The Lost Greek Cities of Central Asia: a lively and brisk introduction to ancient Greco-Bactrian kingdoms

Garrett Ryan, “The Lost Greek Cities of Central Asia” (Told in Stone, 4 September 2021)

In light of current events in Afghanistan, with the Taliban reasserting its governance of the country after nearly 20 years of US-led Western domination with its attendant violence and corruption, a look at a past period of ancient Central Asian history, spanning some 400 – 500 years from the time of Alexander the Great (died 323 BCE) to the reign of Kanishka (about 127 – 150 CE) of the Kushan Empire, might be in order. The reason is that during this period, in spite of Alexander the Great’s destruction of the Achaemenid Empire in Persia to establish his own mighty sprawling empire from the Aegean Sea to the Indus River, followed by its break-up among his generals, the area of Central Asia covering much of today’s Afghanistan along with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan received considerable cultural and political Greek influence, blended with elements from Anatolian, Persian and local cultures. This part of Central Asia was ruled by the Seleucid Empire, heir to Alexander the Great’s empire – the Seleucid dynasty was descended from Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great’s generals – which relied on local leaders to defend the Seleucid Empire’s north-eastern border regions against the Tocharians and Xiong-nu farther north and east in the Eurasian steppe region. Over time these local leaders and their descendants declared their independence from the Seleucids, established their own kingdoms and maintained diplomatic relationships with the Mediterranean region and India farther south. These kingdoms maintained Greek / Hellenistic culture and the Greek language, and built cities with sophisticated urban cultures.

Ryan’s video is a very good introduction to a period of ancient history perhaps not well known to the general public: the video is a collage of photographs showing the ruins of past Greco-Bactrian cities and some of the archaeological artefacts found in these ruins, and colourful maps of Alexander the Great’s empire, the extent of the Hellenistic world in 281 BCE when the Seleucid Empire was at its height and the changing polities in Central Asia from Uzbekistan south to northern India over time. Ryan’s voice-over narration concentrates on facts: while it’s easy to follow, the brisk narration rarely pauses for breath as it bounds from the historical setting for the spread of Greek / Hellenistic culture across Central Asia to the founding of Ai Khanoum, its ethnic mix and culture; to the depredations of barbarian tribes who set themselves up as rulers and allowed the Greco-Bactrian cities and kingdoms to continue with their traditions; to the establishment of the Kushan Empire who patronised Buddhism and encouraged a unique mix of Greek / Hellenistic culture and cultural influences from India and China. For this reason, audiences might need to watch the video a few times to absorb as much of the information as they need to know.

Ryan goes into some detail as to why Greek / Hellenistic influence declined in Central Asia after the beginning of the first millennium CE: the decision of the Kushan Empire to replace Greek with Bactrian as its administrative language distanced the Greco-Bactrian cities from their cultural motherland, and the Greek-speaking communities (probably always small) in this part of the world lost their special status and gradually assimilated into the general population. Greece’s absorption into the Roman Empire and the rise of the Parthian Empire in Persia to rival Rome may have disrupted the Greco-Bactrian cities’ ties to their motherland. Influences from India and China, especially after the arrival of Buddhism, became stronger and more prominent in the mixed culture of the Kushan Empire.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the video comes in the last couple of minutes where the narration roams over the ruins of a number of ancient cities in remote parts of Afghanistan and viewers are treated to astonishing photographs of the lost cities among bare hills and mountains. Ryan laments that many ruined cities are being plundered by treasure hunters using bulldozers and other heavy equipment; the plundering robs the cities not only of the heritage that belongs to Afghanistan but also disrupts their layers of history that archaeologists need to date them and reconstruct the cities’ histories.

This period of ancient history, in which past Western conquest of Central Asia and part of Afghanistan was followed by centuries of cultural contacts and mixing with this part of the world being a crossroads between Europe and the Middle East on the one hand, and India and China on the other, and all cultures being treated equally, surely serves as a stark rebuke to recent Western arrogance and brutality in Afghanistan – and as a model to Russia, China, Iran and other nations surrounding Afghanistan to follow.

The Chaotic Fall of Kabul in 2021: demonstrating the failed propaganda and lies of the US empire

Carlton Meyer, “The Chaotic Fall of Kabul in 2021” (Tales of the American Empire, 20 August 2021)

Using past and current news videos of the US evacuations from Saigon (Vietnam) in 1975 and Kabul (Afghanistan) in 2021, this instalment in Carlton Meyer’s Tales of the American Empire compares these two momentous events in the decline and fall of the American Empire and uses them to demonstrate how the US government not only lies to its citizens but, in detailing the apparently disorganised and messy evacuations, also exposes the United States’ incompetence in not foreseeing events and planning for an orderly departure and that nation’s cold and brutal indifference to the fate of its citizens stranded in both countries, to say nothing of the fate of those local Vietnamese and Afghans who assisted the US in its wars and might have been (or be) accused of treachery. The film then lays out the context for the US occupation of Afghanistan in the wake of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers and other locations in the US on 11 September 2001. Those attacks provided the convenient excuse for the US to invade Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban government in spite of the fact that none of the terrorists supposedly involved in the attacks were Afghanistan citizens; the only link was that Saudi terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was living in Afghanistan at the time of the 9/11 attacks. Meyer states that bin Laden had nothing to do with these attacks: he learned about these from local news media where he was living; and that bin Laden himself and the supposed existence of his organisation Al Qa’ida were a ruse for the US to pursue a War on Terror in Afghanistan and other nations in western Asia and northern Africa whose governments had been targeted for overthrow.

One significant feature of the film which Meyer could have emphasised more is the failure of US and other Western intelligence to ascertain that the Taliban had cut deals with sections of Afghanistan’s government and armed forces, and that Taliban overthrow of US puppet President Ashraf Ghani’s government would be swift: this failure is illustrated in US President Joe Biden’s press conference about a month before the fall of Kabul, in which Biden asserts that the collapse of Ghani’s government would not occur as the country’s armed forces were more than adequately staffed and equipped to fight and resist the Taliban, and that there would be no hurried evacuations from Afghanistan similar to those that occurred in Saigon in April 1975. This part of the film illustrates more than anything else that has been and is being written about the Biden government’s performance in the months leading up to the Taliban resurgence, that the entire apparatus of and surrounding the US government, including US intelligence and the most senior leaders of the nation’s armed forces, has utterly failed the US people in its ineptitude.

Funnily, while watching the film of the passenger jet moving down the runway at the Kabul airport, with all the people running alongside, that the film features early on, I had the impression that the crowds did not look all that desperate to clamber on board. It may very well be that the people (nearly all of whom were men) at the airport were aware of the momentous events taking place in Kabul, that the Western planes landing at the Hamid Karzai International Airport might well be the last such planes they would see; and that Western mainstream news media were imposing their own interpretations of the scenes at the airport onto the crowds and the country to insinuate that many Afghans were desperate to leave the country after Taliban victory. Even when backed into a corner, with all its lies and propaganda about Afghanistan and the failed 20-year war there, the West still needs to lie about its failures.

The American Retreat from Vietnam: an example of how the US is detached from reality and lies to its people

Carlton Meyer, “The American Retreat from Vietnam” (Tales of the American Empire, 2020)

In the wake of the American retreat from Afghanistan in August 2021, the apparent parallel collapse of the Afghanistan armed forces and the concomitant swift rise of the Taliban back to power in Kabul, this episode in Carlton Meyer’s ongoing series Tales of the American Empire is worth a watch for possible similarities between US loss in Afghanistan over 2020 – 2021 and US defeat in the Vietnam War in early 1975. Certainly images of the Chinook helicopter hovering over the US embassy in Kabul, similar to images of a Chinook hovering over the US embassy in Saigon in April 1975, cannot just be coincidental. As it turns out, there are many similarities and parallels indeed, so much so that not only does the question of whether the US learned anything at all from its Vietnam defeat arise but also the question of whatever good the US might have learned from that defeat was either worthwhile or wasted.

One obvious parallel is that just as the US threw money, equipment and weapons at the Afghanistan army, so it did the same at the South Vietnamese army from 1969 onwards, after Richard Nixon became US President as the second half of Meyer’s film details. The South Vietnamese army was much larger and better equipped with advanced military hardware than the Viet Cong. At the same time, morale and loyalty towards a corrupt government in Saigon within the South Vietnamese army were low, just as soldiers in the Afghanistan army were disloyal to the corrupt governments of Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani in Kabul. South Vietnamese soldiers were apt to sell weapons and equipment to the Viet Cong secretly, just as their Afghan counterparts did more recently to the Taliban and their supporters. As well, in both Vietnam and Afghanistan, the armies were heavily dependent on US “advice” and communications: in both countries, once the advisors left, the armies collapsed. (This bodes ill for the armed forces in countries like Australia and others that coordinate their activities closely with US armed forces, to the extent that these other nations’ armies are unable to act on their own initiative.) In addition, senior generals in the South Vietnamese army were corrupt and amassed fortunes for themselves from US taxpayer money, and surely decades later their equivalents in the Afghan armed forces and the government did the same: news that Ashraf Ghani secretly fled Afghanistan by car with another four cars and a helicopter all filled with cash (and having to leave some money behind at Bagram airport) has been circulating on the Internet.

A second parallel is that just as sections of the US government knew that the Vietnam War was unwinnable as early as the early 1960s yet lied to the general public and continued to throw money and men into a giant black hole, so half a century later some elements in the US government must have also known that the war in Afghanistan was also unwinnable for the US yet allowed the lies to continue. A major difference may be that most politicians and the news media in the early 2000s were so divorced from reality that they persisted in pushing more trillions and more troops into the quagmire in Central Asia, even though they must have known (or at least their gut feeling must have known) that the war in Afghanistan could not be won and that sooner rather than later the US and its allies would have to leave the country in defeat and humiliation. Whether the general public in the US and the West generally in the early 2000s was as naive as it might have been in the 1960s and 1970s and accepted the lies and propaganda is another matter.

Whether South Vietnam was a safe place for its people to live in during its existence, I do not know, though the violence (especially violence against women and girls) that follows the establishment of US military bases in places as far-flung as Iraq, Japan and South Korea suggests that in Afghanistan during the US occupation from 2003 to 2021, the casual violence and brutality dished out by US and other Western troops to civilians in Afghanistan, collectively and individually, must have been considerable. The wailing of Western human rights organisations about what the Taliban might do to Afghan women and girls now that the movement has reasserted itself, when for the past 20 years most Afghan women and girls living outside Kabul and other major cities (they constitute about 75% of the country’s female population) experienced little of Western largesse and much of Western violence, is more than a little hypocritical.

By itself, Meyer’s film is a very informative introduction on the way the US prosecuted the war in Vietnam during Richard Nixon’s presidency, demonstrating how the US cause was a lost one due to its arrogance and failure to understand the Vietnamese people and their aspirations for independence. In light of the recent US defeat in Afghanistan, the film becomes a warning, a part of the ongoing narrative of US hubris, belief in American exceptionalism and over-dependence on technology and fire power.

The American Empire in Asia in the 1800s: an enthralling if disturbing story of US imperialism in east Asia and the western Pacific

Carlton Meyer, “The American Empire in Asia in the 1800s” (Tales of the American Empire, 9 July 2021)

This short history documentary is an excellent entry in Carlton Meyer’s Tales of the American Empire series and a great introduction to the history of American foreign policy during the 19th century for the general public. Meyer quickly dispels the notion that American imperialism began with US victory over the Spanish in the Spanish-American War in 1898 that led to US colonisation of Cuba and the Philippines, as is accepted by most US historians. Indeed the first US President George Washington is known to have referred to the new United States in the early 1780s as a “nascent empire” and even as early as 1778, David Ramsay, South Carolina’s delegate to the Continental Congress, wrote that the North American continent would be the foundation of an empire that would make the Roman empire and the Macedonian empire of Alexander the Great “sink into insignificance“. The early US empire got under way in the 1830s when US warships, on the pretext of protecting US merchant and whaling ships, attacked islands in eastern and southeast Asia whose inhabitants (Malays, Dayaks) had threatened such ships and killed some of their sailors. US warships became regular visitors to eastern Asia and China in particular, working with the British to protect British interests and later American opium interests in southern China. The visits of US warships under Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan in the 1850s, forcing the Japanese to westernise later in the 1870s, should be seen in the context of growing US imperial influence in the eastern Asian region.

Capitalising on local political disputes in the Samoan islands, the US Navy established a naval station in those islands, an action that brought the US into conflict with the German navy there. Disputes with the Germans and local Samoan political factions eventually led to the islands being parcelled among Germany and the US: those islands that came under American rule remain so to this day as American Samoa, the German part later passing through New Zealand rule and becoming independent Western Samoa in 1962, renamed Samoa in 1997.

These details plus others Meyer mentions show that the US acquired its various colonies not by accident or because of other nations’ predatory actions but deliberately to enable US elites to profit from seizing and exploiting other people’s lands and resources. This empire of direct US colonies may no longer exist in the form created in the late 19th / early 20th centuries but it continues in the global outreach and ambitions of the US Navy, as succinctly demonstrated in the US Navy advertisement that ends the short documentary.

Fascinating archival maps, photographs and film shorts illustrate the documentary and the riveting if disturbing tale it tells.

The Empire enters the Cocaine Trade: an introduction to US involvement in a sordid trade

Carlton Meyer, “The Empire enters the Cocaine Trade” (Tales of the American Empire, 25 June 2021)

For a nation committed to neo-capitalist ideology – under which any and all activities with the potential to generate considerable profits (at minimal cost to those undertaking them) are more than just desirable, they are legitimate no matter how unethical they are or how much suffering to others they might cause – it should come as no surprise to fans of Tales of the American Empire series that the US military and intelligence agencies are involved in trafficking in illegal drugs such as opioid narcotics and cocaine, and profiting from that trafficking. This episode is the first in an ongoing investigation of the involvement of the US government and its agencies in the illegal drug trade among other topics that the series returns to from time to time. It also considers the role that US mainstream news media has played and continues to play in either ignoring, condoning or denying US government complicity in the global trade (usually in collusion with other criminal organisations) to the extent that vast numbers of Americans and others around the world who consider the US to be an important ally and friend are completely unaware that the US even engages in illicit drug trafficking, let alone know how deeply entwined in criminal activity the US government is.

The episode consists mainly of interviews going back nearly 50 years in which US government officials admit their government’s participation in drug trafficking and even protection of drug dealers, supposedly in the name of fighting Communism. In many cases, as detailed by individual US Drug Enforcement Administration agents, former Nazi war criminals were helped and given safe haven in South America by CIA agents among others through profitable drug trafficking rings. Many rogue CIA agents made large amounts of money doing so. Other interviewees describe in considerable detail what their roles were in sending planes packed with illegal drugs from South America to the US, all of which could have been intercepted by border patrols, and their cargo seized and impounded. One interviewee considers the damage that such trafficking does to US democracy, especially when such activities are part and parcel of US collusion with fascist forces in other countries (particularly countries in Latin America) to overthrow democratic governments, crush democratic opposition and deny those countries’ citizens their freedoms and rights.

There’s not much actually said about when and how the US became involved in the global cocaine trade – no actual year or incident that can be said to signify the start of an unlovely addiction on the part of the US government and its agencies to the illegal drug trade -but then the whole sordid history of how the US became involved in such trade, and how its politics became corrupted due to the massive profits that were made and how much of those profits went into politicians’ pockets or election campaigns, would take many, many episodes to cover. The episode under review aims mainly to introduce audiences to an aspect of US geopolitics that they have never been informed of. I’m sure sequels to this episode will be very informative and more specific on details of how far and how deeply US complicity in the illegal drug trade goes.

What the Media Won’t Tell You About China: the historical context behind the downfall and rise of modern China

“What the Media Won’t Tell You About China” (ReallyGraceful, 20 June 2018)

This short film is less a historical documentary about China and how it came to be the nation is it now and more a demonstration of the historical context behind contemporary China and its politics. The aim is to show why China takes the actions it does and how the intent of these actions is deliberately twisted by Western mainstream media to suggest that China is an aggressor with sinister imperial designs. ReallyGraceful shows how Confucianism as a political and social philosophy has influenced and shaped the relationship between the government and the people, individually and collectively, and helped give China long-lasting stability that lasted through several dynastic cycles and was ended by European, particularly British, imperial economic ambitions.

The film focuses on a few significant events that destabilised China or influenced its political direction: the Opium Wars and the corruption and instability that mass opium addiction brought to China; the Boxer Rebellion, which discredited the Qing dynasty; Mao Zedong’s Long March; and the civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists that made the country vulnerable to Japanese invasion. Along the way, RG notes the association that Mao Zedong had with Yale University in the US (a short one, by the way) and spends some time detailing the links between Yale University and one George Herbert Walker Bush, a former US President and CIA Director, through the notorious Skull & Bones Society: this association suggests that the Chinese Communists had quite intimate and complicate contacts with the CIA and the Skull & Bones Society that go right back to the 1920s. This association with its networks was rent asunder by the Tiananmen Square event which, as ReallyGraceful sets out meticulously, turns out to be nothing like its portrayal in Western mainstream media: instead the “massacre” was actually an attempt by the CIA, using people embedded among the protesting students, to take control of the protest, turn it into a violent revolution and force (through violence) the overthrow of the Communist government and with it the dissolution of the Communist Party of China.

After the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, China forged ahead with its economic development to the extent that the nation is now the largest economy in the world and owns over a trillion US dollars’ worth of US debt. China has become a major global investor in several countries in Africa and elsewhere. The country now wields such major economic influence through trade and trading networks that it is now in a position to challenge US global financial hegemony by enticing its trade partners – and Middle Eastern suppliers of oil – to trade in petro-yuan rather than in petro-dollars. This threatens the privileged status of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency, not least because a move away from using the US dollar would result in plummeting demand for the dollar, leading to the dollar’s deflation and the dire consequences for US trade and the economy.

RG passes no judgement on China’s human rights situation though her description of what happened during the Tiananmen Square events suggests she is less likely than most to view China as a heavily authoritarian and oppressive state that brutalises its peoples. As this short film is an opinion piece, RG gives no sources for her information. Mao Zedong’s link to Yale University and the Skull and Bones Society will come as a surprise to many – it certainly did to me – but Google searches confirm that Mao indeed received help in his political and literary career from Yale University through its Yale-in-China Group; he might never have risen as high as he did without financial help and other support from that group, and the history of China would have taken a very different direction!

RG’s portrayal of the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989 merits mention and praise in the way her commentary slides right into a more objective and critical view of those events without any bias. She puts up information and invites viewers to consider this information for themselves and to find out more and share their discoveries with others. While the film omits to mention significant events of the 20th century – the Japanese invasion of China surely merits one mention, as does the way in which China became the new workshop to the world at the expense of working and middle class jobs in Western countries whose leaders saw nothing wrong in companies offshoring jobs to China – it does well enough as an introduction to modern China and how it has become the nation it is.

The United States Started the Korean War: an unjust lie corrected

Carlton Meyer, “The United States Started the Korean War” (Tales of the American Empire, 11 June 2021)

Most histories on the Korean War (1950 – 1953) state that the war began when 75,000 North Korean soldiers crossed the 38th parallel which formed the border between North and South Korea to overrun the latter country. Only intervention by the United States and its allies in South Korea, so the story goes, saved South Korea from becoming Communist and reuniting with North Korea to form one Korean nation. In this short historical documentary, Meyer demonstrates with various sources and films and photographs of the period that the US wanted a war in the Korean peninsula to throw out Communist rule and install a new colonial government answerable to the US so that US corporations with business in the Korean peninsula could resume their operations and continue profiting at the expense of Korean workers and their families. In addition, US corporations had lost their business in China after the 1949 Communist Revolution in that country and were keen to get that business back. A war would give the US a chance of defeating the Communists in China and reinstalling Chiang Kaishek as China’s leader.

From there, Meyer goes into considerable detail into the lead-up to open warfare in the Korean peninsula in the late 1940s, including South Korean workers’ protests, strikes and rebellions against repressive rule by the South Korean government, backed by the US. US political and military leaders regarded South Korea as a convenient battleground on which to fight godless Communism. Americans were not too keen on helping South Korea recover from Japanese imperial rule and the devastation of World War II. The CIA secretly encouraged South Korean troops to cross the 38th parallel frequently and skirmish with North Korean troops in order to capture territory for Seoul. The US attitude created an environment in which South Korean harassment and even invasion of North Korean territory would lead to open warfare.

Meyer’s marshalling of his facts is good if quite fast, and viewers might need to run the film a few times to absorb the information. The actions of President Harry Truman in declaring war on North Korea without the approval of US Congress, in violation of the US Constitution, are to be noted. The film ends on a very dark note in which Meyer reels off statistics of millions of Koreans ending up as refugees or dead as a result of the three-year war.

If Meyer had gone a little slower in his narration, the film would obviously not seem rushed for those viewers not familiar with the Korean War. However this short film is clear in its aims: to show that the US had a clear agenda and interest in seeing a hot war erupting in the Korean peninsula, and did not care for Koreans, living in both North and South Korea, caught up in the crossfire.

What the Media Won’t Tell You about Iran: the history behind Iran’s relationship with the US and the West

“What the Media Won’t Tell You about Iran” (ReallyGraceful, 23 November 2017)

Back in 2017 I’d been watching short history mini-documentaries on ReallyGraceful’s Youtube channel but fell out of this habit for various reasons, most of which I’m too ashamed to mention. I vow from now on to watch more of RG’s videos when I can as they are highly educational yet short enough for viewers to watch whenever they have spare time and moreover watch a second or third time to digest the information Grace gives. The videos come jam-packed with facts pulled from (I presume) many and varied sources and include stills and snippets of interviews and news articles that come and go at a steady but not rushed pace.

“What the Media Won’t Tell You about Iran” is a useful introduction to the history of Iran’s fractious relationship with the West and the United States in particular over the 20th century. It starts with how the British Empire’s need for oil to fuel its naval ships – so it could have the upper edge in fuel efficiency and speed over the naval forces of Germany, the chief economic rival of Britain in the late 19th / early 20th centuries – led that evil empire to buy a 51% stake in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, originally founded by a London millionaire in 1908 to explore and drill for oil in Iran. In 1935, the company was renamed the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and in 1951, the company was nationalised as an Iranian company by the Iranian government, at the time led by Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq. In 1953, Mosaddeq was deposed in a coup engineered by the CIA and elements in both the US and British governments, and the company (renamed British Petroleum) was back under British control. Twenty-five years of repressive and corrupt rule by the US-backed Shah followed. In early 1979 the Shah’s government was overthrown in a popular revolution. The Iranian Revolution led to the destabilisation of the US government under then President Jimmy Carter.

Thus began over 40 years of animosity between Iran and the United States, and by implication the West as well, with all the associated disinformation and propaganda in Western mainstream media portraying Iran as a backward, oppressive and corrupt theocracy, and the consequences this animosity had not only on Iran’s future economic development but on the stability, security and political integrity of Iran’s neighbours Afghanistan and Iraq.

In the documentary’s second half Grace moves into the present day to examine Iran’s present geopolitical context, in particular the country’s nuclear production program and how it is continually misrepresented by Western mainstream media as a nuclear weapons development program. Grace asks why wouldn’t Iran want to have a nuclear weapons development program, given that the US has destabilised Iraq and Afghanistan through invasion and continued occupation, and that Israel has long had nuclear weapons in violation of international law governing nations’ access to and use of nuclear energy. She looks at the possible agenda behind Israel’s access to nuclear energy and its production, why the US and the West turn a blind eye to Israel’s actions both overt and covert, and Israel’s interest in conquering more territory at the expense of Lebanon, Syria and other nations in its neighbourhood for its Greater Israel project. Grace concludes that ultimately US and Western actions in supporting Israel and destabilising Arab and other nations in the Middle East / North Africa region are tied to Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich nations’ continuing use of the US dollar in selling oil to the West – because US global political dominance depends very much on other nations’ dependence on US dollars (and the continued printing of US dollars by the US Treasury) for all global financial transactions.

For such a short documentary, this film ranges far and wide in time and space, touching on many topics worth investigating in more detail in their own right. Viewers will need to do their own research on the topics Grace raises in her video, if only to confirm if she is right in what she says. The film is very dense in facts and may not always drill down deeply enough into the details of how different facts and information are linked; it’s up to viewers to find these links and work out the wider narrative behind the links themselves.

American Special Forces Destroyed a Hospital in 2015: US cowardice and incompetence on display over Kunduz hospital attack

Carlton Meyer, “American Special Forces Destroyed a Hospital in 2015” (Tales of the American Empire, 14 May 2021)

This episode in Carlton Meyer’s Tales of the American Empire series focuses on the US Air Force attack on a hospital, Kunduz Trauma Centre, in the city of Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, on 3 October 2015 that killed at least 42 people, injured over 30 others and left another 33 people unaccounted for. At the time of the attack, Médecins Sans Frontières was using the hospital to treat women and children and combatants from both the Taliban and pro-government forces, and had informed all warring sides including US forces of the hospital’s exact geographic coordinates (and confirmed them as well with US military officials back in September 2015). While the hospital was treating Taliban militants at the time of the attack, all these militants were unarmed. The hospital was brightly lit up at the time as well.

The episode presents the case that US Special Forces destroyed the hospital as revenge for an incident in which a C-130 transport aircraft crashed while taking off from Jalalabad, killing six American airmen and five contractors, sometime after Kunduz fell to insurgent fighters in September 2015. A quick history of the US Special Forces and its connection to the CIA and the US government in carrying out secret operations (which amount to war crimes) without informing the US Defense Department or State Department is given. It goes into much technical detail about the attack, what the hospital did to alert US military forces that it was under attack, and shows that various parties within the US military were busily shifting responsibility for the order to attack onto the crew who carried out the order to bomb the hospital. Not only did the US military and the US government cover up and avoid culpability for the attack but also later changed course to justify the attack on the hospital, and US mainstream media followed suit in covering up and then obscuring who was responsible for bombing the hospital.

The episode does well in presenting its case that the US attack on Kunduz Trauma Centre is a war crime and the US military and media reaction to the attack exposes US cowardice and incompetence. I would have liked to have seen how the attack might have fit a pattern of US military strikes on hospitals and other medical and non-military institutions in Afghanistan and other nations during wars in which the US is a major combatant either directly or indirectly through proxy armies such ISIS but perhaps that is beyond the scope of Meyer’s series to cover. There is nothing either about the consequences of the Kunduz Trauma Centre attack on the Afghan people, apart from MSF having to leave Kunduz (and how that would have affected Kunduz residents’ access to medical care and their attitude towards foreign occupying forces), or on the United States’ conduct of the war in Afghanistan. It would seem that, like so many other incidents in which US forces bombed and killed Afghan civilians and unarmed militants alike, any lessons the Kunduz Trauma Centre attack could teach have not been learned by the US and its allies.

The American Occupation of Iran 1941 – 1978: Iran as a pawn of British and US self-interests

Carlton Meyer, “The American Occupation of Iran 1941 – 1978” (Tales of the American Empire, 13 March 2020)

So much history is covered in this short 8-minute documentary that it bears watching at least a couple of times – though a few questions might be raised at the end of the video. In 1941, broke and needing oil badly for its armed forces, Britain decided to invade Iran to seize the country’s oil rather than pay royalties to the Iranians on oil production. Claiming to be neutral, the US actually provided military aid to allow both Britain and the Soviet Union to invade the country and then partition it and seize Iranian assets. Although Iran put up a fight, its armed forces were overwhelmed. The ruling Shah (Reza Shah Pahlavi) at the time was deposed and his son Mohammed Reza Pahlavi agreed to replace him as a puppet ruler of a virtual American colony.

Under the 1941 Lend Lease Act, the US government provided military assistance to the British and the Soviets while at the same time the US public had to accept rationing of food and fuel, wage freezes and increased income taxation. Housing construction was halted and automobile factories had to switch over to producing war materiel. 30,000 US troops were sent to occupy Iran and Iran’s government had to accept Americans in major positions. Even after World War II ended, when most US troops returned home, the Iranian government under Mohammed Reza Pahlavi still relied on US advisors. Most of the country’s oil profits went to British and US oil companies, and the Shah frittered much of whatever oil profits came to Iran on buying US weapons and equipment (and setting up a nascent nuclear manufacturing program) and on enriching himself and members of his family. The US helped Mohammed Reza Pahlavi establish SAVAK, a combined secret police / domestic security / intelligence agency, which later gained notoriety among the Iranian public for torturing and executing people who opposed the Pahlavi government.

There are a few errors in Meyer’s presentation: he refers to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company as the Anglo-American Oil Company (they were actually two different companies, the former being the forerunner of BP and the latter the forerunner of Esso) and appears to insinuate that Germany invaded Poland in 1939 after the Soviets had done so (in fact Germany invaded Poland first, then the Soviets did so). Mention of Iran nationalising the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s assets in the early 1950s under Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh might have a few viewers scratching their heads as to what Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and his US advisors were doing that Mossadegh would dare to nationalise a British company, as it was after this nationalisation that the British and the Americans would work together to depose Mossadegh and install a new government that would not upset London and which would allow the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company to continue keeping much of Iran’s oil wealth in its own coffers.

On the other hand, I do not have an issue with Meyer calling Iran’s current government a democracy as Iran does hold regular Presidential and parliamentary elections, however imperfect and corrupted the country’s government and political institutions may be. Indeed, Iran’s politics seems to be no more and no less “democratic” than those of Western nations where leaders are more likely to be hand-picked by their parties or other interested organisations, be they local or foreign, and presented to voters as the only choices rather than the voting electorate itself being allowed to put forward credible candidates for leadership positions.

In the last few minutes of the video, Meyer quickly updates viewers on the events that led to the downfall of the Shah in 1979. Meyer probably could have made much more of US arrogance and failure to read the mood of the Iranian general public and the widespread dissatisfaction at all levels of society with the Pahlavi royal family’s corruption and the increasing violence of SAVAK. Viewers will note the parallel between the US ignorance of the changing reality on the ground in Iran, as people joined protests and mass demonstrations against the Shah’s rule, and the current US bewilderment and panic at events in many parts of the world – in China (Hong Kong and Xinjiang), Russia, Syria and Venezuela among others – where US-supported grifters like Alexei Navalny (Russia) and Juan Guaido (Venezuela) have failed to rally public support behind them to lead a coup against governments the US desires to replace with puppet regimes. This parallel and similar parallels between the 1953 overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and the 2014 overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych – both coups involved violent mobs paid by US agencies to support overthrowing those leaders – surely make 20th-century Iranian history worth studying. A third parallel may be observed between the impoverishment of the US general public during World War II and the current impoverishment of Americans, the degradation of US national infrastructures and the evisceration of US culture, education, healthcare and other social services to feed an insatiable psychopathic appetite among US elites that celebrates violence, brutality and destruction in the service of empire.

The images used in the video are old and unfortunately the later part of the video uses photographic portraits of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi while Meyer does a general survey of that Shah’s rule – surely some old film footage of the Shah’s excesses might have been available. These are perhaps minor points in what is a general historical sketch of the vicious nature of both the US and British empires and their elites in a nation that has too much of a resource that both empires still need.