TATTOO’S & the Afghanistan Debate


Tattoo’s of Crime and Punishment


Tattoo’s make quite cutting comments,

don’t you think?

Some sort of confessional/conversational

Carved in flesh with blood and ink.

Like the boy I once knew

With the Jailhouse tattoo,

All those cell-locked hours of patient pain to paint

Scenes from the Life of Ned Kelly across his back.

Central scene, Old Ned himself

in Greatcoat & helmet

with a gun in each hand

Bailed up for his Last Stand,

Looking like an old man kangaroo

facing off his final pack of dogs.

And above Ned’s head

the legend read;

Such is Life.” Yeah. Such is life..

The Tombstone Words, the epitaph

for every freedom loving wild boy

Gunned down while trying to escape in a fast car.


Or what about that charming junkie girl I knew

With that subtle tattoo?

On the soft white flesh of her inner arm

She bears a Hieroglyph for Strength

Surrounded by a circle of black fire,

hiding the scarred flesh, the ruined veins.

She says; “the ink hides the needle marks, dig?”

She’s studying to be a solicitor,

She’s quite a girl.

Could take on the world.


Or what about the black girl

Who could run faster than anyone else

Which is a pretty good thing to learn

if your a black girl in this country.

(All those white mongrel gin-jockeys,

you know what I mean.)

And on her arm like a scared charm

are written the words, “Cos I’m Free.”

Yeah “Cos I’m Free!”

Say it loud girl, say it proud,

After two hundred years of oppression & greed

its good to see that black girl

running fast & free.



The Afghanistan Debate; a review.



nine years after jumping into Afghanistan with the USA in pursuit of Al Qaida, now we have a parliamentary debate on what we’re doing there. Ok. Better late than never.

The only reason parliament is even having such a debate (though really it was more a series of breast-beating soliloquies than an actual debate.) is because the Greens used their new leverage to force it on them, and all power to the Greens for doing so. Such a public discussion can only be a good thing, if only to air out more clearly why we’re there and what we think we’re doing. Our Objectives hitherto have only been spelled out in the vaguest terms.

Why we invaded Afghanistan in the first place is quite clear, though strangely most of our parliamentarians seemed rather coy about admitting it. It was after all, at America’s behest, to bring revenge on the perpetrators of the 9/11 incident, who were, according to the best evidence available, harboured and centred in Afghanistan.

But that was then and this is now and we are still embedded in Afghanistan, like a journalist embedded in a burning tank, and there seems to be no clear exit hatch. Al Qaida seem to be everywhere else but there.

We were told this was “a winnable war”, that this is a “War for Democratic Values.”

In defence of our continued military involvement, various parliamentarians went trumpeting about fighting for Democracy,or preventing Terrorism or stopping the flow of refugees, or “to preserve our Way of Life” or even, it was ludicrously suggested at one stage, in the name of that quintessential Aussie virtue, “mateship”. Because we’d be letting our “mates” the United States down, wouldn’t we, if we pulled out now. (As for that idea, I would suggest that it’s part of a “mates” duty to let his “mate” know when they’re being an idiot or going too far. Its not being someone’s “mate” to back them up uncritically in all circumstances, thats being a lackey, mate.)

Still and all, these are fine noble aims, if a trifle vague, but there were not a lot of clear ideas offered for achieving them or what conditions might constitute “victory”.


The Government itself was giving out mixed messages. On one hand we were urged to believe in the need to continue our military efforts and to believe that we are succeeding in our militarily objectives. Its a Winnable War, remember? On the other hand, there are clearly moves afoot to reach a negotiated settlement that would allow us to “withdraw with honour”. Apparently the idea is to reach a deal with “moderate” or even “good” Taliban elements.

Well, I’d been waiting for the other boot to drop, because the media for some time have been talking about “extremist Taliban elements”, naturally implying that there were non-extreme elements, though who they might prove to be was a mystery. I suspect they will turn out to be whoever amongst the Taliban they might be able to bribe, convince or threaten into negotiating some semblance of a face-saving deal with.

As for installing ‘Democracy in Afghanistan’ there are clearly problems. Karzai is a manic depressive weasel running a cabal of corrupt cronies and barely in control of a squabbling coalition of barely bought off warlords, druglords and disgruntled mullahs. The last two elections were clearly massively rigged by his supporters and his main source of legitimacy is the support of the Americans, who do so mainly because they can’t find anyone better to take his place. Besides, they’ve tried replacing a corrupt puppet-premier before, in South Vietnam, and that didn’t work out well at all.

That there are many difficulties involved with waging this war is obvious to all.

For one thing, wiping out a religious based ethnic opposition on its own turf is difficult to do. The Romans managed to do it a couple of times. Notably when they extirpated Druidism by invading its heartland on the Island of Anglsey and cutting down every man, woman and child they found there. The survivors were rounded up and sold into slavery and the practise of its rites thereafter forbidden on pain of torture and death. They didn’t have much trouble with Druidism after that.

I very much doubt todays western nations (isolated gung ho elements aside.) have the will to pursue that course. Perhaps in the tumultuous days immediately following 9/11 they could have gone close and got away with it in the after math of rage and grief generally felt by the US populace. But that opportunity was lost when George Bush II got sidetracked by Iraq. Alas, the Iraqi venture was more than merely a diversion that muddied the waters and delayed resolution of the Afghanistan situation. It has proven fatal to that venture. Much of the post 9/11 international goodwill was dissipated by pursuing this ill advised vendetta against Saddam.

Sure, he may have been a monster and a creep, but is that sufficient grounds to go to war? There are many “world leaders” fitting that description. From a strategic point of view Saddam had no time himself for Shia fanatics and could have been persuaded to make himself useful to the “War on Terror”. But off we went looking for imaginary terrorists and weapons of mass destruction. Now Iraq is a free-fire zone that has elections but no parliament and the largest concentration of “private” security forces in the world, amongst its many other unresolved problems.


Meanwhile the Taliban were able to regroup in Afghanistan while attention and resources were diverted elsewhere. By being able to do so they have been able to confirm traditional perceptions amongst the locals that any international intervention is only temporary, and that ultimately they will be back and will wreck terrible vengeance on all who helped the infidels. And indeed the universal perception is that, left to its own devices, the Karzai government will last about as long as the puppet government the Soviets left behind them when THEY pulled out of Afghanistan. Or about as long as the government of South Vietnam lasted when the Americans pulled out of there. Karzai must look nervously at every lamp-post he passes.

Perhaps our brandishing of Western Values is no more than an updated version of the White Mans Burden, a hypocritical facade masking our imperialist ventures. Justification for invading the lesser cultures lands and imposing our values and so forth.

And despite so many assurances for so long, Afghanistan HAS become another Vietnam in oh so many ways. I heard echoes of Marlon Brando‘s ravings in Apocalypse Now when one parliamentarian recounted a tale told her by a serving Australian soldier, of his troop being denied permission to give medical aid to a boy whose arm had been caught in a threshing machine. Apparently the boys father forbade them from taking him to a hospital because he feared the Taliban would come and kill the whole family in revenge. Or is this Apocryphal Now?

As in Vietnam its hard to pick out the enemy. The local populace is sullen at best and the enemy hide amongst them, comes from them. To many we will always be seen as invaders and infidels. The difference between a collaborator and a freedom fighter is a matter of perspective. As in Vietnam we have a corrupt & feeble government propped up by massive foreign military support. As in Vietnam we are opposed to an ideology not just an enemy. As in Vietnam the poppy fields flourish. We are even pursuing the same doomed policy of increasing military pressure in the hope of forcing the enemy to the negotiating table from a position of strength. All we lack is conscription to make the rout complete.



One of the recurring arguments for intervention is that we’re doing it for the liberation of women and kids, particularly the young girls, from oppressive cultural practises. And yes I am glad to know that now there are two million Afghani girls going to school  where there used to be none. Of course we are imposing our own Western Values here, and I for one say “Good for us”, but we must realise that if we seriously wish to do this we must expect to place our soldiers there for the next twenty or thirty years. Not a mere ten years. We will need to protect those children from resurgent medievilism for a generation at least.

But those pushing this reason for fighting have been using as a poster-girl for their position, the photo of a shockingly disfigured young Afghani woman, as a harbinger of what would befall Afghanistan should we “withdraw prematurely”

A shocking photo yes. I was shocked myself and featured it in my sermons and of course the immediate response is, lets go kill the people who would do this.

Yet calming down and thinking about it, we discover this is not the work of the Taliban but a jealous husband. True they are both informed and guided by a culture that includes sharia law, yet shamefully, cannot we in the West also produce our own mutilated women? Are we not being hypocritical in using this poor woman’s disfigured features as a poster to whip up enthusiasm for war?

Do we not have our own female victims of jealous husbands or boyfriends walking amongst us? The victims of broken bottles and razor blades and acid. The victims of domineering patriarchal relatives who seek to enforce their control through violence. What about that mother who sold her twelve year old daughter into prostitution in Tasmania. Should we invade Tasmania?

True John Howard invaded the Northern territory under fairly similar pretexts, so perhaps its not so far-fetched an idea.

Sarcasm aside, is warfare the way to promote “Western Values”, however vague a set of premises they may be. Can we change the attitudes that make it acceptable to disfigure young women by massive military might? Is it even possible? Maybe its none of our business how the Afghani’s treat their women.

The final conclusion, as far as general consensus in parliament seemed to go, was that we had to stay in Afghanistan because no matter how fucked up it was, things would be that much worse if we left. Plus of course the unstated fact that we would lose an enormous amount of face if the Taliban crawled back into power the moment we left town. Loss of face may indeed be the overwhelming reason for our continued efforts, as far as the military and political figures waging this war are concerned.

Still I am no friend of the Taliban. They destroyed the Buddha of Bamiyan and murdered the Lion of Tajikistan. They shot women in football stadiums as a public spectacle for wearing makeup. They banned music, television and sport. To hell with them! What possible basis is there for negotiation?

Maybe there is no “winning” to this war. Maybe it just has to be fought anyway, coz that’s the way it is.

What do you think?


The Reverend Hellfire is a practising Performance Poet and an Ordained Minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanists.



~ by reverendhellfire on October 24, 2010.

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