Saturday, February 12, 2011

A memo to Mubarak, from Kendrick Smithyman

Update: well, so much for the historical relevance of this post. The bugger went and resigned on me as soon as I went to bed!

Like most other sentient beings in this part of the world, I suspect, I have been sitting up watching the news from Egypt and pondering both the creativity of that country's protest movement and the monumental pomposity of Hosni Mubarak.

After suffering some excerpts from the latest self-pitying and yet sinister speech from the Mummy-in-chief, I'm inclined to ask: why are the worst military leaders so often drawn from air forces?

Besides Mubarak, who never stops reminding his truculent subjects of his role as an air commander in the calamitous Six Days War of 1967, one has to consider Luis Prince Suazo, who continued a venerable Honduran tradition by removing his democratically-elected President in a coup a couple of years back, and Jerry Rawlings, who used the tiny air force of Ghana as a springboard to political power in 1981 and then ruled the country for more than a decade, forcing through one of the most caustically neo-liberal IMF 'reform' programmes seen anywhere in the world.

When I think about relatively progressive military leaders or would-be leaders, like the young Hugo Chavez, who organised an unsuccessful armed uprising after watching the Venezuelan government slaughter two thousand demonstrators in a week during the 'Caracazo' of 1989, and Thomas Sankara, who gave Upper Volta a new name and a new direction in the '80s before being assassinated, I find that they tend to come from the army.

Even navies seem to provide somewhat better military leaders than the glory boys in the sky. Frank Bainimarama, who is no friend of democracy but has at least challenged the power of corrupt Fijian chiefs-turned-capitalists and protected his country's Indo-Fijian minority from persecution, hails from the navy.

I wonder if the large sums of money needed to train military pilots and the elaborate human and technical infrastructure needed to support them foster a certain elitism, and a consequent hostility to the populist politics that captured the likes of Chavez and Sankara. Perhaps, remembering the story of Icarus, we might also speculate that the experience of taking flight at rare speed into the circumambient matter breeds a certain God-like detachment, and a certain hubris. In his autobiographical novel The Kindness of Women JG Ballard recalls how, as a young man training as an Royal Air Force pilot above the frozen lakes of northern Canada for days on end, he began to forget about trivial subjects like friends and family and world peace, and to dwell instead on the delights of staging a solo nuclear bombing raid on the Soviet Union - of 'flying low over Belarus with two pieces of the sun under my wings', as he put it.

Reports from Tahrir Square speak of splits in the army, as sergeants and other middle-ranking soldiers side with demonstrators and denounce Mubarak, but US-built jets have happily buzzed protesters, and analysts describe the air force as Mubarak's most reliable support bases.

Kendrick Smithyman served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force for most of the Second World War, but he spent his time in a storeroom rather than a cockpit. Perhaps because of his humble station in the Air Force, Smithyman developed a profound hatred of the pomposity of his commanders and their American allies. In 'The First Liberator', a poem published last November in Private Bestiary, my collection of his previously-unseen texts, Smithyman offers a possibly-apocryphal story of military pomposity and its comeuppance. I thought I'd post the poem and as a heavily coded riposte to Mubarak, and as an utterly ineffectual gesture of solidarity with the Egyptian revolution.

The First Liberator

Word came down from Bullshit Castle:
Americans are sending a Liberator.
Personnel will...
personnel did,
paraded, with band. Staff cars arrived.
It swung in heavily, touched down, taxied,
tuned, feathered motors, and stopped.
The door opened, Big Brass appeared.
You know how American big brass appears.

On that last leg swinging in
some crewman purged the tank holding shit.
Their big bird was plastered with shit.
No doubt about it: shit is shit

and the U.S. Air Force
General and his Aides were (My country,
'tis of thee sweet land of) framed
in it.

Of thee I sing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

All soldiers on other side of fencing at tv bldg look sympathetic to protesters. Very emotional scene. #jan25
13 minutes ago via txt .Army general on other side crying and shaking hands with protesters. #jan25
17 minutes ago via txt .Crowds growing outside tv bldg, some tried to push down fencing other protesters stopped them. #jan25
about 1 hour ago via txt .Crowds chanting "oh Mubarak bid farewell to Obama" (before the former leaves #Egypt) #jan25
about 1 hour ago via txt .Thousands outside heavily fortified TV building. Soldiers next to very big guns on tanks/inside bldg watching. #jan25
about 1 hour ago via txt .In a crowd now of thousands marching through streets chanting "maspiro" (state tv bldg). #jan25
about 2 hours ago via txt .Thousands marching through downtown saying they are heading to pres palace, a 3 or 4 hr march. #jan25
about 2 hours ago via txt .Going to street now. #jan25
about 2 hours ago via TweetDeck .From above looks like people are starting to march in direction of TV bldg. Reports of massive protests heading to Tahrir from across Cairo.
about 2 hours ago via TweetDeck .The ground at Tahrir is shaking with chants of "leave" and "illegitimate". #jan25
about 2 hours ago via TweetDeck .The square is completely packed and thousands more pouring in. Protesters will not be confined to Tahrir even if they wanted to. #jan25
about 3 hours ago via TweetDeck .Immediately when they finished praying the chants against Mubarak resumed. #jan25

3:19 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...




3:20 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bella Ciao!

Bella Ciao!

Bella Ciao, bella ciao, BELLA CIAO CIAO CIAO!

10:51 am  
Anonymous Whaleoil said...

The mil¬i¬tary in Fiji stages a coup and all the left¬ies cry and gnash their teeth. We impose sanc-tions, for¬bid travel of insti¬ga¬tors of the coup.
Mean¬while the mil¬i¬tary stages a coup and removes the Pres¬i¬dent of Egypt and the same pinko hand-wringers who are all aghast about the ero¬sion of democ¬racy in Fiji are danc¬ing a jig that the mil¬i¬tary has taken con¬trol in Egypt.
We have just wit¬nessed his¬tory, we have wit¬nessed that free¬dom can over¬come Amer¬ica and Israel’s desire to deny it, we have wit¬nessed a new gen¬er¬a¬tion using face¬book and twit¬ter to over¬come tyranny.
Bomber hasn’t wit¬nesses his¬tory, he has watched the army take con¬trol of Egypt again. He hasn’t wit¬nessed free¬dom, watch what hap¬pens now. And Face¬book and Twit¬ter haven’t over¬come tyranny, they just made it vis¬i¬ble. The tyranny will smack down hard in the days to come now the army is in control.
They of course for¬get that the mil¬i¬tary have been in con¬trol, either at the pointy sharp end or in the back¬ground since 1952 when Nasser over¬threw the monar¬chy. They for¬get that Egypt has never, not even for one year either before 1952 nor since had a democracy.
I won¬der what they will say when Egypt turns to cus¬tard as Islamist nut¬ters try to grab con-trol of the coun¬try. They won’t even for a minute con¬sider hav¬ing a democ¬racy. Rather they will try to impose a theocracy.
While Bomber and other use¬ful idiots cel¬e¬brate a mil¬i¬tary coup I will make a pre¬dic¬tion. There won’t be a democ¬racy, fledg¬ling or oth¬er¬wise in Egypt. The army will take total con¬trol and they won’t relin¬quish it. They already run vast amounts of the Egypt¬ian econ¬omy, so they will see this as a licence to run more.
I will take note of their posts on Egypt and ask again how they feel about today’s events in a years time, and again in two years, and since I am a patient man in 5 years as well.
In the mean¬time I won’t be expect¬ing democ¬racy to flour¬ish in Egypt, nor will I expect to see peace come to the region for some time to come. One thing that is for cer¬tain is that Israel will now be sit¬ting at a height¬ened state of readiness.

11:00 am  
Blogger maps said...

I think you may be commenting on the wrong blog, old boy.

I gnashed my teeth about the racist 1987 and 2000 coups in Fiji, but not about Bainimarama's effort, which stymied the attempts of the Qarase government to make Indo-Fijians third-class citizens. I do think the man's lost the plot now though. He should have quickly organised elections for a constituent assembly to draw up a democratic constitution for Fiji.

11:13 am  
Blogger Dave Brown said...

The Revolution has Begun: let's make it International and Permanent!

11:13 am  
Blogger maps said...

There are actually a few precedents for military coups leading to democratic reforms - one is the 1958 ouster of the Venezuela dictator Jimenez. In 1958in Venezuela and this last fortnight in Egypt the masses were on the streets urging the army to take action, not passively hoping for the soliders to behave well. They forged an informal coalition with the army. Hopefully they'll keep the pressure up now Mubarak's gone. Certainly the Tunisians haven't given up pushing for change after the ouster of Ben Ali.

11:18 am  
Anonymous Sharon said...

Interesting post, thanks.

Just a small point of accuracy which may dent your hypothesis - the Honduran coup in 2009 was led by the civilian politician Roberto Micheletti along with the military. As I understand it Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, of the army was the man in command on the night of the coup, although air force chief Luis Prince Suazo was definitely involved.

Micheletti was immediately sworn in as President after the coup and held the presidency for 6 months before handing over to Porfirio Lobo in following some very controversial elections. As a reward for his trouble Vásquez Velásquez now has the post of head of Hondutel, the State owned telecommunications company. Not sure where Suazo is, probably still in the airforce.

(By way of introduction - Hi, I'm Sharon, long time lurker and PhD student in Development Studies. I was doing fieldwork for my PhD in Honduras at the time of the coup).

9:14 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Apologies for my sloppiness Sharon! I was drawing on half-coherent recollections late at night under the influence of booze. Development studies is a noble field: I wish I had studied it...

10:01 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris Trotter

THE GREAT HUMAN SPECTACLE of revolutionary passion in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square has prompted me to think about what could possibly spark a similar uprising here in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

It might begin with something as simple as the recent call by Maori Council members from Tamaki Makaurau for a nationwide hikoi against the Marine & Coastal Area Bill. The call was accompanied by a vote of No Confidence in the Maori Party leadership, which could easily be interpreted as an invitation to the Maori rebel MP, Hone Harawira, to make himself available to lead the proposed hikoi – just as he led the 2004 protest against Labour’s Foreshore & Seabed Bill.

A hikoi filling the streets of Wellington, armed with a list of revolutionary demands, and made up of not only of Maori of all ages, but also of a surprising number of Pakeha, advances on Parliament. Then, over the cheers of the 30,000-strong crowd, their leader warns them that they must learn from the events of 2004. That they must not simply return to their homes and leave the making of change to others. That they must stay where they are – until their demands are met.

Watching from the Beehive, the Prime Minister must now decide whether to clear the grounds, or enter into dialogue with the protesters – and thus confer upon their demands an aura of legitimacy.

The Government dithers, and the delay is fatal. As word spreads – by e-mail, texting, Twitter and through the blogosphere – hundreds, and then thousands, of young people pour into Central Wellington to join the uprising.

Reluctantly, the Prime Minister orders Police to clear the protesters from Parliament Grounds. The Police Commissioner is uneasy. There are close to 50,000 people participating in what is already being called the Peoples Constitutional Convention of Aotearoa. Moving them will require a massive use of force.

Rumours quickly spread that the Police intend to use tear-gas on the protesters. The crowd’s instant response is to storm Parliament Buildings. The front doors are forced open – the revolutionary crowd now occupies the House of Representatives.

Right-wing students and business executives, whipped into a murderous fury by right-wing bloggers, attack the protesters still occupying Parliament Grounds. Shots are fired. Several people are killed and many injured. Police officers are accused of allowing the right-wingers through their lines. Some accuse AOS personnel of handing out weapons to the counter-revolutionaries.

The Prime Minister declares a State of Emergency and calls upon the Military to "assist the civil power". Mass demonstrations and strikes break out in all the main centres. Tens of thousands march to mark the funerals of the murdered protesters. Occupations of Auckland’s Aotea Square, Cathedral Square in Christchurch, and the Octagon in Dunedin, follow.

Those in occupation of the House of Representatives declare themselves to be the Provisional Government of the Bi-Cultural Republic of Aotearoa/New Zealand and order the New Zealand Defence Force to defend the Tangata Whenua and Tangata Tiriti from their enemies.

Maori soldiers, ordered to suppress the uprisings, mutiny. The Provisional Government of the new republic now has an army.

The revolution becomes unstoppable.

10:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Giulio Douhet got air force thinking off to a bad start, and it's been all down hill since then.

10:34 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

A great story Chris! It is possible. It might make a great book also! Go one or more than Stead's "Smith;s Dream"...

The power of the people. It may even work.

7:15 pm  
Anonymous Peter O'Keefe said...

hey your bible to Isaiah 19:1-4 which is titled, Proclamation to Egypt...

1. The burden of Egypt Behold, the lord rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it.


2. And I will set the Egyptians against Egyptians: and they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbour, city against city,[and]kingdom against kingdom.

3. And the spirit of Egypt shall fail in the midst thereof and I will destroy the counsel thereof and they shall seek the idols and to the charmers, and to them that have familiar spirits, and to the wizards.

4 And the Egyptians will I give over into the hand of a cruel lord, and a fierce king shall rule over them; saith the lord, the lord of hosts.

This was Isaiah's prophesy and today is it not coming true?


Just my thoughts. Thank you for hearing me out.

11:19 pm  
Anonymous Peter O'Keefe said...

PS I believe the internet and also vidoe games was designed to train those who will be left behind after the Rapture to serve in the Antichrist's military forces.

SO I don't think that websites like this are ALL bad.

I am sorry if my comments in past times have been a little bit OTT.

OTT = Over the Top

I believe that in a Darwinian struggle to survive, humans must kill in order to harvest their "Adam" (a.k.a. "stem cells") ie obtain "plasmids" that cause them to macro-evolve superhuman abilities.

This is serious.

And wrong.

11:25 pm  
Blogger Dave Brown said...

What Hossam said to Kendrick

11:58 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter O'keefe. What a loony!

2:46 pm  
Anonymous Sharon said...

No problem maps - 'twas a minor error compared to the crazy right wingers I've been dealing with who somehow think the democratically elected incumbent President Zelaya was the one carrying out a coup...

Actually their rhetoric seems to be remarkably similar to that of some of your more interesting commenters here. hmmm

4:35 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Egypt is a direct result of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, although, none of our commie, anti-American captive media will acknowledge it. She proved that a dynamic populace can stop a corrupt, non-responsive government in it’s tracks. Our mechanism was our elective process. The Egyptian mechanism was demonstrations in the capitol.
The Egyptians stopped Mubarak; we stopped ourBarak. Same corruption, same arrogance, same non-responsiveness. If the Egyptians survive; if we survive, we both owe the Tea Party and Sarah Palin thanks!

11:35 am  
Anonymous Mark said...

Dear Oh dear,

I think I might need a bit of a lie-down after reading one or two of the comments above.

Mind you, in the extremely unlikely event that something called "the rapture" does occur, I'm of a mind to join the AntiChrist forces rather than throw my lot in with these Far Right religious nutters.

5:18 pm  

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