A letter to the “Prime Minister”

Dear Leader,

As a member of the Australian public, I’m glad that you’ve explained the Syrian conflict to me in terms that I can understand.

However I’m a little rusty on my history. I’ve been thinking through all the wars we learnt about in school – you know, the big ones – and I’m struggling to work out which ones were baddies vs baddies and which ones were baddies vs goodies. There might have even been some goodies vs goodies wars in there, but I’m so confused right now I don’t know if that’s even possible.

So I need you to help me out here, because I’m not that good at complexity, and that’s why I elected you to do the heavy thinking for me.

Let’s go.

The Boer war was the earliest war we learnt about in school, but with Australia Day coming up we should probably think about the wars (you can think of them as skirmishes, if it makes you feel better) the British invaders fought against the Aborigines who lived here in 1788. It seems to me the Aborigines were just hanging out on their land when the white guys decided to rock up, land a few hundred prisoners and turn the place into their own. The British also had guns, and smallpox, so I’m going with goodies vs baddies on this one.

The Boer War, then. I don’t remember much about it from school, but Wikipedia tells me that “27,927 Boer civilians died in concentration camps, plus an unknown number of black Africans (107,000 were interned).” So that’s baddies for the British (and us). It also tells me that “Many Boers were dissatisfied with aspects of British administration, in particular with Britain’s abolition of slavery on 1 December 1834”. So baddies versus baddies it is.

World War I seems to have been fought between the Belgium-raping Germans and the shipwreck-surviver-massacring English. Baddies on both sides.

World War II is too long to get into here, but definitely seems to have been baddies vs baddies.

I’ve been to Vietnam, so I can tell you that the US (we were on their side) were definitely baddies, they poured Agent Orange over hillsides, wiped out whole populations, destroyed their land for decades and left landmines everywhere. Apparently the Viet Cong also did a massacre or two. Baddies vs baddies.

Yugoslavia and its successors: I’m a little rusty here, but Wikipedia suggests this one may have been baddies vs baddies vs baddies vs baddies, until NATO arrived and ended the war, eventually, but also caused more war crimes to be committed, killed a lot of civilians and destroyed a lot of buildings. So baddies vs baddies vs baddies vs baddies vs baddies?

Afghanistan (you can certainly help me with this one, you were in government when we decided to fight in it!). On the one hand we have a country that refused to immediately turn over some people who had planned an attack which destroyed some buildings in New York. On the other we have a country that invaded another, that kidnapped, tortured and abused prisoners of war, and that fights via unmanned planes that routinely bomb entire families. Not to mention the fact that it trained the people it was trying to capture in the first place! I think we can go with baddies vs baddies again.

Iraq: this one is actually difficult. The US (that’s the side we fought with, you were at the front of that charge as well) are definitely bad. First they made up a whole list of reasons to invade another country that were lies, and the rest of the world knew they were lies, and the UN body that exists for the sole purpose of determining the truth of such lies knew they were lies, and everyone was telling us they were lies, but the US and the UK and Rupert Murdoch and you, Mr Abbott, you said they weren’t lies, and you went to war. Then this is what you did to the people you went to war with. Iraq on the other hand, who knows. I’ll leave that one to you.

I’m going to stop now, because I don’t think this is helping at all. In fact, isn’t it starting to seem like all wars are just baddies vs baddies? Actually, isn’t that kind of the whole point of war?

I know I said your statement made sense to me at first, but I take it back. Right now I’m even more confused than I was before you explained it to me!

When you say that this one is baddies vs baddies, what do you mean? Do you mean it’s a war? Do you mean people are killing each other? I really hope you don’t mean – though I kind of suspect you do – that it’s Muslims vs Muslims? Or do you just mean you don’t understand it?

Please explain.

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