Category: Art of War

Veteran’s Day in America, 2022.

November 11, 2022 is Veteran’s Day in America, but you’d hardly know it by reading the corporate press; there’s not a single mention of it on the “Google News” web page. To honor the veterans of all wars fought by the United States, Veteran’s Day is celebrated annually in November. It is a day of reflection, contemplation, and gratefulness. Many fought and persevered, numerous others joined the fallen, we should hold them all in the highest esteem.

Most often the battles were a righteous cause, sometimes they were misguided, or even dare I say, immoral. Even so, from the US Civil War to Iraq, our soldiers sacrificed, bled, and died for what they believed was the struggle for liberty under the banner of freedom. There was nobility in that belief, even as it was betrayed by the “eternal war” cabal that roosts in Washington D.C.

Remember, it was the Republican President Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower that issued a dire warning to the American people in his farewell speech from the White House on January 17, 1961:

“We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.”

What would ol’ Ike have thought of the forever wars of Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq? Trillions in profits were made on the production and sale of sophisticated armaments. Millions of people perished in those catastrophes; including the deaths of thousands of American soldiers. Each war ended in complete tragedy and disaster for the US due to the venality and corruption in Washington D.C. And yet, here we stand once again, ready for war with Russia over Ukraine; only this time Mr. Potato Head will march the troops to the glorious battleground.

I’m old enough to remember the Vietnam war as it unfolded, it was a war that shaped my consciousness and world view. I started to read about Vietnam in 1963 when I was 10-years-old, and by the time I was a teenager I was well versed in Vietnamese history and could tell you the names of Vietnamese political figures. The draft ended just weeks before I was old enough to be inducted; though I didn’t serve in the armed forces, I feel like a veteran of that war. I was obsessed with the conflict and its national and international implications.

“Vietnam War Dead.” Mark Vallen. Pen & ink. 1970. After Ron Cobb.

I’m illustrating this Veteran’s Day post with drawings from my high-school sketch book. The drawings were made in 1970 when I was 17-years-old; they exemplify my concerns and misgivings about the war. My Vietcong Guerrilla pencil sketch was based on a news clipping photo, and the pen drawing was after a cartoon by the fabulous Ron Cobb, who at the time I idolized as one of the best political cartoonists in the US; his works only appeared in underground newspapers.

This Veteran’s Day I’m left wondering, what do we remember about Nam? Do you recall the meaning of “fragging,” “punji sticks,” “Tiger cages,” “Rolling Thunder,” “Daisy Cutter,” or “Puff the Magic Dragon”? Who can tell me about the Buddhist crisis, Ngo Dinh Diem, Nguyen Cao Ky, or Madam Nguyen Thi Binh? What happened during the 1968 Tet Offensive, or My Lai? What was the National Liberation Front? Who were the ARVN?

“Vietcong Guerrilla.” Mark Vallen. Pencil on paper. 1970.

As Americans we should recognize that these expressions, names, and events are part of our history—but what do you say when the words draw a blank. The aphorism of “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” is attributed to philosopher George Santayana. The words certainly apply to the Vietnam war, but to the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts as well. They are also a caveat for US military action in Ukraine.

A fellow named Joseph Allen McDonald served in the US Navy and was trained as an “approach controller” for US Navy aircraft carriers at sea. In 1965 he received his honorable discharge, and ended up in Berkeley where he fell in with the flower power crowd and subsequently founded the psychedelic rock band, Country Joe and the Fish.

The band is best known for their anti-Vietnam war anthem, I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag, but in 1986, Country Joe as a solo performer put out Vietnam Experience, an album of songs about the Vietnam war from a soldier’s perspective. It is a sympathetic and surprising collection of songs; Agent Orange is a tear-jerker and Foreign Policy Blues is a dark, shell-shocked jingle. I decided to celebrate Veteran’s Day by publishing the words of Joe McDonald’s song Vietnam Never Again, which seems most fitting for those of us with historic amnesia and a zest for war in Ukraine.

I’l like to be a General, in the Pentagon
instead of a foot soldier, here in Vietnam
I’d like to be a Congressman in Washington D.C.
instead of at a firebase, surrounded by VC
I’d like to be a business man, selling guns and planes
instead of in this bunker with rounds coming in
I’d like to be the President, talking to the press
instead of here in Khe Sanh, with shrapnel in my chest

Ah Vietnam… you took my heart and mind
Ah Vietnam… you made me old before my time
Ah Vietnam… I still can’t explain
Ah Vietnam… if I should, maybe I could
do it all again.

I’d like to be a doctor, with a practice way down town
instead of standing here in blood, on the killing ground
I’d like to be an RN, in a quite nursing home
instead of with the wounded, hearing them scream and moan
I’d love to be an actor, in a film about Vietnam
instead I’m in this hole, with punji sticks in my arm
I’d like to be a Hippie, thinking love with prevail
instead of a grunt with an attitude, locked in the Long Bình Jail

Ah Vietnam… you took my heart and mind
Ah Vietnam… you made me old before my time
Ah Vietnam… I still can’t explain
Ah Vietnam… if I should, maybe I could,
never do it again.

Mystical Images of War from Natalia Goncharova

Natalia Goncharova, face painted. 1913.

Perhaps we can understand our jingoist present by examining our warring past. Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962), was the first woman artist in the avant-garde of Russia. She was a painter, print maker, writer, and provocateur.

She created costumes and set backdrops for the Ballet Russes of Sergei Diaghilev. She married fellow avant-garde artist Mikhail Larionov, the two becoming inseparable life partners. Goncharova believed the basis for the Russian avant-garde could be found in its ancient and traditional folk and religious art.

In 1914 when the First World War broke out, Goncharova created a series of fourteen lithographic prints she titled Mystical Images of War. The prints were based on an age-old Russian art-form known as lubok; these were simple drawings based on religious stories and popular tales that were usually made into woodcut prints. But Mystical Images of War was more much more than that, Goncharova’s prints were a window into the future… and the future is here.

Going about your daily business maybe you haven’t noticed, but the US is fighting a proxy war with Russia five thousand miles away in a place called Ukraine. To fight the now six-month old war, the man in the White House has given the Ukrainian government sophisticated weaponry to fight the Russian invaders, lethal shipments worth $67 billion—which is more than the yearly Russian military expenditure of some $61 billion.

President Putin has told the West that a military attack on Russia could provoke a nuclear response. President Zelensky of Ukraine says NATO should launch a “preemptive strike” against Russia before Putin can use nukes. And doddering ‘ol Biden… well, he says “We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis.” The US possesses 5,428 nuclear warheads, Russia has 5,977 warheads. Anything can spark a conflagration.

Are you paying attention yet?

Did you ever read about the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria? He was killed by a Bosnian Serb nationalist, which touched off WWI, a war that took the lives of around 13 million civilians and some 11 million soldiers.

Recall when US Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a presentation at the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003? He sold the idea of going to war with Iraq, telling the American people and the world that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction,” and would use them to harm the West.

Powell, holding a vial filled with white powder to show the dangers of small amounts of anthrax, said: “Less than a teaspoonful of dry anthrax in an envelope shut down the United States Senate in the fall of 2001, Saddam Hussein could have produced 6,600 gallons. If concentrated into this dry form, this amount would be enough to fill tens upon tens upon tens of thousands of teaspoons.” The next month the US invaded Iraq. Weapons of mass destruction were never found.

The US-Iraq war killed 4,586 US soldiers, civilian deaths were estimated to be anywhere from 151,000 to 1 million.

From 1914 Natalia Goncharova gave us the true face of war. Fearing the chaos that would come in the war’s aftermath, Natalia and Mikhail left Russia for France, taking up residence in Paris where they permanently settled. So now that Armagideon Times are drawing closer, contemplate the truths of Mystical Images of War.

“Angels and Airplanes.” Natalia Goncharova. Lithograph. 1914.

Angels and Airplanes—Do the Angels hinder or help the airplanes? Do they curse or bless the pilots? Today’s planes are different, but the question remains… who is evil and who is righteous, and how do you tell the difference? Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either… but right through every human heart.”

“The Doomed City.” Natalia Goncharova. Lithograph. 1914.

The Doomed City—The Angels of the Lord destroy the city. Who lives in the city, Ukrainians, Russians, Americans? Who is innocent, who is guilty? Remember Dresden? Recall Nagasaki? Angels told Lot to flee Sodom, and God rained fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, destroying these places for their degenerate sins. Where is today’s modern Sodom? Will atomic fire destroy Gomorrah?

“The Pale Horse.” Natalia Goncharova. Lithograph. 1914.

The Pale Horse—The Black Sun rises, some tattoo the symbol on their bodies, others wear it as a military patch on their flak vest body armor, still others pretend it does not exist at all. Death, with wings of darkness, rides a pale horse, its hooves crush the bones of thousands… the black scythe is ready to reap the next mound of heads.

“A Common Grave.” Natalia Goncharova. Lithograph. 1914.

A Common Grave—An Angel appears and provides a mass grave for all the sinners, carrion crow come to eat their flesh. The war is over, but the next one is about to begin.

Afghanistan Apocalypse

An unidentified artist in Kabul burns her paintings before the Taliban discovers her studio. Photo: Omaid Sharifi 2021

An unidentified artist in Kabul burns her paintings before the Taliban discovers her studio. Photo: Omaid Sharifi 2021

Imagine being an artist in a country that banned art. Furthermore, to save yourself and your family, you had to burn all of your paintings before the theocratic zealots of the unelected “government” could discover them.

“My heart shatters to see and talk to Afghan artists who have started destroying their own art out of fear. Afghanistan is becoming black and white again. It’s losing its beauty, diversity and colors. I am afraid the world will let this happen again!”

So said Omaid Sharifi, Afghan artist, curator, co-founder & president of ArtLords. That Kabul based grassroots organization of artists and volunteers tried to heal their war ravaged nation with “the soft power of art and culture.” The first group in Afghanistan to paint public art murals on the streets was ArtLords… they might be the last, now that the Taliban have seized control.

Sharifi and fellow artists were painting a mural in Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021, when Taliban terrorists began swarming into the city. Ironically, the previous day Sharifi uploaded a video to twitter showing his group working on the new mural, he wrote: “We are painting a mural today-now. It reminded me of the famous scene from Titanic Movie, where musicians play until the ship sinks.” As the Taliban took over Sharifi went underground. Thankfully he and his family escaped, and resettled in a refugee camp in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Afghan artist Omaid Sharifi, painting a mural on the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan with fellow members of ArtLords. Photo: Omaid Sharifi, 2021.

Afghan artist Omaid Sharifi, painting a mural on the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan with fellow members of ArtLords. Photo: Omaid Sharifi, 2021.

In truth this essay is not about artists resisting dystopia. Rather, it is about liberty, human dignity, and the fate of nations. The tale could begin in 1839, when soldiers of the British Empire marched into Kabul to conquer the Emirate of Afghanistan. In 1892 Rudyard Kipling poetically conveyed how well that exploit went:

“When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains, jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains, an’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.”

However, my telling of inauspicious events actually starts in the late 20th century, when, as a 25-year-old artist living in Los Angeles, I first payed attention to politics in  Afghanistan. It was April 28, 1978, when news reports told of a coup d’état in Kabul. The communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) had assassinated President Mohammed Daoud Khan and his family at the presidential palace, beginning in essence the conflict still faced today.

In 1978 Afghanistan was unimportant news to most Americans, struggling as we were against recession and gas lines. For those of us not old enough to remember, President Carter gave his infamous “malaise speech” in 1979. The Afghan coup in ’78 led me to study that landlocked nation, its history, culture, and politics, and I have been contemplating that country ever since. In the month of August, 2021, a new entry was placed in the Afghanistan Apocalypse Almanac, it was listed under “Biden Withdrawal.”

I was 21-years-old in April 29, 1975 when the last US helicopter took off from the US Embassy in Saigon, Vietnam. The communists seized the country so quickly it took the US by surprise; a hasty retreat was organized. Be that as it may, just days earlier on April 17, 1975, the genocidal Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia—when it comes to fanaticism the Taliban are evocative of the Khmer Rouge. Even after four decades I have been unable to forget the 10,000 or more Vietnamese at US Embassy gates, pleading to be airlifted out of ‘Nam. That reoccurring whirring chopper blade nightmare has now come home to roost in Kabul.

Left: US helicopter evacuates US Embassy as communists capture Saigon, Vietnam, 1975. Right: US helicopter evacuates US Embassy as Taliban capture Kabul, Afghanistan, 2021.

Left: US helicopter evacuates US Embassy as communists capture Saigon, Vietnam, 1975. Right: US helicopter evacuates US Embassy as Taliban capture Kabul, Afghanistan, 2021.

On April 14, 2021, Joe Biden declared he would conduct a “safe, deliberate and responsible” withdrawal of U.S. soldiers in “full coordination with its partners and allies in Afghanistan.” He carelessly stated the withdrawal of 2,500 U.S. troops would be completed on… September 11th.

Of course, that was the date Islamic fanatics from al-Qaeda crashed civilian airliners into the Twin Towers of New York City and the Pentagon in Virginia, killing 2,977 and wounding more than 6,000. Moreover, the Taliban had hosted al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, where the 9/11 plot was hatched. I am certain the Taliban were pleased with the symbolic date, though it roiled Americans. Later in July, Biden quietly and without fanfare, changed the end date of the withdrawal mission to August 31.

I felt in my bones Biden’s withdrawal plan would be disastrous. Once he announced the evacuation, the Taliban rapidly began to seize provinces; they were surrounding the capital of Kabul. On May 8, 2021, the Taliban used three truck bombs to attack the Syed Al-Shahda girls’s school in Kabul. The blasts killed at least 90 and wounded some 100; most victims were teenage girls. The Taliban denied responsibility for the massacre, all while forbidding education to girls and women. The inhuman act was a glimpse into the future of women in today’s Taliban occupied Afghanistan.

I was shocked when US forces completely vacated Bagram Air Base under cover of darkness on July 1, 2021. It was done without informing the new Afghan base commander or the Afghan National Army, and it was ordered by Joe Biden. After the base lights were turned off, hordes of looters swept into the compound to steal everything not nailed down. This was the US evacuation and how it proceeded in “full coordination with its partners and allies in Afghanistan.”

Bagram Air Base should have been used in the withdrawal. It was the largest airfield in Afghanistan with two runways, multiple hangars, 100 parking bays for planes, a 50-bed hospital, and housing for 100,000. It has a defensible perimeter with fences, blast walls, and gun towers. There are no elevated positions nearby allowing enemies to shoot down into the base, nor urban areas to shelter guerilla attackers. One runway at Bagram could have handled incoming and outgoing flights, while the second launched helicopters for search and rescue missions of stranded Americans. Instead Biden chose Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul with its single runway, it has none of the attributes mentioned above.

Because of Biden’s withdrawal, 16,000 US military vets who worked as private contractors, were pulled out of the country. They had provided vital maintenance to aircraft of the Afghan Air Force; suddenly there was no one to keep Afghan planes and helicopters running. With Bagram Air Base closed and maintenance crews evacuated, Biden effectively grounded the Afghan Air Force. The Afghan National Army was also crippled by this; it had been trained by the US to rely on air intelligence and support during combat missions. When troops are pinned down with heavy fire or outnumbered by enemies, air-strikes are called in. But what happens when there are no planes?

On July 8, 2021, President Biden told the press: “The Taliban is not the North Vietnamese Army, they’re not… they’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There’s going to be no circumstance for you to see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable.” He went on to say: “The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.” When a reporter asked, “Is a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan now inevitable?” Biden replied, “No, it is not.”

Late 2020 in Herat Province Afghanistan, a girl accused of “immoral relations” for talking to a man on the phone, receives 40 lashes from the Taliban.

Late 2020 in Herat Province Afghanistan, a girl accused of “immoral relations” for talking to a man on the phone, receives 40 lashes from the Taliban.

The Taliban are certainly not the former North Vietnamese Army, they are Sunni fanatics who fight to impose sharia law on humanity.

Their base is the majority ethnic population of Afghanistan, the Pashtun. In the Pashto language Talib means “student” (plural, “Taliban”), one who studies Islamic fundamentalism in a Sunni religious school (madrassah). When they first ruled from 1996 to 2001, they banned western dress, music, art, and rights for women as “un-Islamic.” Violators of sharia law were shot, beheaded, or stoned to death in brutal public executions.

When overthrown in 2001, their cruelty continued in provinces they controlled. Now they are back in power, and there is no reason to believe they will be any less barbaric. No matter how we arrived at this cursed terminus, it is sobering to consider the victory of the Taliban; they won their war to establish a Sunni theocratic state. Like the Khmer Rouge of a ghost Cambodia, they want to go back, and the Talibs will go back to when there was nothing but Islam.

I never supported the US occupation of Afghanistan, or the idea of transforming the country through “nation building.” I opposed the war and occupation as administered by Republican and Democrat presidents. In point of fact I favored withdrawing US combat troops from Afghanistan in late 2001, when they smashed the al-Qaeda network with ground operations and a massive aerial bombing campaign. Once US soldiers denied bases to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorists by overthrowing the Taliban, it was time to get out of Dodge.

On Aug. 31, 2021, an anonymous source leaked an audio recording and transcript to Reuters. The materials documented a July 23, 2021 phone call Biden made to Ashraf Ghani, then president of Afghanistan. During the 14-minute call, Biden made clear that he knew catastrophe was unfolding, he told Ghani: “I need not tell you the perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things are not going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban. And there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.”

Ghani responded with: “We are facing a full-scale invasion, composed of Taliban, full Pakistani planning and logistical support, and at least 10-15,000 international terrorists, predominantly Pakistanis thrown into this.” Knowing he had leverage, Biden retorted: “You clearly have the best military, you have 300,000 well-armed forces versus 70-80,000 and they’re clearly capable of fighting well, we will continue to provide close air support, if we know what the plan is and what we are doing.”

Biden was well aware the Taliban could win, and lied when he told the American people the Taliban taking the “whole country is highly unlikely.” Biden wanted Ghani to lie as well, pressuring him to do so with the threat of withholding US air support. Can you say “Quid pro quo”? Democrats tried to impeach President Trump, accusing him of withholding military aid to Ukraine in the hope of forcing Ukraine President Zelensky to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden. According to that logic, when Biden threatened to stop military aid to Afghan allies because he wanted them to “project a different picture,” that was cause for impeachment.

“Bagram Prison, Afghanistan.” Oil on linen. Mark Vallen. 2009.

“Bagram Prison, Afghanistan.” Oil on linen. Mark Vallen. 2009.

On August 15, 2021 the Taliban seized Bagram Air Base and Bagram Prison, where al-Qaeda, Taliban, and Islamic State Khorason (IS-K) terrorists were held. All 5,000 were released. That same day the Taliban seized Pul-d-Charkhi prison in Kabul, all of its 5,000 al-Qaeda, Taliban, and IS-K prisoners were released. On Aug. 27, 2021, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby confirmed thousands of IS-K prisoners were freed.

The Afghan affiliate of ISIS is named after the Khorasan province of Afghanistan were IS-K has operated since its 2015 founding. (The acronym for the group also appears as ISIS-K and ISKP). Why did Biden not transfer dangerous terrorist leaders in Bagram and Pul-d-Charkhi prisons to detention facilities outside of Afghanistan before initiating his withdrawal?

President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on August 15, 2021, and the Afghan government fell. Thousands of Taliban gunmen swept into Kabul. Government soldiers threw down their arms and surrendered. Heavily armed Taliban fighters escorted their leaders into the presidential palace, and the white and black flag of the Taliban was once again hoisted above the presidential palace.

The Washington Post published a startling fact in their story on Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban. When Ghani fled and the government collapsed, a meeting was arranged between US General Kenneth McKenzie—head of Central Command, and Abdul Ghani Baradar, co-founder of the Taliban. At the parley in Qatar the Taliban leader told McKenzie: “We have a problem. We have two options to deal with it: you, the United States military, take responsibility for securing Kabul or you have to allow us to do it.” The Taliban were offering the US the option of controlling the capital city. Knowing Biden wanted withdrawal, a deal was struck, the US could have the airport until Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline, and the Taliban would take everything else. McKenzie deliberately turned Kabul over to the Taliban.

Taliban gunman holding AK-47 rifle (left), holds Afghanis captive. They stand by wall art promoting UN “Sustainable Development Goals.” Points four and five are “Quality Education” and “Gender Equality.” Photographer unknown.

Taliban gunman holding AK-47 rifle (left), holds Afghanis captive. They stand by wall art promoting UN “Sustainable Development Goals.” Points four and five are “Quality Education” and “Gender Equality.” Photographer unknown.

It is horrifying to realize the magnitude of that agreement. The pact gave the Taliban, with their history of suicide bombing attacks against innocent civilians, total control of security outside the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport. The Taliban appointed Khalil Haqqani as “security chief” of Kabul. Khalil is a leader of the Haqqani Network, which President Obama officially designated a terrorist group in 2012, placing it on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list of the US State Department. It was all leading to a cataclysmic bloodbath.

Also on August 15, 2021, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich: “American citizens will not be given priority evacuation over Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants. Once we get more airlift out of Kabul, we’re going to put as many people on those planes as we can. There will be a mix, not just American citizens, but perhaps some Afghan SIV applicants as well. We’re going to focus on getting people out of the country, then sorting it out at the next stop. It’s not going to be just Americans first, then SIV applicants.” Again, I almost fell out of my chair when I read those words.

On August 16, 2021, as the Taliban overwhelmed Kabul, Biden said: “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.” Biden insulted the 69,000 Afghan soldiers who died fighting the Taliban since 2001, his shameful remark aggrieved the family members of the slain Afghan troops. No one would dare say anything as loathsome about the 58,220 US soldiers who perished in the Vietnam war—but Biden’s slander of Afghan allies who gave their lives for a semblance of liberty, well… his remarks about them did not go unnoticed by others who have considered America a friend. People of Ukraine and Taiwan, you are next in line.

As the Afghan government crumbled, US helicopters airlifted hundreds of US Embassy personnel to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport. Desperate to escape, thousands of Afghanis and much smaller numbers of Americans and other foreign nationals, gathered outside the airport’s entry gates. The Taliban were there as well, making it nearly impossible to enter the installation. They pushed frantic crowds back with whips and sharp sticks, using gunfire for crowd control. Remember, the Biden administration tasked the Taliban with “securing” Kabul. Frenzied mothers passed their babies over barbed wire barriers to US Marines… praying the toddlers would be airlifted. Hundred climbed airport walls to storm the tarmac and try to get on a plane. This was the “safe, deliberate and responsible” withdrawal Biden promised.

"A heartrending video destined to be part of Biden’s legacy."

"A heartrending video destined to be part of Biden’s legacy."

In a heartrending video destined to be part of Biden’s legacy, hundreds of Afghans are seen running alongside a US Air Force C-17 cargo plane on Aug. 16, 2021. A handful of young men climbed onto the wheel well containing the plane’s landing gear; they clung to the plane as it taxied down the tarmac gaining speed.

Once the plane took off and was hundreds of feet in the air, the men lost their grip and fell to their death. Horrified people on the airstrip filmed the shocking spectacle with their cell phones; the appalling sight is a visual summation of the withdrawal. Two days later Pentagon spokesman John Kirby confirmed there were “at least several fatalities.”

The pilots could not fully retract the C-17’s landing gear, so they made an emergency landing in a nearby country. They found that an Afghan man wanting to fly out of the country, had attempted to stow away by climbing up the plane’s landing gear.

When the plane was airborne, the landing gear retracted and crushed the poor soul. From inside the plane, someone on the flight crew filmed the maimed body stuck in the gears, the broken limbs violently flapping in the jet engine blast.

Biden’s blundering withdrawal left behind $85 billion in US weaponry. As the Taliban seized depots, warehouses, and hangars formally under control of the Afghan army, they found huge amounts of weaponry, ammunition, and spare parts. Current video shows the Taliban mostly ditching their old Soviet made AK-47s for new American made M4 carbines equipped with Advanced Combat Optical Gun sights (ACOG). The Taliban now wear Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniforms, Modular Tactical Vests, and Advanced Combat Helmets. After Biden’s withdrawal the Taliban formed the “Victorious Force” unit to patrol Hamid Karzai International Airport; the unit is completely equipped with top-of-the-line US gear, including Humvees armed with M2 .50 Caliber Machine Guns.

Taliban soldiers in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 2021. Fully equipped with American gear, and riding one of the 42,000 pick-up trucks and SUVs left behind courtesy of Joe Biden. Twitter photo: @AsaadHannaa

Taliban soldiers in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 2021. Fully equipped with American gear, and riding one of the 42,000 pick-up trucks and SUVs left behind courtesy of Joe Biden. Twitter photo: @AsaadHannaa

With billions of dollars worth of small arms courtesy of Biden, the Taliban are now the most well equipped terrorist army the world has ever seen. Here is just a tiny fraction of the Taliban’s small arms inventory.

More than 600,000 automatic rifles—various platforms M16A2, M4 carbine, M249 SAW, M24 Sniper Weapon System, over 20 million rounds of 7.62mm, 9 million .50 caliber rounds, 1,394 M203 Grenade launchers with 61,000 40mm rounds. That’s just the small stuff.

The Taliban now have around 208 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, including Super Tucano light attack aircraft, and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. For Pete’s sake they even have four C-130 Hercules cargo planes.

On Aug. 31, 2021 the Taliban flew a Black Hawk over Kandahar—birthplace of the Taliban. They also flew one at Kandahar’s Sept. 1, 2021 Victory Parade. Dozens of MaxxPro MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles were in the parade, along with heavy US military trucks carrying M119 howitzers.

With all that, the Afghan 6th Century warlords have been transmogrified into futuristic jihadists armed with computerized weaponry. The Taliban now have PSQ-20 Enhanced Night Vision Goggles, 16,035 of them—allowing them to fight at night.

They have dozens of Boeing ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), used for surveillance and tracking enemy positions. Another waking nightmare is the Talibs seizing over 100 FGM-48 JAVELIN missile systems. The JAVELIN is a “manportable” anti-armor weapon designed to “kill” tanks, however, it can also destroy fortifications.

Just as worrisome, the Taliban seized Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment (HIIDE). Those devices hold identifying biometric data like iris scans, fingerprints, and biographical info on millions of Afghanis. HIIDE devices can plug into Afghan governmental databases, which of course will reveal to the Taliban who worked for the Afghan government, army or police. There are reports the Taliban have already armed a special unit with HIIDE; their mission is to use biometric data in the hunt for Afghans who helped US and allied forces.

If the Taliban cannot operate or maintain their newly acquired weaponry, friends in China, Russia, and Pakistan can assist. China uses its own biometric devices to control their Uighur population. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of Pakistan has a close relationship with the Taliban, and they have the know-how to run HIIDE devices. There are already reports of US military armored vehicles being transported to the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is easy to imagine the Taliban selling or supplying military equipment and supplies to terrorists everywhere.

Afghan folk singer Fawad Andrabi, 2021.

Afghan folk singer Fawad Andrabi, 2021.

As US forces in Kabul prepared for withdrawal, the Taliban murdered an elder folk singer in the remote Andarab District of Baghlan Provice.

I was interested in “world music” as a pre-teen and developed a taste for ethnic folk music, so I was familiar with the instrument the slain folk singer played. His name was Fawad Andrabi, and he took his name from the land he loved. He played the Ghaychak, the traditional and ancient bowed lute common to Afghanistan, but with origins in ancient Persia.

Fawad would spread out a blanket in a beautiful gorge to entertain friends and strangers with his renditions of traditional songs. On Aug. 28, 2021 the Taliban visited Fawad at his home, his son said they drank tea with him. Afterwards they dragged him from his house and shot him in the head because the Taliban believe music is sinful and un-Islamic. It goes without saying that the killing of the gentle folk singer is the fate of art and culture under the medievalist Taliban. Fawad’s story was not news in America, I mention it here, both to honor his spirit, and curse the devils who took his life.

Consider the music of a very different performer and composer, Ustad Zahir Bakhtari. Though entirely unknown in the West, Bakhtari is a consummate professional musician and singer. He plays evocative classical Afghan music on sitar, but is also superb within the Afghan pop music millieu, as evidenced by his recent song Hawa Jam Ast. How will Bakhtari—and the many musicians like him, survive a regime that considers music “un-Islamic”?

Tweet. Nov. 24, 2020.

Tweet. Nov. 24, 2020.

Remember when Joe Biden said “We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again,” and “It’s overwhelmingly in the interest of the United States of America to have a great relationship with NATO and with the EU. I have a very different view than my predecessor did.” Look at how that worked out.

After the fall of Kabul, the conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, tried to reach Biden by phone to coordinate a response. His calls were not returned; it took Biden a full 36 hours to respond to Johnson. On Aug. 18, 2021, the British Parliament held an emergency debate on Afghanistan. That received scant attention in US media, but the debate illustrated how badly Biden had ruptured the “special relationship” between the US and the UK.

From across the political divide, Members of Parliament excoriated Biden for his “shameful” and “catastrophic” withdrawal. British MP Tom Tugendhat of the Conservative Party, served in Afghanistan. He delivered a compelling speech that brought an emotional quiet to the House of Commons as MPs contemplated its truths. MP Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrat party, said: “The American decision to withdraw was not just a mistake, it was an avoidable mistake.” MP Khalid Mahmood of the democratic socialist Labour Party said: “The Biden government have just come in and, without looking at what is happening on the ground, have taken a unilateral decision, throwing us and everybody else to the fire.” Ultimately, the debate ended with MPs speaking contemptuously of Joe Biden’s handling of Afghanistan.

Think about that for a moment. British Parliamentarians losing all respect for an American president because of a massive foreign policy catastrophe. Here is something else to contemplate… ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and CNN did not even cover the story.

Tweet. March 6, 2020.

Tweet. March 6, 2020.

US allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), also criticized Biden. Armin Laschet of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU-CSU) coalition party, said of Biden’s withdrawal:

“It is the biggest debacle that NATO has suffered since its founding, and we’re standing before an epochal change.” Laschet will likely replace Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also had harsh words for Biden, Merkel said: “This is an extremely bitter development. Bitter, dramatic and terrifying. It is a terrible development for the millions of Afghans who want a more liberal society.

I am thinking of the pain of families of soldiers who lost their lives fighting there. Now everything seems so hopeless.” Merkel went on to say the withdrawal was carried out for “domestic political reasons. Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticized Biden’s withdrawal: “The images of desperation at Kabul airport are shameful for the political West. We are experiencing a human tragedy for which we share responsibility.”

French President Emmanuel Macron had a telephone conversation with Joe Biden where he emphasized “our collective moral responsibility toward the Afghan men and women who need our protection and who share our values. We cannot abandon them.” In the Biden White House readout of the call, the words “our collective moral responsibility” and “we cannot abandon them” were left out.

I fully expected jihadis would mount an attack on retreating US forces.

On Aug. 26, 2021 that moment of dread was realized; terrorists struck the “Abbey Gate” of Hamid Karzai International Airport with a suicide bomb attack. Close to the gate a huge crowd of Afghan men, women, and children hoping to be evacuated, stood near or in, a deep concrete ditch filled with sewage water. As they waved travel papers and pleaded for entry, US soldiers plucked a lucky few from the morass. Wearing an explosive vest the terrorist waded into the crowd and detonated his bomb. The explosion ripped through the mass of people. Heaps of mutilated, limbless bodies covered the sidewalk and filled the ditch, its waters turned blood red.

Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole Gee, 23. The service member from Sacramento, California was one of 13 US soldiers killed in a terrorist suicide bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 26, 2021. Photographer unknown.

Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole Gee, 23. The service member from Sacramento, California was one of 13 US soldiers killed in a terrorist suicide bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 26, 2021. Photographer unknown.

The blast took the lives of 13 American soldiers guarding the airport, 11 Marines, a Navy corpsman, and an Army Staff Sgt. 18 US soldiers were wounded. 170 Afghanis were killed in the massacre, with 150 wounded.

Islamic State Khorason (IS-K) took credit for the bombing. Did the Taliban allow the terrorists to pass through their “security” check points to carry out the attack?

Two weeks before the bombing CNN’s Clarissa Ward interviewed an IS-K leader in Kabul. He said IS-K fighters had no problem entering the capital or passing through Taliban checkpoints. Ward fled Afghanistan on Aug. 20 due to Taliban threats on her life.

Unbelievably, just hours after IS-K carried out their suicide bomb massacre at the airport, US General McKenzie said during a press conference that the US will continue to rely on the “Taliban as a tool to protect us as much as possible.”

In the airport bombing aftermath, Biden said on Aug. 27, 2021: “There is no evidence thus far that I’ve been given as a consequence by any of the commanders in the field that there has been collusion between the Taliban and ISIS in carrying out what happened today.” Those are nothing but weasel words. The extremist Haqqani Network is considered to be the deadliest Islamist terror group in Afghanistan. Infamous for conducting suicide bomb attacks and their affiliation with al-Qaeda, they pledged allegiance to the Taliban in 1995. Leaders of the Haqqani Network and the Taliban have said they are one and the same organizationally.

More to the point, a May 2020 UN Security Council report stated that Islamic State Khorason “operations resulting in civilian casualties allow Taliban deniability whereas ISIS-K is willing to claim responsibility to demonstrate capability and relevance.” The report said “relevance” to IS-K meant proving they are “the only defiant terror group in an effort to gain recruitment from potentially dissident Taliban or Al-Qaida members who oppose any agreement with the United States.” The United Nations report also dropped this bombshell:

“Most attacks claimed by ISIS-K demonstrated some degree of ‘involvement, facilitation, or the provision of technical assistance’ by the Haqqani Network. Furthermore, member states have stated that ISIS-K ‘lacked the capability to launch complex attacks in Kabul on its own’ while taking responsibility for operations that had, in all likelihood, been carried out by the Haqqani Network.”

The bodies of 13 US service members killed in terrorist suicide bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport, return home on Aug. 28, 2021.

The bodies of 13 US service members killed in terrorist suicide bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport, return home on Aug. 28, 2021.

Americans were already numb with shock over the news of 13 US soldiers massacred by an Islamic State suicide bomber, when Biden gave them more unwelcome news.

On Aug. 30, 2021 a press briefing was held with John Kirby, Pentagon Press Secretary, and General McKenzie, head of US Central Command.

A reporter asked McKenzie: “Do you have a message to Americans and allies that were left behind?” McKenzie responded with: “We think the citizens that were not brought out, number in the low, very low hundreds.”

… American citizens left behind in Afghanistan by the Biden administration… only numbered in… the low… very low… hundreds. Nothing to be upset about, just US nationals left to the tender mercies of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Haqqani Network, and Islamic State Khorason, but only in the low… very low… hundreds.

As an American, perhaps the most shocking thing about Biden’s disorderly withdrawal was that he deliberately left hundreds of Americans in Afghanistan—he abandoned them to a fate dealt by terrorists. In an Aug. 18, 2021 interview with ABC News George Stephanopoulos, Biden said US troops would stay beyond the Aug. 31 deadline if necessary to get Americans out. He said: “If there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay to get them out.” Liar.

On Aug. 31, 2021, after the final American C-17 transport plane flew out of Hamid Karzai International Airport the day before with the last US soldiers on board, Biden spoke from the State Dining Room of the White House. He praised his withdrawal as an “extraordinary success,” saying it was “the largest airlift in US history, evacuating over 120,000 US citizens, citizens of our allies, and Afghan allies of the United States.” But he did not evacuate 120,000 Americans, he pulled out 5,400 US citizens and left 100s behind. As for the Afghan allies that fought by our side, untold thousands were left to the Taliban.

Biden continued: “To those asking for a third decade of war in Afghanistan I ask, ‘What is the vital national interest?’ I simply do not believe that the safety and security of America is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and spending billions of dollars in Afghanistan.”

Families of US soldiers killed in Kabul terror bombing, criticized Biden for checking his watch at Dover Air Base, while receiving remains of deceased. This anonymous meme captured the moment with a mock TIME magazine cover.

Families of US soldiers killed in Kabul terror bombing, criticized Biden for checking his watch at Dover Air Base, while receiving remains of deceased. This anonymous meme captured the moment with a mock TIME magazine cover.

What is the vital national interest? Remember that Green New Deal everyone is squawking about?

Lithium is a vital ingredient in making batteries for electric cars and buses—it’s also key in manufacturing batteries for laptops and cellphones.

A team of Pentagon officials and US geologists in 2010 discovered Afghanistan has the largest deposits of lithium in the world; the Pentagon referred to Afghanistan as the “Saudi Arabia of lithium.” Afghanistan also has huge deposits of rare earth elements, used as essential components in all types of high-tech products.

By 2018 Communist China produced 80% of the world’s rare earth elements. To be blunt, Biden just handed the Saudi Arabia of lithium over to Communist China. On Sept. 2, 2021, Taliban spokesman Zabihulla Mujahid, praised China as its closest ally; saying “China is our principal partner and for us represents a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity because it’s ready to invest in and reconstruct our country. China represents our passport towards the markets of the whole world.”

Now, what is the vital national interest?

The cruelest joke of all is contained in Biden’s “extraordinary success” speech, his taking credit for ending America’s “forever war.” I hate to say this but, the war did not end, it simply opened a new chapter. What is the vital national interest? Let me put it this way, now that Biden pulled out of Afghanistan, why not withdraw the 28,000 US soldiers deployed in South Korea? After all, they have been in that “forever war” for 70 years. I am certain North Korea’s “Dear Respected Leader” Kim Jong Un and his overlords in Communist China would never ever invade the south. I have come to view Biden’s Afghan withdrawal as no less preposterous.

At a Sept. 7, 2021 press conference in Kabul, the unelected Taliban ruling clique was announced—a formal celebration of the junta has been scheduled for a future date. Here are a few names from the terrorist pecking order of the so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund will be Afghanistan’s acting “Prime Minister.” He is on an active UN sanctions list from Jan. 25, 2001 “regarding acts and activities of the Taliban authorities.” Akhund was previously “Foreign Minister” in the original Taliban 1996 regime overthrown by the US in 2001.

Taliban terrorists on the streets of Kabul, completely outfitted in US gear. Aug. 29, 2021.

Taliban terrorists on the streets of Kabul, completely outfitted in US gear. Aug. 29, 2021.

Sirajuddin Haqqani will head the Ministry of Interior, responsible for policing and national security. Sirajuddin is a member of the terrorist Haqqani Network, a group placed on the US State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization list. He is wanted by the FBI for a 2008 armed attack on a Kabul hotel that killed six people, including an American. He is also wanted for plotting to assassinate former Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2008. The FBI are offering a $10 million reward for information leading to Sirajuddin’s arrest. The FBI describe him as “armed and dangerous.”

Pssst, hey FBI guys, he’s in the Ministry of Interior building, Airport Road, opposite Aria City, Kabul. Can I get my reward now?

At the press conference the Taliban’s “Supreme Leader” and “Commander of the Faithful,” Mullah Hebatullah Akhundzadeh, told the world: “I assure all citizens that the rulers will do everything in their power to uphold Islamic law in the country.” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen stressed the Taliban government will not recognize nor establish relations with Israel, which will no doubt thrill the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) crowd, along with a certain “squad” of US Congressional Reps.

There are 5 members of the new Talib regime that you should know about. They were in the first Taliban reign of terror of 1996 to 2001. When the US toppled the Taliban, the 5 were captured and charged with a variety of offenses; two were wanted for the mass murder of Shiite Muslims. The 5 were sent to Guantanamo Bay detention camp (Gitmo), where they became known as the Gitmo 5 or Taliban 5. On May 31, 2014, Pres. Barack Obama had them traded for US deserter Bowe Bergdahl, who abandoned his post and surrendered to the Taliban in 2009. The Haqqani network held Bergdahl prisoner. The US had stipulations for the release; the 5 had to stay in Qatar and not engage in the politics of Afghanistan. Imagine Obama’s surprise when the 5 broke their promise!

The 5 took part in the 2021 insurgency, and were given appointments in the new Taliban “government.” Their names and positions follow: Mullah Norullah Nori (Border and Tribal Affairs Minister), Abdul Haq Wasiq (Intelligence Director), Mulla Mohammad Fazl (Deputy Defense Minister), Khair Ulla Said Wali Khairkhwa (Information and Culture Minister), and Mohammad Nabi Omari. While not given a post in the central government, Omari was appointed governor of Khost Province.

On Sept 10, 2021, Taliban spokesman Sayed Zekrullah Hashimi, told the press: “A woman can’t be a minister, it is like you put something on her neck that she can’t carry. It is not necessary for women to be in the cabinet, they should give birth.” It is so nice that Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken, called the Taliban “cooperative, flexible, and businesslike.

Sept. 11, 2021 is the 20th anniversary of 19 al-Qaeda terrorists hijacking four commercial airliners, and flying them with passengers and crew into American targets. Two planes hit the Twin Towers in New York City, one struck the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C. The 3 terrorists on Flight 93 intended to crash into the United States Capital, but some passengers had another idea, they would fight the hijackers.

Todd Beamer gave the signal—“Let’s roll,” and the heroes jumped the knife wielding al-Qaeda fiends, preventing Flight 93 from hitting the Capital. It crashed into a Pennsylvania field instead.

“Fail.” Credit: POTUS 2021.

“Fail.” Credit: POTUS 2021.

The 20th anniversary observance will be more somber than those of previous years. We fought the Taliban and al-Qaeda for twenty-years, we poured $2 Trillion into the war, more than 2,300 US soldiers were killed. The people of Afghanistan suffered greatly, 64,100 of their soldiers died at our side fighting the Taliban and 111,000 Afghan civilians perished in the warfare.

This year’s commemoration will be more than tragic because the reprehensible Taliban are back in power and sitting on a mountain of sophisticated US arms. The wretched al-Qaeda, rapidly growing in Afghanistan, will celebrate America’s Sept. 11 losses past and present, and plot new attacks against us. And Joe Biden, the president who greatly weakened and humiliated America on the world stage, will continue to shamble on, mumbling as he manages America’s decline.

_______________________________________

APPENDIX:

October 21, 2021: The Biden White House admits it is “in touch with” 363 American citizens left behind in Afghanistan, and that 176 want to leave the country. However, in August Biden said “only 100 Americans” were left behind and wanted to leave. Nevertheless, Biden did not rescue them, volunteer private flights were organized by US citizens and Vets to rescue 100s of Americans, and those efforts were blocked by the Biden State Department.

BOMBSHELL: Sept. 28, 2021: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, and head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Frank McKenzie, testified before the US Senate Armed Services Committee. All three stated they advised Biden to keep 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan, saying the rapid and complete withdrawal of US forces would lead to the collapse of the Afghan military. Biden disregarded his general’s recommendations, but lied to the American people by saying no top military leader had advised him about leaving a small US troop presence in Afghanistan.

In an Aug. 18, 2021 interview with Biden, ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos said, “your top military advisors warned against withdrawing on this timeline, they wanted you to keep about 2,500 troops.” Biden replied, “No, they didn’t, That wasn’t true.” Biden want on to say, “No one said that to me that I can recall.”

Sept. 17, 2021: The BBC reports the Taliban shut down the Women’s Affairs Ministry, and replaced it with the “Ministry of Vice and Virture,” which will enforce strict religious doctrine.

Sept. 17, 2021: The BBC reports the US Department of Defense admits killing an innocent man working with a US aid group in Afghanistan. US forces carried out a drone strike on Aug. 29, 2021, thinking the aid worker was an ISIS-K suicide bomber readying an attack on Kabul airport. After the strike the Pentagon claimed to have killed 2 “high-profile” terrorists. Instead, they killed aid worker Zemari Ahmadi and 9 members of his family, 7 were children. General McKenzie stated: “It was a mistake and I offer my sincere apologies.”

Year Zero: Converting from VICE to Virtue

VICE

Just another corporate media platform.

On April 9, 2021, VICE, the digital media and broadcasting company that touts itself as “the definitive guide to enlightening information,” published a ghastly interview with Matt Loughrey, a successful 42-year-old Irish photo restorer who developed a lucrative career colorizing historic photos. The article was titled, These People Were Arrested by the Khmer Rouge and Never Seen Again. It was subtitled, These portraits, recently colorized, humanize that tragedy. But that was all a lie. VICE and Loughrey’s efforts only “humanized” barbarism. In June of 2021 I stumbled upon this report quite by accident. Perhaps this essay can bring the story to a wider audience.

The VICE interview presented Loughrey’s colorized and digitally altered photos of prisoners held by the genocidal communist regime of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge (Red Khmers), the radical Maoists who seized power and tormented the country from 1975 to 1979. Some two million Cambodians perished under the harsh rule of the Khmer Rouge; they died of preventable disease, starvation, torture, and a campaign of mass execution. As an artist, I have always felt unease concerning the colorization of historic black and white photos. That is because I also have a great interest in, and respect for history; attempts at rewriting history raises my ire. But what VICE and Loughrey did was outside the bounds of good judgement and decency.

Cell block at Security Prison 21, circa 1979. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Cell block at Security Prison 21, circa 1979. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Loughrey based his altered colorized portraits on actual black and white prison induction photos the communists took of their captives before locking them up in Security Prison 21. Also known as S-21, the prison was located in Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh.

Inside the prison starvation, interrogation, torture, and execution was the daily regimen. It held 20,000 prisoners, but only 7 left the building alive in 1979. There were 150 such camps across Cambodia, though Security Prison 21 was certainly the largest.

S-21 was not a mass execution center per se. When masses of detainees were marked for liquidation, they were trucked to Choeung Ek, a large “killing field” outside of Phnom Penh. Still, hundreds of innocent victims were dumped into unmarked graves on the grounds of S-21.

When the Khmer Rouge government was driven from power in 1979 by an invasion of the army of Vietnam, the S-21 death camp was transformed into the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It continues to maintain an extensive archival collection documenting the genocide conducted by the Khmer Rouge. Part of that collection includes the S-21 prisoner photographs and the forced confessions detainees made under torture.

In his VICE interview Loughrey made the dubious claim that he colorized three S-21 photos for “a person in Cambodia” that had contacted him with the request; Loughrey offered no verification of such an appeal. VICE indicated that once Loughrey saw the size of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum photo archives, he decided to download and colorize even more images from the online source. In the interview he was quoted as saying: “The more I looked into it and the more images I saw, I thought, well, this has to be done.” VICE did not report he did so without permission from the museum. It is unknown how many images he filched.

Making things worse, and this is key, Loughrey went far beyond colorizing the photos, he changed the entire facial expressions of the prisoners by digitally painting smiles on their faces! The corners of their mouths curved upwards showing smile lines, their eyes were brightened, their cheeks were glowing. From their faux beaming smiles the prisoners looked as if they were attending a festive occasion rather than being shoved into a death camp. While VICE published Loughrey’ altered smiling photos, they did not publish the original photographs.

Unidentified men in Security Prison 21 are bound with rope and shackled together. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Unidentified men in Security Prison 21 are bound with rope and shackled together. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Without institutional backing, Loughrey colorized photos he lifted from the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum website. That alone was a violation of the museum’s terms and conditions, which states its historic images must never be altered or modified. But painting smiles on the faces of innocent people who were tortured before they were executed… that is hard to fathom.

One reason for Loughrey’s chilly indifference as an “artist” is that, consciously or not, he is part of the postmodern art world, where spectacle and shock carry more weight than substance, and truth is just a social construct. His insensitivity reflects postmodern art stars like Jake and Dinos Chapman, who once clothed ghoulish Nazi mannequins in SS uniforms, replacing their swastika armbands with smiley faces, and exhibited the entire mess at the White Cube gallery in London. Loughrey’s act of painting smiles on the faces of Khmer Rouge victims was pure Chapman brothers—though liberal art institutions will likely receive Loughrey less favorably than they did the “brilliant” Jake and Dinos.

Loughrey’s postmodernist ethics are evident in his obsession with “restoring” historic black and white photographs by way of colorization. He has made a career out of “re-imagining” the past. As a visual artist who has intentionally created many artworks in glorious black and white, I would hate to see a technician in the future colorize my works. Likewise, when I view a photo of Paris taken by Louis Daguerre in 1830, I want to see the world as he and his colleagues saw it. I do not want his vision to be “restored” or “re-imagined.” Colorizing Daguerre’s unique photos would be a crime against art and history.

Imagine the outrage if someone painted smiley faces on the photos of those who died in Nazi extermination camps like Auschwitz. In point of fact, Loughrey did something very close to that, provoking an angry response from the Auschwitz Museum (you will find the details if you continue reading). Most importantly, Loughrey and VICE committed an affront against the dignity of all Cambodian people, an abusive blow equal to a racist attack. The oh so progressive VICE did this, and it should never be forgotten.

Unidentified female prisoner in Security Prison 21. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Unidentified female prisoner in Security Prison 21. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

The unaltered, black and white prisoner photos from S-21 are haunting. Looking through those photos archived online by the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, one young woman caught my eye. She is unidentified. Museum records state only that she was held in cell number 16 (indicated by the tags on her blouse), and that she was prisoner 3,753 (hand written on the photo by a Khmer Rouge guard). Aside from the fact that she died, everything else about her is a mystery.

It is difficult to interpret her expression; to me the young women looks as if she had seen too much evil and it no longer fazed her. That, or it was the demeanor of a woman who knew she was doomed. Before I discovered that Matt Loughrey had transformed Prisoner 3,753 into a gussied-up glamour doll, I chose to use the original unaltered photo to illustrate my essay. The altered photo reminds me of a lyric from a 1981 song by UK punk band, Crass: “Like a glamour billboard in a battlefield. At least the bloody-red poppy was of nature’s will.” Out of respect for the deceased, I will not post that altered colorized abomination to my article.

After VICE published Loughrey’s photos on April 9, 2021, Cambodian nationals and those in diaspora began to inveigh against the cruel racist provocation. April 10, 2021, the National Cambodian Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial in Chicago, Illinois, issued a statement that read in part: “We do not endorse those that seek to profit and benefit from the violent and lived traumas of our past and current history. Minimizing the pain and trauma of our community from those who are not connected to the experience is not only revising and erasing history, it’s a violent act.”

On April 11, 2021, Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts (MCFA) located in Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, issued a statement that read in part: “MCFA does not accept this kind of manipulation, and considers this work of Matt Loughrey to seriously affect the dignity of the victims, the reality of Cambodia’s history, and in violation of the rights of the Museum as the lawful owners and custodians of these photographs.”

April 11, 2021 statement from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Kingdom of Cambodia.

April 11, 2021 statement from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Kingdom of Cambodia.

On April 16, 2021, the Auschwitz Museum located on the grounds of the former Nazi concentration camp in Poland, tweeted a message of solidarity with the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. In that dispatch the Auschwitz Museum made known they had contacted Matt Loughrey and asked him to remove from his Instagram account, a color animation he created of Czesława Kwoka. He refused. Kwoka was a 14-year-old girl who died in Auschwitz on March 12, 1943. She was a Polish Catholic and one of the approximately 230,000 children the Nazis sent to the camp for extermination. Only around 650 children survived Auschwitz.

Tweets from the Auschwitz Museum and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, April, 2021.

Tweets from the Auschwitz Museum and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, April, 2021.

Not surprisingly, without permission Matt Loughrey made his animation of Kwoka with images owned by the Auschwitz Museum. He used an imaging technique he developed called X-Oculi, arrogantly describing it as “a combination of unrivaled artistry and cutting edge orbital motion-tracking.” After refusing the reasonable request of the Auschwitz Museum, the pretentious Loughrey no doubt received a tidal wave of negative criticism. On April 16, 2021, the offending animation was taken down from Instagram without comment or fanfare.

A petition demanding that Matt Loughrey apologize “for the theft, manipulation and appropriation of these photographs,” and that VICE apologize for “publication and support of Matt Loughrey’s work” was initiated by Dany Pen and 7 other Cambodians. Pen lost her family members at the S-21 death camp, she had biting words for VICE:

“I strongly implore VICE to take down these photos that are promoting white supremacy, cultural appropriation, cultural erasure, and victim dismissal. It promotes harm and brings on psychological and emotional violence towards my Cambodian community.”

It is troubling that our time has produced characters like Matt Loughrey, as well as sensationalist rags like VICE. Loughrey’s website touts his “ambitious photo colorization project” as “an option for museums and libraries to upgrade and re-imagine their own visitor experiences.” With no sense of irony his website bears a masthead reading “Bridging a gap between history & art.” He dared to write, “we find ourselves in an age of image obsolescence,” and that his digital skills are “a form of visual defense against this.” He spouted even more rubbish with, “collections are being rescued, detail and character that could never be seen in the original images is being uncovered.” All while the ne’er-do-well erased history and painted a happy face on genocide.

Loughrey’s website makes no mention of insulting and hurting the Cambodian people. He does however brag that “current and previous clients include: DELL, 21st Century Fox, National Parks Service, BBC, ABC Australia, The New York Post, The Guardian, The Times, National Geographic and more.” If they had any principles these supporting companies would wash their hands of Loughrey. He should delete his websites and slink away, hoping no one will recall his depravity.

On April 11, 2021, the “editorial leadership” of VICE issued a short and confused statement that they were taking down the Loughrey photos and interview. Saying the photos were “manipulated beyond colorization” and the “story did not meet the editorial standards of VICE,” they called publishing the materials an “error.” VICE did not have an editor informed enough to realize at first glance that the photos were drastically altered. If the interview and photos did not meet the lofty editorial standards of VICE why publish them in the first place? The genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge remains a historically earth shaking story, but the vacant millennials running the show at VICE have blank memories. The remarks from VICE “leadership” is an admission the company has absolutely failed as a legitimate news organization. On April 16, 2021, they released an updated statement that was closer to an apology—but still worthless. I have entirely lost my patience with poseurs who feign humanitarianism.

On April, 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge seized Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo, AP.

On April, 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge seized Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo, AP.

I was 21-years-old when the Khmer Rouge seized Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh on the morning of April 17, 1975. That same day they ordered the complete evacuation of Phnom Penh and other cities. By force of arms they marched everyone into the countryside to undertake the building of an agrarian utopia. In doing so they closed schools, factories, and hospitals; the sick and infirmed were forced to march, so too children and the elderly—thousands died along the way as food, water, and medical care were not provided. At the time, reports coming out of Phnom Penh were unsettling. When I saw the photo of a Khmer Rouge soldier pointing his 1911 pistol at shop owners, demanding they abandon their businesses and leave the city, I knew Cambodia was doomed. Because of the Vietnam war, I had been following politics in Southeast Asia since the mid-60s as an idealistic pre-Teen, so I knew of the Khmer Rouge. But they were about to give me, and the world, a lesson in medievalist savagery.

The leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, who was referred to as “Brother Number One,” declared the communist takeover to be “Year Zero,” the beginning of an era when all vestiges of the past would be destroyed. Straight away, all money, banking, private property, and religions were abolished. The liquidation of the regime’s enemies started. Anyone who represented the past—educated middle-class professionals, technicians, artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians, were all exterminated. Wearing eyeglasses or speaking a foreign language could identify a person as an intellectual to be executed. Everyone in Year Zero Cambodia was forced to wear Khmer black pajamas and the traditional red and white gingham Krama scarf. To do otherwise was dangerous.

The “Marxists” of the Khmer Rouge envisioned the country’s peasants building communism through collective labor and people’s communes. They applied Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward” and “Cultural Revolution” to their nation. In fact the Chinese Communist Party backed the Khmer Rouge, giving them political support and endless military supplies. But the Red Khmers also viewed the ancient 12th century Angkor Empire of Cambodia as an agrarian utopia to be replicated. They called their nation “Kampuchea,” using the Khmer pronunciation of Cambodia. They referred to their leaders as “The Angkar” (The Organization). And on Jan. 5, 1976, they presented the official red flag of “Democratic Kampuchea,” which incorporated a stylized Angkor Wat symbol in yellow. The Khmer Rouge were nothing if not ethnic and national supremacists.

The Khmer Rouge red flag of “Democratic Kampuchea,” incorporating a stylized Angkor Wat symbol in yellow.

The Khmer Rouge red flag of “Democratic Kampuchea,” incorporating a stylized Angkor Wat symbol in yellow.

Once taking power the intolerant Khmer Rouge began to annihilate 1000s of ethnic Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, and Cham people. Condemning religion as “detrimental,” the Khmer Rouge targeted Christians, Catholics, Muslims, and Buddhists for extermination.

In 1975 they destroyed the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Phnom Penh, taking it apart stone by stone until there was nothing left. It was one of 73 Catholic churches destroyed in Year Zero.

In 1975 there were 66,000 Buddhist monks and 4,000 Buddhist temples. Before the Khmer Rouge were driven from power, they murdered more than 25,000 monks and obliterated 1,968 temples.

Two reporters were working together in Phnom Penh when the Khmer Rouge surrounded the capital—Cambodian photojournalist and interpreter Dith Pran (1942-2008), and NYTimes reporter Sydney Schanberg (1934-2016). Schanberg was one of the last Western journalists to stay in the city. The two witnessed the communist army take the city. In his last dispatch Schanberg wrote: “Most of the soldiers are teenagers. They are universally grim, robot-like, brutal. Weapons drip from them like fruit from trees… grenades, pistols, rifles, rockets.”

The Khmer Rouge wasted no time in unleashing large scale looting and executions. The two reporters were captured by guerrillas Schanberg described as “maniacal.” The two were threatened with death, and only the pleas of Pran saved them from being executed in the street. They took refuge in the French embassy compound along with a throng of desperate foreigners. Being Cambodian Pran was dragged from the embassy by the Khmer Rouge and marched into the countryside; they expelled Schanberg and the other Westerners from the embassy and trucked them to Thailand. As Schanberg noted: “With this act, Cambodia was sealed. The world could not look in. The killing could begin.”

The perilous journey of Dith Pran had just begun. He ended up in a Khmer Rouge work camp as a slave laborer—all for the good of the new “Democratic Kampuchea.” His captors fed him a tablespoon of rice a day, he supplemented his ration with an occasional beetle or small lizard he would secretly catch. He experienced beatings, torture, starvation, and witnessed endless executions. Pran endured four years of this, and when Vietnam overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979 he broke out of the camp and escaped over the Thai border. His 60 mile flight to freedom had him slogging through muddy fields filled with decomposing human corpses. These were the execution grounds where the Khmer Rouge slaughtered over a million people. Pran dubbed them the “killing fields.”

Excavated grave pit at Security Prison 21, circa 1979. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Excavated grave pit at Security Prison 21, circa 1979. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Today the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center stands outside Phnom Penh, it is built on one of the largest Khmer Rouge killing fields. Once an orchard before it was turned into a death camp, there are 129 mass graves in Choeung Ek. Heavy rains still uncover human teeth, bone fragments, and bits of clothing. A Buddhist “stupa” monument commemorating the dead stands in the middle of the killing field. Its plexiglass walls are filled with more than 8,000 skulls found onsite. Many of the skulls show evidence of having been bashed. To save ammunition the Khmer Rouge made victims kneel at the edge of a large pit, then clubbed their heads with steel bars or agricultural hoes; victims fell into the mass grave.

A “killing tree” is also found at Choeung Ek. Whole families were murdered at the camp, including babies. Khmer Rouge guards held toddlers by the ankles, then swung their heads into the tree. The tiny smashed bodies were tossed into a nearby open pit. Despite the communist aim of totally eradicating Buddhist “leeches and worms,” today the tree is covered in Buddhist string bracelets left by visitors as spiritual gifts to the slain little ones.

In 1980 Sydney Schanberg published his book The Death and Life of Dith Pran. The book served as the basis for the 1984 movie The Killing Fields, which depicted the agonies of Cambodia as seen through the experiences of Dith Pran and Sydney Schanberg. The book and the film brought international attention to the tragedy that had befallen Cambodia. If VICE really wanted to “restore” the history of Cambodia and “humanize” the tragedy, they would have recited the tale of Dith Pran to an audience completely unfamiliar with his saga. Instead, VICE published the vulgarities of braggart Matt Loughrey.

Unidentified female prisoner in Security Prison 21. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Unidentified female prisoner in Security Prison 21. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Cambodians were not the only ones tortured and murdered at the S-21 death camp. In 1978 the Khmer Rouge “navy” captured two hapless young Americans who were sailing off the coast of Cambodia. Michael Deeds and Chris Delance were sent to S-21 where they were tortured for 40 days. The Khmer Rouge were sadistic torturers who employed a variety of techniques in their “interrogations.” They forced prisoners to eat human feces, ripped out fingernails, burned detainees with hot wires or cigarettes, used electric shock, pushed needles under fingernails, administered beatings with sticks or electric wire, used water-boarding and other methods of drowning detainees, and covered victims with centipedes and scorpions.

Michael Deeds and Chris Delance were tortured until they signed “confessions” that they were CIA agents. The commander of S-21 was Kaing Guek Eav, aka “Duch.” After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Duch testified at his trial that he was given orders by Pol Pot’s right hand man to “destroy all human beings from S-21” before the army of Vietnam arrived. That included Americans Deeds and Delance. They were bound, wrapped in gasoline soaked tires, and set on fire. They were gruesomely executed two days before Vietnamese soldiers liberated the camp. The Vietnamese discovered the prison by following the stench of the many burned bodies left to rot and decompose in the tropical heat. Perhaps Matt Loughrey will digitally paint the two Americans with happy smiling faces.

It is an irony that Cambodian artist Vann Nath (1946-2011) occupied the cell next to where Michael Deeds was locked up. The artist was one of 7 detainees who survived Security Prison 21. Prior to 1975 he made a living painting landscapes and film posters, but in 1977 he ran afoul of the Khmer Rouge and they put him in S-21. Every evening Vann Nath would watch guards pull Deeds from his cell, dragging him elsewhere for “interrogation.” The artist would see the guards return hours later to dump their tortured victim into his cell, where he would forlornly sing to himself. Today, the paintings of Vann Nath are permanently displayed at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Each a depiction of unspeakable brutality, each a condemnation of tyranny. VICE never did a story about Vann Nath, no, they chose to interview the no account Matt Loughrey.

A prisoner interrogated by the Khmer Rouge. Oil painting by Cambodian artist Vann Nath. The painting is in the Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum collection

A prisoner interrogated by the Khmer Rouge. Oil painting by Cambodian artist Vann Nath. The painting is in the Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum collection

In the end, the excesses of the Khmer Rouge sealed their fate. Their xenophobic hatred of ethnic Vietnamese—who settled in Cambodia long ago, caused the Khmer Rouge to massacre them by the thousands. By 1977 the Khmer Rouge were crossing into Vietnam with troops and artillery to attack Vietnamese towns and villages. The last straw came when a large force of heavily armed Khmer Rouge marched four miles into Vietnam and slaughtered over 3,000 Vietnamese civilians in the Ba Chúc massacre on April 18, 1978. On Dec. 25, 1978, Vietnam launched the invasion of “Democratic Kampuchea,” rapidly crushing the lion’s share of Khmer Rouge fighters and overthrowing the Pol Pot regime. On Jan. 7, 1979 Vietnam rolled into Phnom Penh, effectively putting an end to the genocide.

Remnant Khmer Rouge dead enders retreated to jungle enclaves near the Thai border and continued their fight (which of course was backed by Communist China). In 1998 a Khmer Rouge officer put the ailing Pol Pot under house arrest, but Brother Number One died that same year. In 2006 the Cambodian government and the UN established the “Khmer Rouge Tribunal,” where the remaining three Khmer Rouge leaders were tried and sentenced. In 2012 Duch was jailed for life for having run the S-21 death camp. In 2014 Nuon Chea (Brother Number Two) and Khieu Samphan (Khmer Rouge head of state) were sentenced to life for crimes against humanity for their roles in the Year Zero forced evacuations. In 2018 Chea and Samphan were found guilty of genocide for the mass extermination of Vietnamese Cambodians.

VICE supposedly captured the millennial focused market in 2015 with its “alternative” approach to news. Needless to say, I always perceived VICE as just another corporate media platform to be avoided. Now, with their self-inflicted Khmer Rouge wound destroying their carefully constructed “progressive” image, my viewpoint has been vindicated. As for VICE being “the definitive guide to enlightening information,” that pretense was destroyed in a Year Zero of their own making. It is long overdue that journalists convert from a life of vice, to a life of virtue. After all, dictionaries define “vice” as a “wicked, immoral, corrupt, and depraved” practice.

Unidentified male prisoner in Security Prison 21. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Unidentified male prisoner in Security Prison 21. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.