of those I write about. Words define our species. The ability to transform the raw data of reality into language – and in doing so gain a measure of control over the world – is, I believe, the source of the true meaning of human culture.
“He had them spellbound” we say. Unconsciously acknowledging that what we call “majic” is also rooted in language.
Derived from the old Norse spjall, the word “spell” originally referred to the art of narrative, the ability to tell a tale.
Understanding how to use language, finding words and phrases powerful enough to shape and reshape reality- this has been the business, variously, of shamans, wizards, priests, poets and politicians through the ages.
In time of war, this ability to “tell a tale” becomes doubly important. People are hungry, not simply for information, but for motivation. Before a nation can consent to placing its young men and women in harm’s way, it needs a reason. Those who can supply the best reasons for going to war( or, conversely, the best reasons for no going to war) win the right to direct and shape its outcome.
Over the past fortnight, I have been on a quest for the words to shape and reshape my own position on the War Against Terrorism.
In the jarring hours and days immediately following the tragedies of September 11th, my instinctive response was to look back into the past- both the recent past and the distant past- for explanations and justifications, that could make sense of the awful reality my eyes had been forced to process.
All well and good, but history alone is an insufficient guide to action in the here and now. We live in the present time and the trajectory of our lives is forward, not backward.
The words I went in search of had to be strong enough to take me into the future.
In high hopes of finding such words, I joined a “peace march” up Auckland’s Queen street.
“Justice- not revenge” declared the bright red banner of the Alliance. Unfortunately, this promising slogan was overshadowed by the seething animosities of unreconstructed Maoists and Trotskyites- all of who’s watches appeared to have stopped at 1968.
Their banners and placards dripped with hatred for the United States and all its works.
“Stop America’s War” yelled a dozen brown Tshirts. America’s war? Nearly 6,000 innocent New Yorker’s lives brutally snuffed out in an unparalleled act of terrorist aggression and, suddenly, somehow, this is America’s war?
In the end I found the words I was seeking not in the streets, but on the web, in reports from the Brighton conference of the British Labour Party, in the mouth of Prime minister Tony Blair.
“it was a tragedy. An act of evil” he told his party.
“From this nation goes our deepest sympathy and prayers to the victims and our profound solidarity with the American people. We were with you at the first. We will stay with you to the last”.
The Labour leader’s solidarity encompassed more than Americans, reaching out to ” the starving, the wretched, the dispossessed. The ignorant, those living in want and squalor from the deserts of North Africa to the slums of Gaza, to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan, they too are our cause.”
“This is a moment to seize,” he said. “The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us reorder the world around us”.
Until I hear more compassionate and persuasive words, I am – and will remain – under Tony Blair’s spell.

Letter to Dominion Post by Don Franks  (not printed, published in 10th October 2001 Socialist Worker)
Words fascinate me too Chris. A world without a little regular help from the likes of Charles Dickens and Bob Dylan would be a bleak and arid place. The sound and colour and rhythm and force of words has moved people all down the ages. I recognise and respect the power of words.
But I also recognise and respect the primacy of action.
Action came before words. Our ancestors had to move out of the cave and kill the mammoth before grunting to each other about it.
Words do allow us to “understand the true meaning of human culture”, but the “source” of that culture is, ultimately, not words but action.
The word culture is, itself derived from the human action of cultivating, another reminder that the framework of language has always been built on the foundations of action.
Still, words are powerful things. They can even be powerful when there is no intention behind them.
A couple of years ago, at the central region delegates conference of the Service & Food Workers Union, Helen Clark got strong applause for a great speech about returning the right to strike when Labour got in and replaced the Employment Contracts Act. This was despite the fact that Labour had already drafted legislation which actually restricted workers right to strike.
It’s the same with your new hero Tony Blair.
How beautifully he speaks about ” the starving, the wretched and the dispossessed” – and how consistently he acts to make sure they damned well stay that way!
As John Pilger recently observed:
“That Tony Blair, whose government sells lethal weapon to Israel and has sprayed Iraq and Yugoslavia with cluster bombs and depleted uranium, and was the greatest arms supplier to the genocidists in Indonesia, can be taken seriously when he now speaks about the “shame” of the “new evil of mass terrorism” says much about the censorship of our collective sense of how the world is managed.”
Unfortunately, local admirers of Tony Blair do no better than their mentor when it comes to matching up words with reality.
In your search for truth in the Auckland peace march, you could only see promise in the “bright red banner of the Alliance” , which demanded “Justice- not revenge”.
You would have known at the time of writing your praise for the Alliance that their leadership was absolutely committed to New Zealand  being one of the half a dozen countries in the world to promise Bush military support for the revenge he’s so explicitly seeking.
You also pour scorn on our slogan “Stop America’s War”
Don’t blame us buddy. It was Blair’s best friend George W. Bush who loudly and proudly announced the “first war of the 21st century” and has gone on ever since to underline, in words and in deeds that the boss of this operation will be the rulers of the United States.
Finally, you accuse socialist antiwar protesters of “hatred for the United States and all its works”
That despite the fact that we draw a very clear line between that country’s decent people and its warmongering elite.
Immediately after the atrocity of 11th September, the secretary of the Socialist Workers Organisation, Grant Morgan, issued a statement, which began:
“Thousands died in the attacks. Many were just like me and you: people on limited incomes struggling to make ends meet, raise their kids, help their neighbours, be decent citizens. Some were firefighters and other heroes trying to evacuate occupants when the trade centre building collapsed. I grieve for them. They were good people. They deserved a good life, not an early death at the hands of terrorists.”
That statement was reproduced in our paper Socialist Worker, which you subscribe to and would have received well before the Auckland march, where many more copies of it were sold.
That’s enough words for now.
Bush and Blair and Bin Laden and thousands of other lesser terrorists are setting their course on a frightful conflict which no words will stop.
Now is the time to set aside wordplay for determined united international anti-war action, with or without the assistance of Chris Trotter.


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