As a young boy in the early 1970s I watched M*A*S*H which was set in the Korean War that raged from1950 until 1953. Jolly funny it was too and only years later did I realise that my childhood laughs were based on the deaths of three million people. National Service was in force in the UK and 100,000 young British men were involved in what is seen as the ‘forgotten war.’ In fact one of the British Armys’ finest moments came at the beginning of the conflict when 600 British soldiers at the Imjim river tried to repel 30,000 Chinese soldiers. Ten thousand Chinese died yet only 59 British were killed.
Hugely relevant today as Kenyan survivors have taken the British Government to court over torture claims, the Mau Mau Rebellion in 1953 left over 20,000 dead. This was Britains’ darkest hour of its colonial rule. Over a million Kenyans were either sent to huge reserves or concentration camps. Torture including rape and castration were commonplace and also capital punishment was meted out on a routine basis. The Mau Mau themselves were also brutal against settlers and their own people. Disgustingly even though the survivors won their court case very recently, the British Foreign Office has refused to apologise.
In 1954 Algeria started its fight for independence from France, it lasted 8 years and cost 400,000 lives. President De Gaulle knew the fight was winnable but was political suicide for France fresh after its defeat in Vietnam, another of its former colonies. He almost paid for the decision to negotiate a withdrawal with his life as the French military failed in a coup attempt and tried to assassinate him.
In 1958 Chairman Mao started ‘The great leap forward’ which he hoped would catapult the economy in front of the United States. It actually was a great leap backwards as the Chinese economy shrank, incidentally killing between 20 and 30 million from starvation or state brutality.
In 1961 The Kurds started a rebellion against Iraq which rumbled on and off for 42 years killing 200,000 people in the process. Their fight involved them siding with Iran in the Iran-Iraq war in1980 in which half a million people died with no side gaining victory. Saddam Hussein was instrumental in ordering chemical weapons to be used against the Kurds and Iranians. The Kurds also played a prominent role in Desert Storm in 1990/1 helping Allied forces.
My middle school in Guildford had a fantastic library and Time Life and other periodicals were available for us kids to read. In 1964 the Vietnam War had started and did not finish until The United States defeat in 1973. My dad had the Telegraph delivered every day but being a short-arse as a child meant the paper was simply too enormous for me to read. So Time Life was an easier choice. I vividly recall seeing the now infamous photo of the ‘running girl’ in 1972 and being shocked as I had no idea there was this horrific war being waged on the other side of the world.
Phan Thi Kim Phuc was sheltering in the temple at Trang Bang village when a plane dropped napalm on the village as it mistook the villagers as enemy soldiers. Kim’s clothes were burnt off her body and she and other survivors ran for their lives. Associated Press photographer Nick Ut took this and other harrowing shots that certainly help turn world opinion against the war. Not however before three million people died, many of them innocent civilians from the indiscriminate use of deadly chemical weapons. The photo still brings tears to my eyes every time I see it, oh the futility of war!