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What is the scandal of Afghanistan?

By Dr Owen Thomas

This blog is based a talk given as part of the “Reflections for “Twenty Years of the Global War on Terror: Looking back, looking forward” event, jointly hosted by the Secrecy, Power and Ignorance research Network (SPIN) and the South West Doctoral Training Partnership on 8th September, 2021.

This month, two parliamentary select committees have announced that they will hold inquiries into aspects of the UK’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. An ‘Afghanistan Inquiry’ has been called for many times in 2021.1 But reaction to the Taliban’s unexpectedly sudden seizure of Kabul and the West’s rapid evacuation has hastened and sharpened these calls, such that both the Defence Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee will use much of their inquiries to focus on that withdrawal. A striking feature of the British reaction to that withdrawal was the shock experienced by those who had been involved in two decades of Western operations in Afghanistan. During the BBC’s Question Time, for example, a British military veteran who served in Afghanistan told the panel: “the only way I cannot be utterly embarrassingly humiliated about my service is if we, a democratic nation, hold those responsible to account and have a full parliamentary inquiry.”

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Videogames and Veterans: The Ethics of a Virtual Battle of Fallujah

By Georgia Mealings, Research Assistant for ‘Warnings from the Archive’

When studios market wargames, they emphasise the authenticity of experience. The latest videogame technology is so immersive that the graphics, the sound design, the game mechanics, and the worldbuilding all work together to persuade you that are really there, on a battlefield or controlling an aircraft. The studios’ intent is to curate a realistic sensory experience that can offer a taste of the ‘thrill’ of war, without any of the risk. 

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Standing the Test of Time: What can Rumsfeld’s passing teach us about war and memory?

By Professor Catriona Pennell

‘History may remember him…’

– Statement from the Rumsfeld family, 30 June 2021.

Former US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, died on 29 June 2021 at the age of 88. His name will forever be associated with the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Various ‘obitu-mmentaries’ have appeared since his death from across the political spectrum. Former President George W. Bush lamented the loss of ‘a faithful steward of [America’s] armed forces’; American right-wing online magazine The Federalist described him as ‘a genius’ and ‘true American patriot’; many more chastised his poor-decision making as defence secretary, his efforts to cover up inconvenient facts, and his role in the widespread use of torture that has dogged America’s reputation ever since.

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Owen Thomas on ‘Searching for Grenfell Tower’s guilty secret’

Project co-PI, Dr Owen Thomas, appeared on an episode of the SPIN podcast in 2019, created by the secrecy, power and ignorance research network, to discuss the Grenfell Tower fire and broader issues of state scandals, wrong-doing, and cultures of secrecy.

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Why Blair really went to war

This blog post is republished from a piece published on 5th July 2016 in The Conversation and Newsweek.

As Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq Inquiry findings are published, we should resist what’s become the easy refrain: “Blair Lied. Thousands Died.”

If we actually want to learn from what happened, we should recognise that Tony Blair has been remarkably consistent in his view that the removal of the regime was necessary, whether or not Saddam Hussein actually possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Blair, it seems, genuinely believes that the war was in our best interests because it may have prevented an unlikely (but not impossible) catastrophe. This way of thinking has not gone away.

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The UK Media and the Moral Case for the Iraq War

Olivia Noden, University of Exeter

In present-day society, the United Kingdom’s participation in the Iraq War typically incurs criticism, both from the British public and mass-media publications. These criticisms have been louder and more prevalent in the public domain since the publication of the Chilcot Inquiry in 2016 which delivered a damning verdict on Tony Blair’s decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. However, at the time of Blair’s decision, the majority of UK newspapers supported the Prime Minister as he committed troops to the Iraq bilateral invasion. Despite this, reflections on the UK invasion have rarely addressed the role of the UK media in advocating the moral case, or humanitarian responsibility, of the intervention.

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Lineages of Aerial Policing in the Middle East

This spring, the Ministry of Defense acknowledged enlisting the RAF and other coalition planes to engage in air raids across the Makhmur (or Makhmour) mountains, an independent region to the north of Baghdad. The mountains contain a series of limestone caves, thought to be a favoured Isis hideout by British intelligence services. These air attacks targetted the caves to destabilise the Isis stronghold in the Makhmur region and demonstrate a sustained interest in regaining control of north Iraq. The Guardian reported that the number of civilian casualities killed in the spring 2021 air raids have not been authenticated as the cave complexes have yet to be cleared by Iraqi ground forces.