THE REDS & THE WHITES & THE BLUES by Michael Moorcock (Arthur, 2003)


Waving the flags of empire in the 21st century

by Michael Moorcock

Originally published in Arthur No. 5 (July 2003)

“It’s not easy to get everyone against you.”

                           Imran Khan, Pakistani cricketer, April 2002

“What God hates most is arrogance. And what I see in the United States is sheer arrogance.”

                          Mullah Anar M. Anif, Peshawar, Pakistan, April 2002

“Chap in a dishdash coming through.”

                          British officer in Iraq, March 2003

BLOOD RUNS DOWN  the camera lens. The American plane has shot up a column of Kurds, US Special Forces and a BBC TV crew. “A scene from hell,” says journalist John Simpson, whose interpreter has just been killed. Some of the footage, sans the blood, is shown on American network TV for a few seconds. Most of these scenes from hell, of course, are not filmed. They are happening to people who don’t own video cameras. 

Sitting here in Texas watching BBC TV on my computer reminds me that there is no film from Amritsar except the fictional reconstruction offered in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. That hypocritical piece of imperial self-serving posed as an authentic account. The massacre was portrayed as an aberration rather than the norm. I also start thinking of Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean’s powerful piece of romanticized imperial history. I recall how disgusted I was by Attenborough’s other essay into whitewashing middle-class liberal sensibilities, Cry, Freedom, about the murder of Steve Bitko in South Africa. The British are good at this kind of misleading sentimentality. They’re subtler than Americans who crudely rewrite history to show themselves or versions of themselves as simple heroes, whether it’s Errol Flynn single-handedly ‘liberating’ Burma in WW2, Mel Gibson defeating the British in The Patriot, Mel Gibson pretending to be a Norman baron gone native in Braveheart, the falsifications of Blackhawk Down, or Americans (rather than British) discovering how to beat the Germans with the Enigma machine. The British are ultimately more persuasive, I suspect. They’ve had more practice at this kind of patriotic propaganda than the Americans, by and large. Everyone’s learned from Goebbels, whether they know it or not, of course.

“Chap in a dishdash…”


Those of us still alert to the language of Empire remember the teenage soldiers coming home to Britain to tell stories of the tricks they played on brown civilians across the globe in the 1940s and 50s as the British slowly gave ground to angry freedom fighters in, for instance, Burma, Malaya, Kenya, Palestine and Cyprus.


I’d forgotten about dishdash, which in the language of British imperialism is used as a generic for almost any Middle Eastern garment, though I hadn’t forgotten about ‘imshi’, for instance. I’ve written a bit about British colonial occupations in, my book Breakfast in the Ruins (available free on the net at RevolutionSF off the SF Site, if you’re interested). My book A Nomad of the Time Streams also dealt with the idealism of Empire and how it gets decent people to do its dirty work (that isn’t free, but it’s pretty cheap, second hand). All my writing life, in fact, I’ve been addressing the matter of Empire and I’d rather hoped I was seeing the end of that particular aggressive folly…

Continue reading

No Exit—from the Not-So-Great Depression


No Exit—from the Not-So-Great Depression
by Charles Potts

No Exit is the title of one book by Jean Paul Sartre, a French writer, communist and co-father of Existentialism that I’ve never been able to read, even though I have always admired the fact that he thumbed his nose at the Nobel Prize for Literature saying something like, “I don’t accept prizes, whether the Nobel or a sack of potatoes.” The Nobel Prize for Literature, as you’ve probably heard, is passed out by a pack of gunpowder academics from the net proceeds of the fortune of Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, by confusing politics with literature. Each year they make some kind of difficult-to-decipher gesture toward one or another enclave in the Third World. They haven’t given one to an American for a long time—trying to snub the Empire, I suppose. Who knows what all they read on their way to spurious decisions.

To give you an example of how far into the mire language has fallen, I’m under the impression the Swedes delegated the awarding of the Peace Prize to the Norwegians, and as an old Swedish girlfriend of mine used to say, “He ain’t Norwegian” when she wanted to insult somebody, the way dweebs from Eastern Montana make fun of the hapless denizens of North Dakota. I mean, they gave the Peace Prize to the Boy Scout from Chicago and he had to pick it up the very week he announced he was sending an additional 30,000 troops to win the war in Afghanistan at a cost of $30,000,000,000, i.e. thirty billion dollars. I hope the unemployed are sitting down for this but my honorary degree in rocket science suggests that it is impossible to win a colonial war when it costs the Empire A MILLION dollars per soldier to put a pair of boots, as the talking heads put it, on the ground. Even if they were taking gold out of Afghanistan by the trainload, colonial war is a losing proposition. And there is nothing else there to “win” either. The last time I can remember that the Peace Prize went to such a warmonger was when the great war criminal Henry Kissinger accepted it, on behalf of the scut work he did for the scoundrel Richard Nixon in the Empire’s war on Vietnam. Americans have forgotten their own colonial history, if they ever knew it. Back in the day, early 1600s, with the importation of some good tobacco from the Orinoco River in South America, Virginia became the drug producing capital of the new world. Fortunes were made. Now the Empire has the effrontery to try to wipe out the opium producers in Afghanistan.

Colonial War in all its many disguises is one of the primary reasons why there is No Exit from the not-so-great depression. To give the Tea Party sympathizers among the audience an example they can get their red meat teeth into, the Cheney-Bush Administration started and lost three unnecessary wars simultaneously while bankrupting the Treasury and blowing a hole in the world economy that likely won’t get re-filled in the length of an ordinary lifetime. And Republicans wonder why they are out of office.

To take their undeclared wars one at a time… (By the way, this civilization declared war in 1941, two years before your author was born, and has never declared peace. We have war as a way of life, described in the political literature as “Peace and Prosperity,” going down in history as a violent parody of standards even double-talk can’t reach.) In their post 9-11 mind set in concrete, they launched the aforementioned War on Afghanistan, allegedly because the perpetrators of 9-11, mostly Saudi Arabians and Egyptians, once trained there. It was described by that half-an-asshole semi-Colon Powell as asymmetrical warfare, overlooking the fact that the asymmetry was provided by the Empire, when a handful of special ops could have taken out the survivors of the plot for chump change. At least that’s the way Eisenhower’s CIA used to do it during the “Peace and Prosperity”-driven 1950s. Discontent with starting a war they couldn’t finish much less win led them on to the War on Iraq, a regime changer if there ever was one, to depose a war criminal satrap the Empire had set up years before, one Saddam Hussein by name, who never made the slightest dent in his long war against Iran, even with the Rumsfeld-provided poison gas.

Lying their way into war is the modus operandi of the Empire, now in need of a theme. Voila! A War on Terrorism. A war on abstract nouns is the perfect setup for the Empire. The enemy can’t be found, so Osama bin Laden is still at large, generating funds for both sides. The siege mentality of the Paranoid Christian Fascists has them fighting Islamo-Fascists and the Fascists are winning. For every terrorist killed three new ones are created, an endless supply for an endless war, in an Empire presided over by endless fruitcakes. The Empire has 16 separate spy agencies, all gathering information and hoarding it from one another, much less the people on whose behalf it is purportedly gathered. If you have a secret and somebody else wants to discover it, that somebody else becomes pro forma an enemy. The interlocution of paranoia; the structure of political madness.

The algorithm for the end of empires has three integrals and derivatives. How fast the leaders burn through their assets, chief of which is the support of their populations; the size of the asset base; and the quality and focus of the opposition. Costs of empire are borne by the entire population while the benefits accrue to the very few with inside jobs: no-bid contractors who milk the sacred American cow. In other words, the calculus of empire and colonial war is an exercise in socializing the costs—socialized war, anyone?—while privatizing the benefits. This best of both worlds is a dream scheme for plutocrats and a nightmare for everybody else. An Alice in Wonderland foreign policy presided over by the presidency, no matter who holds the office, presages an epic disaster.

If you haven’t dropped out yet, it’s probably time.

Charles Potts: wikipedia

Previous work by Charles Potts in Arthur…

“The Recession and How to Live Through It” (Jan 2009)

“The Dope From Muskogee”

Shoethrower Muntader al-Zaidi named Arthur Magazine “Man of the Year” 2008; Charles Potts salutes al-Zaidi with new poem, “Balls Out.”

“A Case of Cheney Paranoia”

Poem in Arthur No. 5 (special “Arthur Against Empire” issue)

“Spasm Empire”

Charles Potts & SUNN 0))) at ArthurFest 2005 – video footage