by Terence Stone
As the Peoples Assembly Of Victoria gains confidence and leverage, despite the chess game the City of Victoria plays with the complicity of mainstream media to undermine it all, I’ve thought much about my own narratives in the larger story unfolding.
I declare myself a well-educated senior citizen who has led a relatively privileged life. I’m a counsellor by profession, but began my working career serving ten years in the British military, mostly overseas. We would receive week-old newspapers from the UK with reports of our military involvement during a decade of withdrawal from colonies too difficult to hold. The reports were all white, grey, or black propaganda—lies by any standard of truth-telling. We were in fact ensuring that dictatorships we could rely on to perpetuate British interest were installed and capable of taking control of colonial systems of power that were changed in name only by the proxy despots who would reap personal benefits as colonial middle-men.
Over the past year I returned to one of the regions in which I served. With my spouse we backpacked and volunteered around India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Thailand. The devastating wreckage of colonialism is still apparent; an imperial tsunami is swamping entire cultures and ecosystems under the beneficent guise of Globalization, driven by the supercharged engine of laissez faire Capitalism. The Emperor has but changed into more lavish attire.
Oddly it was in Dharamsala that Bhopal returned to haunt me. We met an American couple who belong to The Friends of Bhopal; one of them gave me a book, It was five minutes after midnight in Bhopal, and it brought back the horrifying images and dreams I’ve had since that terrible December in 1984. Union Carbide’s pesticide plant failed and released clouds of methyl isocyanate into the surrounding slum communities and killed at least 3000 children, women and men—killed them even as they fled blindly from their beds at five minutes after midnight, only to fall—eyes burning and lungs froth-corrupted—in writhing agony and contorted deaths.
All those deaths were murders. The management of Union Carbide back in the USA gloated over the money they’d saved by cutbacks in safety, ignoring repeated warnings of imminent catastrophe. A manager at the plant wrote, hopelessly, a week before the disaster that they were all going to die. Nobody has ever been punished for the crime and 50,000 people still suffer debilitating health problems. What small settlements that were grudgingly made have been whittled down by each person in the feeding chain taking their cut. We met in Dharamsala a young Indian man born just a week before the tragedy in an uncontaminated area of Bhopal who told us that he has an uncle in that city who does business buying and selling the settlements at enormous accumulated profit because they take so long to process, while the survivors desperately need what little money there is remaining right now as a means of simple survival. Dow Chemical eventually ended up buying the still unsafe plant and is one of the major producers of pesticides in India today, along with Monsanto.
India is now, after the United States, the largest producer of pesticides and herbicides in the world. Cheap labour and lax safety standards make it an ideal destination country for outsourcing the horrors of chemical accidents that kill people and destroy the environment. It’s been a boon to Monsanto pushing its Roundup-ready rice crops onto contract farmers--now serfs to industrialized agriculture. So disastrous has this project been that the four or five genetically modified rice varieties that Monsanto introduced to displace the one thousand varieties previously used in sustainable, high-yield farming for over a thousand years have become vulnerable to pesticide resistant infestations. The contract farmers, debt-buried with annual purchases of Monsanto single-season seed, commit suicide by the preferred method of drinking the pesticides foisted on them by Monsanto, Dow Chemical, et al.
Conservatively, 150,000 farmers have committed suicide in India in the past ten years. One farmer commits suicide every 30 minutes. Without social safety nets, who knows what the statistics of death and abject poverty is for the survivors?
The legacy of Monsanto and Dow Chemical is still evident in the wounded soul of Cambodia. Monsanto manufactured Agent Orange, the dioxin-laden defoliant that destroyed millions of acres of forest and rice paddy in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. 46,000,000 litres were sprayed, willfully poisoning millions of people. The carcinogenic and mutagenic properties of the chemical have had multi-generational effects—prolific birth defects continuing primarily in Vietnam, but also in Cambodia. Monsanto made a killing, so to speak, and knew the effects of the chemical even as it ramped up production and raked in the profits.
Dow Chemical’s contribution to genocide was and still is Napalm, a gelatinous gasoline that sticks to bodies of victims and burns them alive. 400,000 tons were dropped during the Vietnam War; Cambodia was merely a collaterally damage neighbourhood. “Profit without conscience” could be the motto of Dow Chemical, since it currently manufactures Napalm “B”, the cargo of the incendiary Mark 77 bomb, one weapon of mass destruction used throughout Iraq, particularly in Fallujah where many children were burned alive into merciful death, or left horribly maimed.
Here Monsanto and Dow Chemical get a moment’s reprieve as I make mention of the 62,000,000 tons of conventional, high-explosive ordnance dropped by the US Government during the Vietnam War, 300 pounds of bombs for every man, woman and child in Indo-China (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia). Cambodia took a particularly nasty pasting in the American secret bombing campaign called Operation Menu, beginning with Operation Breakfast—called so because Nixon, Kissinger and Haldeman conceived the campaign over breakfast following Church one Sunday morning—an appetite enhancer for them no doubt, or perhaps a gift—grotesque manna dropped from the American God in Heaven to feed and bleed the innocents of Cambodian villages. I know (I hear them now) millions of children screamed, froze in terror, or died with their final thought of family or friends left unspoken. Haldeman's wrote in his diary (March, 17, 1969): "Historic day. K[issinger]'s 'Operation Breakfast' finally came off at 2.00 PM ... K[issinger] really excited, as was P[resident]”. Haldeman’s entry for the following day: "K's 'Operation Breakfast' a great success. He came beaming in with the report, very productive."
It was Cambodians—children, women, men—crawling, traumatized, out of craters from the American bombing that fed the murderous machine that came to be known as Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. In four short years, they managed to slaughter 25% of the Cambodian population. The trick—the cynical slight of hand executed by the USA—was to have bracketed off and set aside this four year period of genocide-as societal-suicide to stand as the “official” history of Cambodian conflict.
You see, the USA, in and act of perverse revenge, manipulated support of the Khmer Rouge’s bid, as the government in exile, for the Cambodian seat at the United Nations and then supplied them with arms to continue civil (guerrilla) war after the Vietnamese liberated the country in 1975. When it eventually came to negotiations at the United Nations how crimes against humanity would be defined for redress and “Justice”, the USA forced agreement that no crimes against the Cambodian people prior to 1975 would be recognized, or prosecuted. The US Government was off the hook. What has disappeared from the public record is the 10% of the Cambodian population murdered by the US just prior to the birth of the Khmer Rouge, that monstrous child of a US imperial rape.
One of the policies of the Khmer Rouge was to destroy ownership of any kind. Consequently, all title deeds belonging to everyone, including villagers and small farms—perhaps single paddies—were burned. Now, under the Capitalist dictatorship of Hun Sen who says, “no title deed, no claim”, fishermen are being removed from ancestral coastline so that Russian Oligarchs can build luxury hotels; peasants and whole village are the victims of mass displacements for Chinese and Western Multinationals to clear-cut forests and mine the earth wherever they will. Industrial agriculture is moving in with Dow Chemical and Monsanto, amongst others, salivating over yet another catastrophe to exploit.
At this time of the year, let’s honour the White Poppy for Peace and in Remembrance of the 6 million murdered by US Imperialist/Corporatist ambitions in Indo-China, and the millions that have died since as a result of genetic mutations and unexploded munitions that blow people to pieces every single day in the region. Then as now the narrative of violence and greed continues; but the peasants and displaced of India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos—all across the Globe are fighting back. We have no other ethical choice but to fully witness their history, their suffering and their strength in struggle as we stand in solidarity with them wherever they live.
Terence is a Social Worker and Registered Clinical Counsellor. Professionaly he works children and parenting, which segues to a profound concern with social justice and the world we are leaving for generations of children to come.