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Worthy and unworthy victims


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The phrase worthy and unworthy victims comes from Noam Chomsky and Ed Hermans' marvellous book Manufacturing Consent. An example in the book comes from two separate genocides conducted in Asia in the 1970s.

The Khmer Rouge caused the deaths of around 2 million people out of 7 million Cambodians from 1975 to 1979.The Khmer Rouge was not a US backed government so the horror was rightly and continually expressed (until Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978, the US, still smarting over defeat in Vietnam began to fund the Khmer Rouge). The people who suffered under the Khmer Rouge were worthy victims.

At the same time a smaller but just as nasty genocide as Cambodia was taking place. The Indonesian regime under General Suharto had arisen in 1965, slaughtering 500,000 peasants on the way. A great ally of the United States, he moved to attack the tiny nation of East Timor in 1975. After seeking US support the attack commenced in December 1975. According to estimates 100,000 East Timorese were killed in one year alone. As Indonesia was an ally of the west, the East Timor issue was rarely brought up, mainly because we were selling Indonesia the weapons to further their atrocities. It took the great John Pilger to bring this to wider public attention in his documentary Death of a Nation. It led to pressure on Indonesia and the ending of the conflict in 1999. The East Timorese were unworthy victims.

On my Facebook recently there has been a surge of people liking pictures of horribly disfigured and burnt US and British army soldiers; they are indeed worthy victims. Victims of wars based on lies and deceit, not about freedom and democracy but a cruel attempt by the United States to maintain its oil hegemony on the Middle East, as well as a major overreaction to a cynically exploited terrorist attack.

A question to these people would be though, if you presented with a picture of an Iraqi insurgent horribly burnt by white phosphorous during the sieges of Fallujah, would you like that picture as well? I have yet to see one person who liked a similar picture of victims of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is because they are unworthy victims. Because they are Muslims, because they are thousands of miles away. We can’t gawp at them in the street unlike ex British servicemen. They aren’t used by our politicians to drum up support. They aren’t ensnared by celebrities looking to boost their image (women and children dead by our hands don’t compare to starving Africans or disabled soldiers). The thousands of US & British soldiers killed, maimed and damaged psychologically are worthy victims; the hundreds of thousands killed by us are unworthy victims.

You can apply the terms worthy and unworthy victim throughout history. In this country we all know about the Blitz, the pounding of London and other cities by the Luftwaffe. They are worthy victims; unworthy victims are the 18,000-25,000 people killed in Dresden from the 13th-15th February 1945. A similar raid ordered by a Nazi would have had him hanged at Nuremburg, but because the winners conducted it, the people who ordered it were praised and the victims aren’t as well remembered as Blitz victims.

In America many people will tell you 58,000 soldiers died in Vietnam, worthy victims. They forget to tell you of the millions of Cambodians, Laotians and Vietnamese slaughtered by naked US power through the use of Agent Orange and carpet bombing, Unworthy victims of course.

So to sum up, by all means like pictures of British & US servicemen and women who have died and been disfigured fighting. But remember the old adage; there are two sides to every story. For every maimed British & US soldier, there will be many more maimed Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis and others, victims of our wars. They are worthy victims who plights needs to be recognised.


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