Thursday, March 13, 2008

Prince of Propaganda

You will have seen the photographs. Prince Harry in a baseball cap. Prince Harry on a motorbike. Prince Harry kicking a football made of rolled up toilet paper. Prince Harry having a laugh with his mates. Prince Harry firing a machine gun into the empty desert.

Prince Harry fighting the good fight for justice and democracy in Afghanistan.

On a single day there were 56 pages of coverage in eight national newspapers, with booming headlines like "Harry the Brave" and "Harry the Secret Hero." The Sun included a glamorous poster of the prince out on patrol.

Meanwhile it’s been Afghanistan week on the TV news: a number of short films looking at army conditions in Helmand Province in the South of the country, where most of the British troops are stationed.

Well I‘m a cynic about these matters. Though Prince Harry’s presence in Afghanistan was a closely-guarded secret for a while, it was always a set-up for future propaganda purposes. How many of you actually believed those images? Do you really think that the British army would put him in a position where anyone would get a chance of firing live bullets at him?

As for the TV reports, I watched with increasing irritation as the week went by. How are we supposed to understand such a complex set of issues on the back of a few grainy bits of one-sided footage? The reporter was addressing us in a portentous tone while perched on top of a flat-roofed building in the middle of Kabul, a relatively safe city. These were his exact words, or something very close: “British troops, fighting and dying in Afghanistan to keep terrorism off our streets.”

Hang on now. These are Afghan tribesmen, not international terrorists. They are fierce, wily, savage mountain people fighting with home-made guns, essentially nationalistic peasants. They probably have no idea of where Britain is, and still less care. Their passions are inflamed at the sight of foreign troops on their soil. If there weren’t British troops in Helmand no one would be firing at them.

I must have been one of the last people of my generation to make it to Afghanistan. It's been off-limits for the last thrity years or more. Anybody younger than me - unless he was a reporter or in the army - couldn't possibly have seen it. At least I have some idea who these people are.

This was back in the 70s, when the famous hippie-trail to
India passed through that mountainous, desert land of warring tribes, before the Russian invasion, but during the time of the communist government. Even then it was like the wild west. The Afghans are good at copying things and I was told that there were gun factories dotted about in secret locations. But then you’d see them riding into town on horseback, with a rifle slung across their shoulders, and it was a flint-lock not a machine gun.

It was the Americans who gave them Stinger missiles to fire at the Russian helicopter gun-ships. It was the Americans who trained them in modern warfare and who brought Osama bin Laden in to whip up their Islamic fervour.

Everybody knows by now that the war in Iraq was conducted for the venality and greed of the oil magnates in charge of the White House, so they are repackaging the Afghan war as somehow more “just.”

But Osama bin Laden left many years ago – left to escape while the US engaged in its plunder of Iraq.

Don’t you think its time we left the Afghan people to their own devices?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Don’t you think its time we left the Afghan people to their own devices?"

A very good question. The British army learned over a century ago that Afghanistan is ungovernable due to its terrain, weather, and culture.

It's a real dilemma. If we get out, the opium barons and warlords take control, women are oppressed and the public executions start again. If we stay, we put British lives at risk; both public and military. Furthermore, we stay condemned by the Islamic world.

Don't blame the squaddies though. The problem with propoganda is that we don't get the truth. One of my mates is ex-army and he says that all his old service mates are categorically *against* involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.