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Seeing the world through a green fog helps to obscure the pink mist

By Natasha Cica - posted Thursday, 17 April 2003

Australia is at war. Australian soldiers are part of an Anglo-American military campaign in Iraq, one of mendacious legality and dubious morality. Iraqi civilians, latest guesstimate 1252 dead and 5103 wounded, are being blown apart in the name of democracy. How does all this make you feel, as an Australian? Proud, frightened, sickened or indifferent? After three weeks of bombing and invasion, are you consumed by, and consuming, all the words and images of war still flooding our tv screens and newspapers? Or do you feel little and think less about what is going on right now in places like Baghdad and Basra?

This last option might just be the only position of easy sanity at the moment. For engaging with the reporting on Gulf War II is, quite literally, to enter a zone of madness. The war in film and print is a surreal, disjointed world of mine-busting dolphins, blood-dripped lenses, amorphous troop movements, and media workers sacked or killed for doing their job of telling truths. Of war stories coloured the eerie green of foggy-goggled night vision. Or the more sickening hue of "pink mist". That's a term - Fairfax reporter Paul McGeough tells us - borrowed from the US military in Afghanistan, to describe what might have happened to the households of civilians killed by Coalition bombs in the Baghdad suburb of Mansur last Sunday night.

I wrote those words last Wednesday evening. The next morning, I woke to hear that Saddam had been toppled, that Iraqis are jubilant (those who aren't pink mist, of course), and that 'we' have won this war. I am still waiting to find out what all that really means. Does it mean the war is over? That Australia is now less at war? Or that Australia is still very much at war, but in a quite different way?


And what about that pink mist? Does that phrase come from the mindset behind US Brigadier General John Kelly's boast that "we" shoot down Muslim fighters "like the morons they are", a place where our common and individual humanity simply evaporates, like so much fog or mist? Or does it come from a sugar-spun place of fairy-floss denial, that place of easy sanity, which depends on feeling and thinking as little as possible about the brutal, applied reality over there of our fine, abstracted morality back here. I don't know, but I do want to know if whole people can really turn into pink spray. And if that mist, perhaps, is actually deep red. And if in that bloody suburban mist there were also scattered bits and pieces of the brains and limbs and hearts of sleeping babies, mothers and grandfathers.

I have opposed Australia's involvement in Gulf War II since before it started, and neither the conduct of that war nor the fall of Baghdad has changed my mind. To neo-con-friendly commentators who support Australian involvement, this makes me and millions of my fellow citizens delusional, amoral, postmodern "neo-pacs" (Miranda Devine) and apparently unpatriotic to boot (Gerard Henderson). To the Prime Minister of my country, my strong support for this week's Greenpeace protests against Australian troop deployment presumably makes me some kind of 'clown', even though I have had family serving in this military campaign.

I am a little nonplussed by this jargonistic and jingoistic abuse from public figures, delivered with all the care and precision of cluster bombs in a Baghdad marketplace. But I am not entirely surprised. Our participation in this Orwell-meets-Dali conflict has demeaned Australia and Australians, and in many ways has degraded the quality of our civil society.

I am not quite sure how we will begin to repair that damage. Perhaps the best starting place is to try to rehumanise pink mist.

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About the Author

Dr Natasha Cica is the director of Periwinkle Projects, a Hobart-based management, strategy and communications consultancy.

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