War and art 2014-now, exhibition in England


This video says about itself:

Pictures and video showing the horrors of the first World War. Music is Green Fields of France by the Dropkick Murphys.

By Margot Miller in Britain:

The horrors of war depicted

Images of War—Sensory War 1914-2014: An exhibition at Manchester City Art Gallery

6 March 2015

Around 1,500 people passed daily through the doors of Manchester City Art Gallery in the last few months to visit its powerful Sensory War 1914-2014 exhibition.

Held to mark the centenary of World War I, the gallery assembled both contemporary and historical art, adding to its already substantial collection of WWI art exhibits from the following countries: Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, the US, Canada, Japan, Vietnam, Algeria, Ireland, Iran, Israel and Palestine. The exhibition is part of the WWI programme coordinated by the Imperial War Museum, London, in galleries and museums across the country. It was presented in partnership with the city’s Whitworth Art Gallery and the Centre for the Cultural History of War at the University of Manchester.

Visitors were able to view the works of artists as divergent as British artists CRW Nevinson and Paul Nash and German artists Otto Dix and Heinrich Hoerle, both of whose works were banned by the Nazis as decadent. Six heart-rending woodcuts by Kathe Kollwitz are on display beside the fragile depictions from Japan by the Hibakusha (the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs). The latter have never previously been seen in the UK.

The exhibits were organised non-chronologically, in themes that relate to the sensory impact of war on the artist—hence the somewhat puzzling title of the exhibition. For example, the themes were titled Pain and Succour, Rupture and Rehabilitation, and Shocking the Senses. This is a weakness in the exhibition, because it detracts from a historical understanding of the economic and political conditions that produced two world wars separated by a mere 21 years, and the succession of regional wars in Vietnam, El Salvador, Yugoslavia, Africa and the Middle East.

The viewer is invited to regard war-torn scenes ripped from their historical context, from the standpoint of the individual and how it makes him or her feel, with the reality ultimately too horrible to comprehend. The words “imperialism” and “capitalism” are absent from the captions accompanying the artworks. Despite the significant gap, the exhibition is memorable and moving.

In the first section of the exhibition, the text explains the global nature of WWI, with 4 million soldiers enlisted from the colonies. The war was fought, not just in Europe, but wherever the imperialist powers had colonies in the Middle East and Africa. Ten million soldiers and 7 million civilians died.

In another section, the text emphasises the scale of the slaughter in World War II, which amounted to the death of 2.5 percent of the world’s population. A total of 24 million military personal and 55 million civilians died from the war, disease and famine, including 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust. The exhibits are testimony to this devastation.

In Futurist style, official British war artist CRW Nevinson engraved Returning to the Trenches (1916), a small print showing a column of French soldiers returning to the front. Expressing the dehumanising effect of war in which men are just cogs in the war machine, clamouring billie cans, rifles and legs become a blur as the men march in lock-step back to battle.

CRW Nevinson: The Harvest of Battle (1918) (Art.IWM ART 1921)

By 1919, Nevinson had adopted a more realistic style to paint The Harvest of Battle. This is a painting of epic proportions in colours of mud brown and khaki, reminiscent of the dreaded mustard gas employed by both sides. Nevinson had joined the Friends Ambulance Unit and later worked for the British Red Cross at Dunkirk. He travelled to Ypres, Belgium, the site of the Christmas Truce between German and British soldiers in 1914, and was there at the beginning of the battle known as Passchendaele, one of the most intense and sustained battles on the Western Front. The barren landscape is dark, dismal and muddied, covered with stagnant pools under menacing skies. Weary stretcher-bearers tramp through the mud carrying the wounded. There is a corpse in the foreground, its mouth agape as if screaming, one arm raised in rigor mortis.

Writing to his wife from Ypres in 1917, British surrealist painter and war artist Paul Nash commented, “I am no longer an artist interested and curious, I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on for ever. Feeble, inarticulate, will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth, and may it burn their lousy souls.”

Paul Nash: The Landscape: Hill 60 (exh.1918 Pen and black ink, watercolour and coloured chalks on grey paper: Manchester City Galleries

No life exists in fields of mud and shell holes. The sun fails in the grey, mud-coloured sky. A ruddy pool in the centre of the picture suggests death.

In another Nash painting, Wounded Passchendaele, he departs from his usual depiction of war-ravaged landscapes without figures. The colours evoke the horrors of gangrene and mustard gas.

The large painting L’Enfer (Hell) (1921) by French artist George Leroux depicts the slaughter at Verdun in northeast France, where the French army lost a half-million men fighting the German army in 1916. One peers as if through fire and smoke and finally discerns the dead, who have become the colour of mud, in the mud.

Particularly emotive are six black-and-white woodcuts in a series entitled The War, by German artist Kathe Kollwitz, which evokes the grief and anguish of civilians in WWI. A testimonial to her son Peter who fell in the war, this series was first exhibited in 1924 at the newly founded International Anti-war Museum in Berlin. Kollwitz was already established as an artist who portrayed the poverty of the working class and peasantry in Germany. In The War: The Parents, the grieving parents are “entwined in mutual loss.”

Also exhibited are works by two other significant German artists, Otto Dix and Heinrich Hoerle. There are four black-and-white etchings from Der Krieg (The War) series by Otto Dix. These took inspiration from Goya’s The Disasters of War, which recorded the horrors of the Napoleonic invasion of Spain and the Spanish Wars of Independence in 1808-1814. In Seen on the Escarpment at Cléry-sur-Somme, painted in 1924, a soldier slumps, dead so long that a bird has made a nest in his gaping skull. His comrade with his lower jaw blown off appears to be laughing. In the picture The Mad Woman of Sainte-Marie-a-Py, a mother driven mad by grief amid the ruins of her house bares her breast as if to feed her dead baby.

Constructivist artist Heinrich Hoerle, who was involved in the Dada movement, which believed art should serve the cause of revolution, created The Cripple Portfolio in 1919. This series of 12 lithographs were first published in Cologne, inspired by the 2.7 million disabled war veterans, of whom 67,000 were amputees. Hoerle explored the psychological repercussions of the trauma the veterans suffered in life and even in their dreams. In Das Ehepaar (The Married Couple), painted in 1920, a couple embrace. Their furrowed foreheads are pressed together; she is clutching his prosthetic arm that ends in a hook.

Among the other notable works dealing with WWI are nine charcoal drawings by the lesser-known Italian artist Pietro Morando. A volunteer in the Italian elite troops, he drew on anything he could find. His work has a startling immediacy, such as 1916’s A Remnant of the Last Action, which shows a soldier leaning in death on barbed wire. The artist was captured in 1918 and imprisoned in Nagymegyer, Hungary, where thousands of Italian civilians were interned and died. Morando sketched the torture, starvation, cholera and executions in the prison camp.

Two paintings bear witness to the Holocaust by artists commissioned to record the liberation of Bergen-Belsen.

In Belsen camp: The Compound for Women, painted by Leslie Cole in 1945, the nightmare that greeted the liberators is portrayed—10,000 unburied corpses, emaciated inmates in blue-striped pyjamas wandering forlorn.

In Human Laundry (1945), Doris Zinkeisen shows barely alive female survivors lined up in beds being washed and deloused in the section of the camp known as the Human Laundry. Their skeletal frames contrast pitifully with the rounded figures of the orderlies administering to them.

Introducing the Haunted Memories of the Hibakusha, the exhibition explains that at 08:15 on August 6, 1945 (when the Japanese high command were negotiating surrender, although this is not mentioned), a US bomber dropped an atomic bomb nicknamed Little Boy on the city of Hiroshima. Between 70,000 and 80,000 died from the initial blast and many more died later from their injuries and radiation sickness. On August 9, a second, even more powerful bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

Gisaku Tanaka (age 72 at the time of drawing) Lights blinking on in the atomic desert (1973-4 Watercolour © Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Japan)

In 1974, a 77-year-old man named Iwachi Kobayashi gave a local TV station a drawing of the scene around the Yorozuya Bridge at about 4 p.m. on August 6, 1945. Inspired by this image, the TV station made an appeal to survivors to submit their memories of the atomic bombing. The response was overwhelming. Shown in this exhibition are 12 delicately constructed pictures portraying the horrific aftermath. Lights Blinking, by Gisaku Tanaka, was the artist’s view from Hijiyama Hill after the blast. The Red Cross hospital was painted by Fumiko Yamaoka, aged 47, in 1973-1974, when he committed his memories to watercolour.

Fumiko Yamaoka (age 47 at the time of drawing) Red Cross Hospital (1973-4 Watercolour © Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Japan)

These pictures deserve a wide circulation, a reminder of the unspeakable horrors of nuclear war at a time when US imperialism seriously contemplates engaging in a new war against China and Russia and is fomenting war on many fronts.

More-contemporary works include three anti-war pieces by Nancy Spero, one of which shows a fleeing woman cradling her child, in the context of the death squads and the “disappeared” of El Salvador in 1986.

The image of a black, hooded figure in Abu Ghraib is an indictment of the torture carried out by the US army and CIA in the Iraq war that began in 2003. Created in 2004 by Richard Serra, there exists a larger print with the words STOP BUSH.

Problematic is the juxtaposition in the Art Gallery of Sleeping Children (2012), by Sam Saimee, with the official UK war artist for the Iraq war John Keane’s Ecstasy of Fumbling (Portrait of the Artist in a Gas Alert) (1991). In just a few hours on March 16, 1988, 5,000 Kurdish civilians were killed by mustard gas, and the nerve agents sarin, tabun and vx, in an attack ordered by then-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. The dead children lie as if sleeping. This horrific slaughter of civilians took place during the Iran-Iraq war, when the Western powers supported and armed the Iraqi suppression of the Kurdish uprising in the north, which was backed by Iran.

Without explaining this, or the causes of the first Iraq war, placing this painting next to embedded artist John Keane’s work lends justification to the US “Desert Storm” war against Iraq in 1990-1991. The UN investigation into Iraq’s supposed stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, used to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003, concluded that by 1991 Iraq had destroyed its chemical and biological weapons and had no WMDs.

Another controversial painting is a large 1994 canvass by Peter Howson called Croatian and Muslim. It portrays the rape of a Muslim woman during the Bosnian war. The Imperial War Museum, which commissioned the work, refused to show it because Keane had learned of the incident from the victim’s accounts—i.e., he wasn’t an eye witness—and it is today owned by the singer David Bowie. The artist came back from Yugoslavia traumatised.

There were atrocities on all sides in the Bosnian civil war between the rival Croat, Bosnian Muslim and Serbian cliques, following the imperialist-backed dissolution of Yugoslavia. The US cynically employed the pretext of humanitarian defence of the Bosnian Muslims to intervene militarily.

The most moving and accessible art works all tell a profound truth—that it is not a “sweet and fitting thing to die for one’s country.” In the words of murdered German revolutionary Karl Liebknecht, who was so lovingly portrayed by Kathe Kollwitz, “Ally yourselves to the international class struggle against the conspiracies of secret diplomacy, against imperialism, against war, for peace within the socialist spirit.” With a call to disarm the war-mongering capitalist class, he said, “The main enemy is at home.”

Pentagon-Al Qaeda alliance in Syria war?


This video says about itself:

Syria: Christian village Maaloula raided by Al Nusra rebels

7 September 2013

Heavy fighting between rebels and regime forces continues in Syria’s predominately Christian village of Maaloula, which was earlier partially destroyed by Al-Qaeda affiliated rebels.

By Bill Van Auken in the USA:

Washington stokes Middle East bloodbath

6 March 2015

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chief of the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a congressional committee Wednesday that US troops may be sent into Syria to fight alongside so-called rebels who are seeking the overthrow of the Damascus government of President Bashar al-Assad.

“If the commander on the ground approaches either me or the secretary of defense and believes that the introduction of special operations forces to accompany Iraqis or the new Syrian forces … if we believe that’s necessary to achieve our objectives, we will make that recommendation,” Dempsey told the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel.

Dempsey’s testimony was preceded by that of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who allowed that Washington’s strategy in relation to the “Syria piece” is to “create a third force that can combat ISIL [the administration’s preferred acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-ISIS] and set the conditions for the eventual removal of Bashar Assad.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was on Thursday in the midst of a trip to Saudi Arabia to reassure the Sunni potentates of the Persian Gulf that US nuclear negotiations with Shiite Iran would not erode Washington’s counterrevolutionary alliance with these monarchical oil states, spoke along similar lines.

Kerry reiterated Washington’s commitment to regime change in Syria. “Ultimately a combination of diplomacy and pressure will be needed to bring about a political transition,” he told reporters, adding that “military pressure may be needed.”

There is a growing sense that, six months after President Barack Obama announced the new US war in both Iraq and Syria, this intervention has reached a turning point that threatens to unleash yet another massive bloodletting on the peoples of the region.

In Iraq, this threat is imminent with the mounting of a major siege of the city of Tikrit, the former hometown of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who was toppled by the US invasion of 2003 and executed by hanging under the American occupation.

Some 30,000 troops—reportedly two thirds of which are comprised of Iraqi Shia militias operating with Iranian support—have sought to encircle the predominantly Sunni city, which lies approximately 100 miles north of Baghdad on the Tigris River. The siege is preparation for an even bigger onslaught against Iraq’s second city, Mosul.

Roughly 30,000 civilians have reportedly fled Tikrit in fear for their lives, while tens of thousands more remain trapped in the face of mounting artillery bombardment. Shia militia leaders, meanwhile, have openly proclaimed that the assault will be the occasion for revenge for massacres carried out by ISIS.

The US military has stayed out of the Tikrit siege, claiming that the regime in Baghdad had not asked for its aid. In reality, Washington has ruled out any direct military collaboration with Iran, which itself is still a potential target for US intervention.

US officials have warned Iran and the Shia-dominated government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi not to fuel sectarianism. “That would tear at the fabric of the country, and weaken the ability of the Iraqis to confront this threat to their country,” declared White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

What hypocrisy! The sectarian tensions are the direct product of the US war and occupation, which killed over a million Iraqis, tore the county’s social fabric to shreds and provoked internecine conflicts as part of a deliberate tactic of divide and rule.

ISIS, the purported target of the US intervention, is a Frankenstein’s monster spawned by both the Iraq intervention and US imperialism’s promotion of a war for regime change in neighboring Syria, where it and other Sunni Islamist militias received funding, arms and logistical support from Washington’s regional allies, all under the guiding hand of the CIA.

Washington’s stated policy of fostering, arming and training so-called moderate rebels to both combat ISIS and serve as a proxy force in the war to topple the Assad regime has become an increasingly criminal and cynical operation.

Last weekend, the last of the ostensible Syrian “moderates,” whose members were armed, equipped and even paid by the CIA—the Hazm, or “steadfastness” movement—officially disbanded after being routed in the northern province of Aleppo by the Al-Nusra front, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. Advanced US weapons, including TOW missiles, were all surrendered to Al Nusra, while many of the surviving Hazm members joined it.

In the wake of this debacle, there are indications that Washington is preparing to seal a pact with Al Nusra, effectively allying with Al Qaeda itself in opposition to ISIS, a split-off from Al Qaeda. The government of Qatar, a key source of funding for Al Nusra, has reportedly been pressuring the group to drop its formal affiliation with Al Qaeda to facilitate this shift.

The sheer cynicism with which the military-intelligence apparatus and its front man, Barack Obama, wage their “war on terror” found the clearest expression in statements made by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper at the Council on Foreign Relations earlier this week.

Moderate these days is increasingly becoming anyone who is not affiliated to ISIL,” he said. He indicated that US intelligence and military officials had “picked people that not only are moderate, whatever that is, but also we have to be sensitive to complying with the international rules of law, which in this environment is a pretty tough order.”

Of course US imperialism has operated for more than a decade in the Middle East—from Iraq, to Libya to Syria—in naked contempt for the bedrock provisions of international law, which, since the Nazis were tried at Nuremberg, has banned aggressive war as an instrument for pursuing state interests.

What Clapper is referring to is the international prohibition against arming Al Qaeda, a provision that can be evaded by having Al Nusra drop its formal affiliation.

Anyone attempting to deduce the logic of US policy in the Middle East from the claims made by US officials runs into a mind-boggling maze of contradictions. In Iraq, Washington is effectively in alliance with Iran and Shia sectarian militias to defeat ISIS. In Syria, it is forging ties to Sunni Islamist militias to supposedly fight both ISIS and topple the Syrian government, which is backed by Iran. Nearly 14 years into the “war on terror,” the US military-intelligence apparatus is preparing to turn an affiliate of Al Qaeda into its frontline “anti-terror” and “pro-democracy” fighters.

To the extent that any coherent policy emerges, it is one of stoking the fires of war and political instability everywhere, promoting a struggle of each against all with the aim of weakening every country and government so as to facilitate the US drive to assert its hegemony over the energy-rich region. In turn, this regional policy is directed toward the preparation of even more horrific wars against the allies of Damascus—Iran and Russia.

For the people of the Middle East, this translates into another deadly and tragic phase in their drawn-out encounter with US imperialism. For American working people, this policy—developed behind their backs, with no real debate, much less popular support—also holds the threat of catastrophe.

Wildlife news, not war news, from Iraq


This video is about a chuckar partridge (the national bird of Kurdistan; and of Pakistan).

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Sunday 22 February 2015

How butterflies are harbingers of hope in war-torn Iraq

A conservation group dedicated to preserving biodiversity offers a hope of fledgling renewal for this war-shattered land

Nature Iraq: not an oxymoron, but the name of the country’s leading conservation group.

Since it was founded in 2004, it has set up a series of projects to understand and protect the wildlife of Iraq. Now it is able to reflect on three years of effective work which has brought great benefits, both to humans and to wildlife.

You might think that compared with other problems being faced by people in Iraq, those that concern the distribution of butterflies are pretty insignificant. But you’d be wrong. Butterflies matter to the world: and perhaps they matter more to Iraq than to any other nation on earth.

That’s because conservation is one of the arts of peace. Preserving wildlife is important at all times and in all places; but when it comes to the healing of a shattered and broken country, a butterfly has a significance that towers above the trivialities. So here are a few examples of what Nature Iraq has been getting up to.

For a start, it has been running a study and education programme in Iraqi Kurdistan, in the north-east of the country. The group is supported by the Darwin Initiative, funded by the UK government; by the Centre for Middle Eastern Plants, based in Edinburgh; and by Birdlife International, with headquarters in Cambridge. So it’s a business that rises above local troubles. It has a global input and a global significance: wildlife conservation in one place is possible only through the efforts of people in many other places.

Nature Iraq has established an on-line course on biodiversity and conservation, in partnership with the University of Sulaimani in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah. It’s been running for three years and 60 students have now completed the course. Another 60 have just signed up.

Then there’s a nationwide citizen science project on the distribution of butterflies and dragonflies. Thanks to the widespread use of smartphones, photographs of these insects are now flooding in to Nature Iraq, which has already identified four species new to the country. The organisation has set up a team of experts across the world, so that every species can be properly identified and mapped. …

The mountain of Peramagroon, which covers an area of 100 sq km, is a spectacular spot that’s home to Egyptian vultures and a flycatcher called the Kurdistan wheatear. It has a species of wild goat and a good population of spur-thighed tortoises. A survey of the area’s plants revealed 650 species, more than twice the number previously known from the area; among them were several species new to science.

A study of land use on Peramagroon will enable Nature Iraq to establish a proper conservation action plan. A series of school visits have been made to the area, and children have been setting up nest boxes as a result. Nature Iraq is also field-testing a phone app that will help to identify birds in Peramagroon; it contains details of 130 species. The long-term aim is to develop this and similar apps for use across the Middle East.

When it is more important to identify a saker falcon than a Black Hawk helicopter, you know that an important step towards peace has been taken. Bwar Khalid of Nature Iraq said: “I hope we can do more projects and activities in the future, especially in our country where there has been nothing except war and destruction.”

Butterflies and dragonflies matter. People looking for butterflies and dragonflies matter. Unknown species of mountain plants matter. Children setting up nest boxes matter. The fact that a Kurdistan wheatear is different from an eastern black-eared wheatear matters. All these things matter if you wish to turn a country deeply harmed by war into a place where life is worth living. …

Such projects have the vividness of a New Year’s resolution: a new start, one in which better things will surely be possible. Hope comes in a butterfly; in an eastern rock nuthatch; in the flora of a mountain; in people dedicated to looking after them all.