Interview of British Mercenary Aiden Aslin: profile of a foolish and naive young man involved in grave war crimes

Graham Phillips, “Exclusive Interview – Aiden Aslin – British Man Fighting for Ukraine, Captured in Donbass, Mariupol” (19 April 2022)

Early in the Russian intervention in Ukraine that began in late February 2022, Russian forces besieged the city of Mariupol in Donetsk Oblast on the southeast Ukrainian coast bordering the Sea of Azov. By early March, Mariupol was completely surrounded by Russian forces and by mid-April, the Russians had full control of the city. Several hundred Ukrainian soldiers were either captured or had surrendered to the Russians and one of these soldiers turned out to be British mercenary Aiden Aslin, at the time in the process of gaining Ukrainian citizenship. While in the custody of the authorities of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Aslin was visited and interviewed by British journalist Graham Phillips who happens to be from the same part of Britain (Nottinghamshire) as Aslin.

Phillips does not say why he chose (or was chosen, as it turns out) to interview Aslin, nor does he say what he aimed for while interviewing Aslin. The interview is preceded by a brief conversation between the two during which Aslin agrees with Phillips that he is not under pressure or any other kind of compulsion or order to say what he says during the interview. Among the things Phillips asks Aslin about are the usual topics: Aslin’s own background and the incidents and events in his life that led him to go to Ukraine in 2018 and to join the Ukrainian army; what Aslin did in the Ukrainian army and what he had been doing at the time of his capture; what Aslin observed of the behaviour of the Ukrainian soldiers towards their Russian enemies and Ukrainian civilians; and Aslin’s own views on his treatment by the Russians since his capture. Aslin admits to having fought with the YPG in north-eastern Syria during the recent conflict against ISIS and other Western-backed extremist groups. Aslin was then apparently influenced by someone he met to go to Ukraine and fight with Ukrainian forces there. When asked what he was doing in the Ukrainian army, Aslin replies that at the time of his capture he had been working with a mortar company preparing artillery for use by other soldiers to fire at Russian soldiers – and Ukrainian civilians. On being questioned about what he observed of the behaviour and actions of the Ukrainian soldiers, Aslin replies that they behave brutally and thuggishly. (Aslin even mentions having tried to desert from the Ukrainian army due to its soldiers’ conduct towards civilians.) By contrast, his treatment by Russian soldiers is humane.

During his questioning, Aslin comes across as a foolish young man who was easily influenced by others to do things that might later result in tragedy or at the very least severe and permanent consequences for him. The astonishing thing is that even before he left Britain for Syria, he seems to have been quite socially aware and to have realised that Crimea had returned to Russia of its own accord through popular referendum and that the breakaway Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics had genuine grievances against the Ukrainian government. Moreover Aslin is aware that Azov Battalion is a neo-Nazi organisation: he describes individual Azov Battalion fighters as thugs and mentions seeing Croatians among them. He is aware of Ukrainian hero-worship of the notorious Nazi collaborator and Ukrainian ultra-nationalist Stepan Bandera. Why then he would willingly work with these people and even help them kill others by making and supplying them with mortar weapons against his better judgement is very puzzling and defies belief.

For his part, Phillips seems quite disdainful of Aslin and at times during the interview speaks down to Aslin as if the soldier were a child. The answers that Aslin gives Phillips do come across as self-serving and evasive, and the soldier seems willing to do anything to save his own skin. Both the journalist and the mercenary have skin in this game: Phillips has seen many close friends and acquaintances affected, even maimed or killed, by the actions of fighters and mercenaries like Aslin over the eight years he has worked and travelled in the Donbass and Crimea among other places in and around Russia; and Aslin has a Ukrainian wife and in-laws who support the Ukrainian government and armed forces. Phillips reminds Aslin that he (Aslin) is under the authority of the Donetsk People’s Republic and if he is tried and convicted under that republic’s laws, the death penalty awaits him as a mercenary. Aslin naively hopes to be part of a prisoner swap between Russia and Britain and to be able to return to Britain and his family, not realising perhaps that while undergoing the process of becoming a Ukrainian citizen he would have had to give up British citizenship. Ukrainian law forbids dual citizenship.

At the end of the interview Phillips is perhaps no closer to understanding what drove and motivated Aslin to do what he did against his own best interests – and against what he knew was right if his answers are to be believed – than the journalist was at the beginning. We remain in the dark about what really motivated Aslin to go to Syria and then to Ukraine. In some ways the interview is very disappointing: there is not much indication that Aslin is fully aware of what he has done or what really awaits him. What the future holds for mercenaries like Aslin is very uncertain: I should think at the very least, Aslin will be charged with war crimes and be convicted by a tribunal in Russia, and he will have to endure whatever punishment is given him. After he does his time, he will be better off staying in Russia and finding his own place that will allow him to live in peace. He has done enough foolish adventuring and helped cause unnecessary suffering.

Certain things that Aslin mentions in his interview – for instance, the fact that his Twitter account is being handled by a Canadian, and his meeting with someone in Syria who suggests he go to Ukraine – suggest that he was manipulated by strangers who may have been working directly or indirectly for Western intelligence agencies. These agencies could well threaten Aslin’s life were he to return to Britain. One fears that the consequences of past foolish actions by Aslin will fall on him and his family hard and heavily.

Grayzone interview with Jacques Baud: “US, EU sacrificing Ukraine to ‘weaken Russia’ “

Aaron Maté, “U.S., EU sacrificing Ukraine to ‘weaken Russia’: fmr. NATO adviser” (The Grayzone Project, 15 April 2022)

Here is an excellent interview by US journalist Aaron Maté (for his Pushback series on The Grayzone Project) of Swiss intelligence analyst / former NATO military official Jacques Baud whose article “The Military Situation in The Ukraine” I highlighted elsewhere at Under Southern Eyes. Maté uses Baud’s article as the launchpad for his interview, starting with the immediate causes of Russia’s decision to intervene in Ukraine that Baud wrote at length on. Baud points out two triggers for the intervention: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s decision to reconquer Crimea by force in March 2021 and the increased shelling of the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine by Ukrainian army units in February 2022, as observed by the Border Observer Mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. From then on, the Russian government moved very quickly to recognise the independence of the breakaway Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in the Donbass. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a friendship and assistance agreement with the two rebel republics so they could ask for military assistance under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations.

The bulk of the interview however focuses on those factors that made the Russia-Ukraine conflict inevitable and its resolution difficult to achieve if not impossible. Throughout the conflict Russia offered diplomacy and negotiations yet Ukraine has consistently refused Russia’s offers or treated them with disdain. Baud sees two factors influencing Ukraine’s irrational behaviour: the country’s Western backers (the US, the UK, France, Germany) do not desire peace and diplomacy between Ukraine and Russia; and President Zelensky’s ability to decide and to act is severely constrained by powerful neo-Nazi forces in the Verkhovna Rada and Ukraine’s security agencies including the SBU. This leads to some discussion between Maté and Baud on the broader Western aims to weaken Russia by drawing that nation into a war with Ukraine, as spelt out by a 2019 study by US thinktank Rand Corporation. As Baud sees it, the penetration of Ukraine’s military and security agencies by neo-Nazis, and Ukraine’s reliance on foreign mercenaries to help resist Russian intervention are due to a high rate of defection within Ukraine’s armed forces to the Donbass side and a reluctance among men and women of military draft age to join the Ukrainian army to the extent that they prefer to leave the country altogether rather than be press-ganged into the army. This surely suggests that most ordinary Ukrainians feel no loyalty towards their government and that attitude itself says something about what Ukrainians think of Kiev’s conduct towards them over the last few years since the 2014 Maidan uprising that toppled the then President Viktor Yanukovych.

The interview concludes with Baud’s analysis of two incidents that horrified the world: a reported mass killing of civilians in Bucha, a Kiev suburb, in early April a couple of days after Russian forces left Bucha; and a missile attack on a train station in Kramatorsk that killed 59 people and left 109 wounded. Kiev was quick to blame both incidents on Russian armed forces and the West accepted Kiev’s pronouncements as gospel. Baud concludes from information he has about the incidents that the Russians are not responsible for either incident and that evidence points to the Ukrainians themselves as perpetrators. What troubles Baud is that Western governments and news media have not only blamed Russia for these and other attacks but have made decisions and reacted on the basis of their assumptions without waiting for more information and then analysing that information … and only then making pronouncements and policies. Unfortunately at that point in the interview, Maté had to finish it off and so this part of the interview is not dissected further. The most significant aspect of this section of the interview is that European leadership as well as US leadership is woefully incompetent and perhaps even worse than US leadership in jumping to conclusions based on incomplete information or even on lies and fantasies.

A transcript of the interview is available at the link in the first paragraph for those who find the interview a bit confusing or hard going. Reading Baud’s article will provide some background to understanding what Maté and Baud cover.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech at Leaders of Russia management competition, Moscow

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech at Leaders of Russia management competition, Moscow (19 March 2022)

In a perhaps unexpected venue – meeting with finalists of a competition in which participants manage a company going through a crisis in a simulated reality – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in his capacity as Chairman of the competition’s Supervisory Board, delivered an important speech against what he sees as the context of events occurring in Ukraine from late February 2022 onwards. Essentially Lavrov’s speech refers to actions and policies of the West towards Russia since the 1990s and the role Ukraine has been shunted into, as a puppet tool to intimidate Russia, threaten Russian security and ultimately weaken Russian sovereignty with the aim of opening up the country to Western influence and infiltration and splitting it up into weaker, poorer states. Despite Russia’s attempts to be friendly and to cooperate in tackling regional and global issues and problems facing Europe, the Northern Hemisphere and ultimately the whole planet Earth, the West and especially the United States has consistently egged on Ukraine in its antagonistic behaviour towards Russia and Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine.

Lavrov gives detailed examples of the way in which Ukraine has either ignored its obligations to Russian-speaking Ukrainians and other Ukrainians belonging to various ethnic minorities in its territory or pursued an aggressive and bullying stance towards its minorities and to Russia. He notes the discriminatory language policy of Ukraine towards Russian, Hungarian and other minority languages. He mentions the ongoing harassment by Kiev of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics since 2014 when those republics declared their independence, to the extent that terrorist-style infiltration (including outright violence) by Ukrainian military forces or neo-Nazi units embedded with them in those republics has resulted in 14,000 deaths of DPR and LPR inhabitants, and Kiev’s recent decision to boost its forces by 120,000 troops along the de facto border between Ukraine and the rebel republics. Once Ukraine began shelling the republics in early 2022, with preparations for a later invasion, Russia took quick action: Moscow recognised the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics and launched a military operation into Ukraine to defend the republics. Within a historical context such as this, outsiders should not be surprised that Russia decided to invade Ukraine with the aim of demilitarising and deNazifying Ukraine, at least at the latter’s military level; rather, we should be surprised that Russia took so long to react – eight years and 14,000 casualties later.

Since Moscow’s military campaign began, the Russians have uncovered an extensive bioweapons programme in which some 30+ military biological research laboratories run by the US Department of Defense were established in various cities throughout Ukraine. The Russians have also taken note of the virulent anti-Russian propaganda operation operating in the West to demonise all things Russian and to portray the Russian campaign as a failure that will damn Russian President Vladimir Putin and encourage the Russian public to overthrow him as leader.

Lavrov invited his audience to ask questions and their queries ranged from the practical and the specific (for example, how Russians living in former Soviet republics can travel to Russia) to the general (for example, how Russia and other nations can pursue international relations and return to cooperation and resolving conflicts peacefully). To all these questions, Lavrov gave detailed answers and reiterated the Russian desire to work towards peace and solving global problems with other nations.

Lavrov’s speech is important in that it lays out succinctly the historical environment over the past 30 years in which actions taken by Ukraine, aided and abetted by the US, NATO and the EU, have culminated in a situation of weakened national and regional security in Europe, political instability and economic crisis in Ukraine, and heightened fears of a major world war – World War III, indeed – affecting much of Europe and leading to the use of nuclear weapons by both Russia and the West and their respective allies. It is also significant in that it publicly signals a change in which Russia conducts diplomacy with the West: Moscow is not likely to become more aggressive or hostile but the Russians are definitely less likely to tolerate Western aggression and insolence, and will find ways of circumventing Western hostility, especially if such hostility can be undermined and Russia and its allies will benefit as a result. As Lavrov observes at the end of the Q&A session, lessons will be learned. The reaction by the West to Russian warnings and Ukrainian aggression though has been to urge the Ukrainians on their reckless actions and to criticise Russia for doing or not doing things that are actually the responsibility of Ukraine under the Minsk agreements.

Though the speech and the Q&A session that follows are quite lengthy and detailed, and viewers might be advised to familiarise themselves with the post-Soviet histories of Russia and Ukraine, the speech is not very long and it is very straightforward and blunt in tone and aims. An English-language transcript of the speech is available at this site.

Edward Dowd Explains Bombshell ‘Fraud’ Charge re Pfizer Hiding Deaths Data: an important and historic interview by Dr Naomi Wolf

“Edward Dowd Explains Bombshell ‘Fraud’ Charge re Pfizer Hiding Deaths Data” (Daily Clout, 7 March 2022)

Lionised in the 1990s as a leading spokeswoman in the US feminist movement, writer / political consultant / journalist Dr Naomi Wolf later ended up sidelined by mainstream US media outlets for expressing unorthodox opinions on issues ranging from her defence of Australian journalist Julian Assange vis-a-vis the rape charges against him levelled by two women in Sweden, to ISIS beheadings of two Americans and two Britons in 2014. In the last couple of years, Dr Wolf has made known her opposition to COVID-19 vaccine passports and COVID-19 lockdowns, and her reservations about the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines: Wolf’s opinions on these and other aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic phenomenon have put her beyond the pale for most audiences. No doubt her recent interview with former BlackRock portfolio manager and private investor Edward Dowd regarding the safety of Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines is sure to endear her (not!) to the US government and mainstream media.

In this interview, Dowd explains how he and a Wall Street investment analyst acted on information from various sources that the initial trials conducted by Pfizer and its contractors on the BioNTech mRNA vaccine had not been done according to proper scientific standards and that the results of these trials had either been suppressed or distorted; in effect, what Pfizer had done was commit scientific fraud. The interview as it appears on Daily Clout’s Youtube channel is illustrated at critical points by visual stills of articles that emphasise what Dowd says at that particular moment when the still appears. Early on in the interview Dowd describes the experience and ordeal of a whistle-blower supervisor at Ventavia, a Texas-based research company contracted by Pfizer to carry out some of the trials, who was sacked when she raised concerns about the conduct of the trials. (The whistle-blower later went to the British Medical Journal with her information.) Dowd then goes on to discuss information obtained from people in the life insurance industry alarmed at unusually large increases in excess mortality figures of policy holders, and at the faster death rates among younger people than older people in 2021.

The most important information in the interview is delivered in its first 11 minutes; from then on, Dowd and Wolf discuss in detail aspects of what Dowd calls fraud and misconduct that Pfizer (and presumably also Moderna) has committed and how the pharmaceutical corporation has been aided and abetted by the US Food and Drug Administration agency, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and other US government agencies and officials. Dowd also explains how his allegations and fraud charge against Pfizer are protected by First Amendment rights. He shows that evidence of the rise in excess mortality figures among young people is undeniable and is spreading among Wall Street investors, many if not most of whom have taken the COVID-19 vaccines. The interview eventually focuses on how Dowd is alerting more people in Wall Street and the broader investment community and beyond on the corruption in the pharmaceutical industry, the collusion between the industry, government and mainstream media.

The interview is very dense with information and meanders from one topic to another. Wolf can come across as breathy and over-eager but she asks very incisive questions that often have the effect of shifting the conversation onto another, significant issue. Dowd is an articulate subject who disavows hero status. Viewers may need to watch or listen to the interview a few times, if they can spare an hour, to absorb all the information but it is well worth studying however many times it needs repeating.

The Testimonies Project: an important visual document of individual suffering from COVID-19 vaccines

“The Testimonies Project: Testimonies after COVID-19 vaccination” (The Israeli People’s Committee, 2021)

In early 2021 the Israeli government began a drive to get as many Israeli adults as possible vaccinated against COVID-19 after the then Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu signed an agreement with Pfizer Inc for that company to supply vaccines to Israel. Since then, Israel has achieved one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates with (as of 26 June 2021) 64% of eligible adults having received their first shots and 60% of eligible adults being fully vaccinated. Israel’s efforts to have its population inoculated against COVID-19 have been hailed by the global mainstream news media as a great success.

As far as I am aware the Israeli Ministry of Health is not collecting statistics or any other information on the possible side effects of the Pfizer / BioNTech mRNA vaccine against COVID-19 or of the other vaccine (the Moderna mRNA vaccine) used in Israel. An independent organisation, the Israeli People’s Committee (IPC) is collecting such information and people’s accounts of their experiences. The Testimonies Project platform is one of the IPC’s initiatives to gather in video format stories from people who have suffered adverse reactions, many of these serious and life-threatening, to the vaccines so that they can at least be seen and heard by others. The video can be viewed with English-language sub-titles at this link.

The interviews are organised in groups according to the nature of the reactions experienced which range from cardiac problems (myocarditis, pericarditis and other heart issues) to severe menstrual bleeding, miscarriages, neurological problems, skin problems including shingles, and flare-ups of other diseases. Many interviewees mention that they took the shots under duress from employers who threatened to fire them if they remained unvaccinated. There are also some distressing reports of the lack of sympathy or help from doctors and other medical professionals towards people needing help and prompt attention. Several interviewees declare that they will not allow their children to receive the vaccines.

The stories are often heart-breaking and perhaps the saddest of them all comes near the end where a man tells of the surgeries his wife had to have to remove fluids from her brain; the surgeries were ultimately unsuccessful and the wife died. What is perhaps most incredible is that there appears to be no suggestion in the patients’ stories of doctors, nurses or other medical professionals being willing to report patients’ problems to appropriate authorities. A theme that recurs is of these professionals being reluctant or even refusing to consider that many of the patients’ health issues may be linked to the vaccines if not caused by them.

The Testimonies Project currently appears to exist mainly to collect and archive individual accounts of health issues arising from the COVID-19 vaccines used in Israel. The film does not provide the context in which the Israeli government made its agreement with Pfizer Inc to purchase and use the company’s vaccines. Nor does it say if Palestinians received or were allowed to receive any of these vaccines. The interviewees do not say if they have future plans to take legal action against the Israeli government or any other parties involved in the supply, distribution and handling of the vaccines (including the way vaccines were injected into people’s arms and whether aspiration of the needle was used or not). This omission, whether intended or not, does make watching the film much harder than it could be; for many of the interviewees, their health problems are permanent and they may not live long enough to obtain relief or justice for their injuries and suffering. Perhaps at a future date the reports and stories collected may serve as evidence in a future legal action or as a foundation for a class action against the Israeli government or Pfizer Inc.

The film is important viewing for everyone who is facing the difficult decision of whether to accept vaccination with any of the COVID-19 vaccines, especially the mRNA vaccines supplied by Pfizer and Moderna; or who has already had one or both of these vaccines.

Why Do So Many Still Buy Into The Narrative? – a talk on mass psychosis in Western societies under pandemic conditions

Dan Astin-Gregory, “Why Do So Many Still Buy Into The Narrative?” (Dan Astin-Gregory / Pandemic Podcast, 22 September 2021)

Dan Astin-Gregory is an entrepreneur, strategist and thought leader who established the Pandemic Podcast channel to interview various scientific, medical and other professionals on issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic that are not being addressed. In this episode which was streamed live on 22 September 2021, Astin-Gregory interviews Mattias Desmet, a professor of clinical psychology at Ghent University, whose observations of people during the COVID-19 pandemic over 18 months have led him to conclude that in all Western societies the majority of people appear to be under some kind of hypnosis which Desmet calls “mass formation”. It appears that the narrative of a virulent coronavirus and the mass lockdowns that have been brought in by Western governments across Europe, North America and the western Pacific region has brought into being a mass hypnotic state characterised by unquestioning mass conformity to restrictions handed down by governments and corporations, and the erasure of all individuality and individual opinion. This state of mass psychosis in turn can lead to extreme scapegoating of outsiders and mass support for even more restrictions of individual freedoms and intrusions into privacy, establishing the context in which totalitarian government can arise and atrocities including genocide can occur.

Desmet identifies four conditions in society for mass formation to take place: lack of societal bonding (alienation, anomie, isolation: very common in Western societies that emphasise individuality and self-reliance at the expense of community values); a feeling of a lack of purpose of meaning experienced by a majority of people in society; widespread free-floating anxiety and stress; high levels of aggression and hostility. All these conditions are likely to be interrelated, all of them reinforcing one another. There may well be other factors in Western society that contribute to mass formation: technologies, structures, institutions, ideologies and attitudes in society that weaken social bonds, transfer individual loyalties from families to government or corporations, encourage atomisation and polarisation, and manipulate and exploit people’s emotions for profit – over time, all have surely paved the way for mass formation based on fear and exploiting intolerance and people’s desire to belong and to have purpose. The COVID-19 pandemic has given people and institutions a new purpose and a feeling of bonding that help to channel their anger and to relieve their fears, and propaganda from governments and corporations through mass media strengthens and directs these new connections – even as other aspects of society and culture collapse or disintegrate.

Having identified the conditions favouring mass formation, Desmet goes on to explain that totalitarian states differ from classical dictatorships in that totalitarian states become more oppressive once they have purged their political opposition whereas classical dictatorships (based around a leader or a clique) tend to relax once their political opposition disappears. In a totalitarian state, a segment of society supports the oppressive measures; another, larger segment submits to the measures without complaint; a third segment opposes the oppression. This leads to the question of why some people are unaffected by mass formation and how those people resist mass formation. Desmet references French philosopher Gustave le Bon (“The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind“) in explaining that those layers of society usually considered the most intelligent or educated tend to be the most conformist and to be most affected by mass formation. Astin-Gregory’s question about whether emotionally sensitive people might be more resistant to mass formation is answered partially in the negative: Desmet mentions he knows of emotionally sensitive people who have fallen heavily for the mass psychosis.

In response to Astin-Gregory’s queries about how to release people from mass hypnosis, Desmet urges those who oppose the mass formation to continually speak out against the relentless propaganda. Propaganda is most effective when it is constantly repeated and supported by many media outlets, and buttressed and reinforced so much that it becomes part of the air one breathes and goes unchallenged; and the voices that oppose the propaganda become few because they are heavily policed and repressed. Logic, research and the use of statistics or argument can be useful but are limited as tools against propaganda that exploit emotion and fear. Creating an alternative narrative may be useful to counter the narrative that sustains the mass psychosis – but Desmet cautions that this solution is not easy, and the alternative narrative may take years to replace the dysfunctional mass psychosis.

There are other topics Astin-Gregory and Desmet discuss but I chose to highlight those I found most significant in this essay. The live conversational interview format does have its limitations: it can be quite unstructured and meandering, and viewers may wish it be limited to a specific Q&A format. There is much Astin-Gregory could have asked Desmet, such as how children and young people living under mass formation conditions might be taught to be more critical of propaganda and to question what they are told.

If there is anything positive to take away from the interview, it is that societies dependent on mass formation and the propaganda that sustains it do not last very long, as they become more and more self-deluded and divorced from reality, and end up destroying themselves. What follows from that though, neither Astin-Gregory nor Desmet can say.

There is much in the interview that can be criticised: in particular Astin-Gregory and Desmet do not cover the role of capitalist ideology in creating dysfunctional societies that prioritise self-interest and a shallow concept of individualism over Enlightenment values about the place of individuals in society and the nature of freedom in society. The role of class, hierarchy and religion in separating individuals and pitting them against one another (so they can be more easily dominated by small political elites) in creating the conditions for mass formation psychosis is ignored. Ultimately what Desmet has identified might actually be a backward explanation of the real problem: that our political elites are using divide-and-rule strategies, such as targeting grassroots organisations, weakening and breaking them up, using other methods and structures (such as behavioural psychology and its tools) to keep individuals atomised without a sense of belonging and purpose, and channelling their frustrations into scapegoating vulnerable minorities, to keep us all in a state in which our fears and emotions can be exploited to control us.

The 1964 Coup in Brazil: how Brazil and South America were set back for 21 years by US regime change action

Carlton Meyer, “The 1964 Coup in Brazil” (Tales of the American Empire, 12 November 2021)

This instalment in Meyer’s ongoing series investigating the long history of US imperialism across the globe focuses on the overthrow of Brazilian President João Goulart by his nation’s military in 1964 and the role the US government under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson played in that coup. Goulart came to power in Brazil in September 1961 on a platform of educational, taxation, electoral and land reforms aimed at benefiting the poor and stimulating the national economy. He was friendly towards the Castro government in Cuba during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and his belief in Cuban independence and self-determination led the Kennedy government to consider overthrowing Goulart’s government. The plan to get rid of Goulart became Operation Brother Sam. After Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, US President Lyndon B Johnson then authorised a US naval task force and aircraft to travel to Brazil, ostensibly to conduct a military exercise, to support the March 1964 coup. The coup was organised by the CIA together with the Brazilian military.

The mini-documentary shows how supposedly progressive US governments like those of Kennedy and Johnson actually supported right-wing forces in Latin American nations and thwarted those nations’ drive for self-determination so as to safeguard US corporate interests. Archived film interviews and Brazilian television news reports help demonstrate how the Brazilian Chief of Army General Staff Castelo Branco was persuaded to support the coup by US military attaché Vernon A Walters who told him that the US naval force and aircraft would assist in regime change (to the extent of openly invading the country) if the coup were to falter. The film does not note that Castelo Branco later benefited from supporting the coup – he became President in April 1964 – which would have been rich irony.

As a result of the coup Brazil suffered repressive military rule for 21 years during which time the country served as the model and template for US-assisted overthrow of other South American leaders and governments deemed undesirable by Washington DC: this 21-year period includes the 1973 overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende by the Chilean military. Many consequences of the 1964 coup against Goulart were to follow and are still working their effects through Brazilian society and the rest of South America. Unfortunately Meyer’s video, concentrating on the details of Goulart’s overthrow and the US role in it, does not have the time or the scope to cover the full significance of the coup for Brazil and the entire Latin American region.

The Destruction of Laos: casting light on a shameful aspect of the Vietnam War

Carlton Meyer, “The Destruction of Laos” (Tales of the American Empire, 15 October 2021)

Many people know that the Vietnam War dragged Cambodia into its horrors – or rather, US State Secretary Henry Kissinger saw fit to drag Cambodia into the Vietnam War – but I confess to being unaware that Laos had also been dragged into the Vietnam War even though the fact that Cambodia was an unwilling participant made so by the US should have suggested to me that the US would treat Laos similarly. Here comes Carlton Meyer with his latest TofAE episode to cast light on a relatively little-known front of the Vietnam War: the US bombing of Laos. As Meyer notes, Laos in the early 1970s was a small country of some 3million yet the US saw fit to drop over 2 million tons of bombs in 580,000 bombing raids over 9 years from 1964 to 1973: that works out to one planeload of bombs being dropped onto Laos every 8 minutes! At the same time this was happening the US government denied it was bombing Laos or had US combat forces in the country.

After describing the scale of the bombing of Laos, Meyer goes on to detail how US forces and the CIA operated in the country. Combat forces worked as contractors for the CIA and trained and led Laotian and Chinese mercenaries in Laos. Many of these Americans supplemented their incomes by engaging in the opium trade. US denial of involvement in Laos meant that finding lost or missing US soldiers or pilots in the country was difficult or impossible, since that would force Washington to admit that the US did indeed have forces there.

Meyer rounds off his short documentary by explaining why the US invaded and brought the Vietnam War to Laos: the reason was to shut down the Ho Chi Minh supply trail that passed from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia to South Vietnam. Meyer explains how the US attempt to cut off the supply trail was bound to fail as the Vietcong in South Vietnam had support from the general public there and could obtain supplies from myriad, mostly local sources, not just from North Vietnam. Ultimately it was the determination of the Vietnamese to reunite as an independent nation, free from Western domination (whether in the form of French colonialism or US neocolonialism), that was the major factor in Vietnam’s victory.

Meyer enlivens his short video documentary with archived film, maps and snippets of old 1970s interviews including one with a US refugee worker dealing with displaced Laotians who relays what the refugees told him about the relentless nature of the bombing and the total destruction it caused. This interview with the refugee worker, which concludes the film, conveys the absolute horror of what amounted to virtual firebombing of the country. What Meyer details is indeed an absolutely shameful episode in US military history.

Meyer probably could have noted the continuing legacy of the US bombing campaign in Laos: about 30% of the bombs dropped on Laos did not explode on impact but remain in many parts of the country and continue to maim and kill Laotians, children in particular.

A litany of blunders and oversights in “Deepwater Horizon: Ten Mistakes”

Jess Reid, “Deepwater Horizon: Ten Mistakes” (2021)

An investigation into the causes of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico near the US state of Louisiana in April 2010, that killed 11 workers and created a massive environmental catastrophe in the Gulf, this documentary manages to be fairly well researched yet easy for its target general public audience to follow. Concentrating on the major errors behind the oil rig explosion, starting with aspects of the culture of BP that emphasised the pressure of time and budget over-runs over safety issues, to mistakes and fateful decisions made by engineers on the oil rig, to underestimating the enormous size of the oil spill and the lack of proper plans to cap the well and to clean up the oil spill, the film draws out what it considers to be the major blunders behind the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe and explains how they contributed to the accident. A number of experts including former US Energy Secretary Stephen Chu who served in the first Obama administration add their perspectives to each of the issues raised. Their points are illustrated with fairly simple technical animations and archived film of the explosion and the environmental and economic disaster it caused.

Although very detailed, the film does not do enough to show how the various mistakes it identifies are linked and reflect a corporate culture in the oil industry obsessed with making profits and taking unnecessary risks, especially in a highly risky and dangerous activity such as deep-water oil drilling. In such an industry, the pressure on keeping within time and budget limits can encourage people to take short cuts, to overlook or compromise on safety issues, to conform rather than speak out or express misgivings, and downplay problems or the scale of problems when they occur. Disaster and contingency planning is given short shrift and when a disaster does occur, the corporation resorts to a quick technical fix to disperse the problem to make itself look good for the government, the media, the public and (most of all) its shareholders and investors.

The film fails to pound the US government for its weak regulation of the oil industry and its revolving door personnel policy in which oil industry executives take up positions in the US Department of Energy, loosen regulations on their former employers and then later return to the industry with a change of government. Perhaps the most depressing aspect of the film comes near its end when the government fails to punish BP in proportion to the scale of the explosion and the damage it caused to marine environments and the livelihoods of communities and the industries around the Gulf that rely on viable marine environments and ecosystems there. The consequences of the oil rig disaster and of the use of Corexit dispersant to disperse the oil spill on the health of the people who worked on the rig and in the affected environments were and still are considerable. The experts interviewed in the film agree that many of the mistakes and blunders identified have not been properly dealt with and could lead to another major deep-water oil rig explosion.

The film serves as a good introduction to a major human-made disaster that is still generating long-term environmental, economic and human costs in the Gulf. Viewers wanting more information will need to do their own research but at least they will have a handy foundation to work from.

A Day in the Life of an Untouchable Sweeper: a snapshot of discrimination against Dalit people in India

Amudhan R P, “A Day in the Life of an Untouchable Sweeper” (2003)

Known as “manual scavenging”, manually cleaning public and private toilets, open drains and streets of human excrement is still being done by thousands of men and women across India. Much of this work is traditionally done by people from the Dalit (untouchable) communities that are at the bottom of the caste social system. Dalit women sweep and clean dry waste in streets, collect it in cane or metal vessels, and carry these vessels on their heads to dispose of the shit at central disposal points in their communities. Men and women clean faeces from public and private toilets, gutters and drains, and men usually clean sewers and septic tanks.

This video, scripted and filmed by Amudhan R P, follows Mariyammal, a sanitary worker with the Madurai Municipal Corporation as she cleans a street near a temple in Madurai. Mariyammal describes her daily routine to Amudhan as she goes about her work – her employer does not give her proper protective clothing or equipment like a mask, gloves or appropriate footwear so she goes barefoot to avoid soiling her shoes – and vents her anger and frustration about the work she has to do, the lack of proper equipment she is given to do her job, and the discrimination she is forced to put up with from the people around her because she is a Dalit and a sanitary worker.

Featuring close-up shots, and with a jerky style due to Amudhan having to carry the camera on his shoulder, the film can be very confronting for viewers as they see the amount of back-breaking work Mariyammal must do every early morning: scattering ash or sanitary powder over piles of faeces, and sweeping the shit into her vessel with scoops she must obtain or buy herself. She makes three trips to a central disposal area in Madurai. She tells Amudhan that she herself is in bad health (in the opening credits, the film notes that sanitary workers are at risk for asthma, malaria and cancer from their work) but despite requesting a transfer to other work, her employer refuses to move her. She cannot give up working despite her meagre pay and demeaning job as she is a widow with a large family of boys (some of whom must work as labourers) and a huge debt with high interest to pay moneylenders after taking a loan to pay for a son’s wedding. Amudhan passes no judgement on how Mariyammal does her work or on her frustration but patiently asks questions and absorbs some of the anger she vents. Mariyammal turns out to be a feisty lady especially when she takes a break and orders morning tea for herself from a tea vendor. She is not afraid to boss local children for shitting in the street she has to clean and local people appear to tiptoe gingerly past her as she strolls through the streets like a queen.

Since the film was made, it has won awards at film festivals in Tamil Nadu and New Delhi and was even shown at a film festival in China. The street where Mariyammal worked was shut down and Mariyammal was shifted to different work. The working conditions of other Madurai sanitary workers have improved somewhat with better equipment given them as well. Providing the poor people of Madurai and elsewhere in India with better living and working conditions that might include better public sanitation infrastructure – when one sees the dreadful public toilets in Madurai, one understands why poor people prefer to poop in back lanes and alleys – and which turn the faeces into a useful asset such as fertiliser or fuel, seems to be beyond the scope of government at local, regional and national level though: the legislation to provide proper public and private sanitation, making manual scavenging unnecessary, may exist but enforcement is something else altogether.