So I sat. And I waited. And I thought. The NewStatesman article staring up at me blankly. The words of Sophie McBain were being churned over in my head as something I had known for years began to creep to the front of my brain. The article was on Syria, a subject close to my heart, but its words began to form a deeper realisation within me.
The civil war in Syria is now into its fourth year and it is showing no signs of stopping. The inaction of the UK, and the rest of the world, has disgusted me, but I understand why it has been this way. I understand why the streets are not lined with people demanding action be taken. I understand why the press and the politicians are hesitant to speak out about showing support to those within Syria. And I understand why despite the known use of chemical weapons, despite the deliberate targeting of civilians, despite the evidence of torture, and despite it being the worst humanitarian disaster in my lifetime, nothing is being done.
The reason that nothing is being done is because Syria destroys the neat little narrative that, we are told, exists in all wars. The media friendly, easily grasped, Hollywood narrative of good guys versus bad guys. It is not just that this narrative fails to fit in with the war in Syria, it is that the narrative fails to fit in with every war. Syria is simply the straw that broke the camels back. The point at which any resemblance of truth vanishes because the lie has been stretched to such an extent that it is now unusable.
Support and help for Syria has been almost non-existent, and that is because the media, and the people, are unable to find the good guy. Who do the UK support? Who should the people side with? It surely can’t be Assad, after all the atrocities his military has committed, but surely it can’t be the Free Syrian Army who have been known to conduct atrocities of their own. Would it then be a group like Al-Nusra who are fighting Assad but have links to Al Qaeda? Or perhaps ISIS, extreme militant Islamic fighters who are seeking to instigate Sharia law? The harsh, but obvious truth is that there are no good guys, in this war, or indeed in any war.
Western media is guilty of a bias, and you would be naiive or ignorant to think that this was not the case. In times of conflict of course they are going to be the artists of public approval. They are going to provide the public with an easy-to-grasp narrative of what’s what. The common man or woman does not have the time to read in-depth studies and accounts of the origins of the conflict. They are not able to talk directly to those that are involved in the fighting. They need bite-size chunks of information, that are easily managed, and easily digested. This is what has happened, these are the bad guys, this is what will happen, these are the good guys.
Throughout history this has been the case, and though war is evil, in the words of Jimmy Carter, it “may sometimes be a necessary evil”. The knowledge that killing other humans, and participating in war, is wrong has forced us to attempt to justify it in our minds, and in our hearts. We know that it is evil, and we know that it is wrong, but in order for it to take place we have to invent the myth that some of the participants are in fact good.
War would not exist were it not for people approving of it, or at least putting up with it. And approval comes more easily when you have a side, or a team, to get behind. The perpetuation of war relies on the spread of the misguided notion that some are good, and some are evil. Inevitably, the Western media and politicians portray the West as the good guys, and the enemy, whoever that may be, as the bad guys. Simple slogans are designed to reinforce this point, slogans that have no real meaning, or depth, but it encourages you to side with those that West has labelled good. “Support your troops” is a fantastic example of this.
To illustrate my point, let’s cast our minds back. Let’s look at perhaps the easiest war to define, in terms of good versus bad. World War Two pitted the Allies against Nazi Germany, Japan and, for a time, Italy. The knowledge we have now concerning the Holocaust makes it fairly easy to say that the Nazi’s were the bad guys, and so as the Allies were fighting them, they were the good guys. This narrative seems pretty straightforward, but it begins to unravel when you look at the war in more detail.
If we are considering the Allies as the good guys then why are they guilty of the deliberate targeting of civilians? Why did they blanket bomb the city of Dresden, and in the space of two nights, cause 25,000 deaths? This seems like an awfully evil act to commit. Similarly, if indeed the Allies were the good guys, why did they firebomb the city of Hamburg, and in one week cause death or injury to almost 80,000 civilians? Why did the US Air Force firebomb Tokyo, resulting in the death or injury of over 200,000 people? Why then, as the war was coming to an end, did the USA decide to drop not one, but two, atomic bombs on Japanese cities? The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were, and remain, the only instances where nuclear weapons have ever been used in war. These two events resulted in the deaths of between 150,000 – 246,000 people.
Yet we are told, by Hollywood, by the media, by politicians and by our own history books, that we were the good guys. When that is just simply not the case. Labelling ourselves as good, fits the narrative of good versus bad, but a more accurate narrative would be bad versus slightly less bad. The fact is that there is no good in war, there are no good guys, there are just varying degrees of evil. That may be hard to swallow, but the truth often is.
A Google search of “the good guys in war” produces 311 million results, and this perfectly illustrates my point. The mystifying desire and determination to create a clear, distinct and logical narrative out of war, which by its very nature, is entirely illogical. There are no good guys, and there are no bad guys, there are just people performing good or bad actions. The sooner we come to terms with this fact, the sooner we will realise that war is futile.
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