West Papua: Corporate Media Enlisted to Spread False Claims, Fake News
30-12-18 – As far as false flags go, this one was a whopper. In an “exclusive” posted in The Saturday Paper on December 22, John Martinkus and Mark Davis make the outlandish claim that the Indonesian military used white phosphorus munitions against West Papuan villagers in the region of Nduga. White phosphorus is an internationally banned chemical weapon, due to the immense damage it causes to humans in a battlefield. It ignites spontaneously in contact with oxygen, and burns human flesh incessantly, causing unbearable pain and often death. The very mention of white phosphorus condemns those who use it against supposed adversaries. However, in this case, the mention of white phosphorus is calculated to cause maximum outrage, up to and including demands for Western intervention – as if that would do anything but make things worse.
Embedded regime change media
Given the recent background of John Martinkus and Mark Davis, and The Saturday Paper, and SBS, in stridently backing the US led war of regime change against the Syrian Arab Republic, it’s not difficult to see how they have transferred their skills in fake news. And the deadly irony is that the side they were paid propagandists for – US imperialism and its ISIS and Al-Qaeda death squad proxies – repeatedly used white phosphorus against Syrian civilians and anyone suspected of defending their government and armed forces against arguably the dirtiest war in history. A little over a month ago, it was reported that the US military used banned white phosphorus bombs in the Deir Ez-Zor province of Syria for the fourth time in two months. It is not as if the US denies using banned white phosphorus munitions – a crime of colossal proportion. In 2017, the US military claimed that white phosphorus rounds were used for “screening” in a way that “considers civilians”. Needless to say, the US military would probably also claim that its entire war for the overthrow of the Syrian state was because it was concerned for civilians!
Unfortunately the US was actively assisted in this atrocious war by other imperialist powers such as the United Kingdom (UK), France, Canada and Australia. And the region of Deir Ez-Zor is very close to home for the Australian ruling class. In 2016, the Australian military admitted that its warplanes had been involved in bombing in Deir Ez-Zor which not only slaughtered up to 82 Syrian soldiers, but actively assisted ISIS alongside the US military. This was during a period where the US was back-pedalling due to the military success of Russia’s air strikes against ISIS, which were requested by the Syrian government.
2016 was the year in which John Martinkus openly propagandised for US imperialism, again ironically in the same The Saturday Paper. At that time there was a slew of Western corporate media slanders against the actions of the Russian military in Syria, with fabricated claims that Russia was bombing civilians instead of bombing ISIS, especially in and around the ancient city of Aleppo. John Martinkus’ article at that time was a part of this unprincipled barrage, and even claimed that the Syrian government also took part in supposedly raining death upon Syrian civilians. For his part, Mark Davis also joined in as a mercenary journalist for hire, posting a video about the mythical “Syrian uprising”.
If these reporters were consistent, or were even half remorseful about their role in working for imperialist interests against Syria, and in practice for the terrorist death squads armed by the West, they might have written a story about how the US used white phosphorus during its war on Syria, and still does. But no – now they have turned their hand to put together fabricated claims that the Indonesian military used white phosphorus against West Papuan separatists. In Syria, the aim was to call for further Western intervention to accelerate the destruction of the entire Syrian nation, potentially triggering a global nuclear war. Now, the aim appears to be a call for Western intervention into West Papua, on the basis of unproven and fake claims against the Indonesian armed forces. It seems the material benefits of fanning the flames of the nefarious ends of imperialism are too much to resist.
What did happen in Nduga?
In amongst the blanket of lies about white phosphorus, even compromised guns for hire feel compelled to report some of what actually occurred. The firing of some kind of gas projectiles into the Nduga region by the Indonesian military was in response to the slaughter of at least 31 workers who were constructing the Trans West Papua highway. The Saturday Paper’s “exclusive” admits that these killings were murders. These murders were apparently carried out after requests for the road workers to destroy a video of a flag raising ceremony in the region on December 1 – the day that West Papuans mark as their declaration of independence from Dutch colonialism in 1963. The armed Papuans apparently chased the workers back to their accommodation, and murdered 24 of them. 8 escaped to the home of a nearby politician, the armed Papuans again chased them to that place, and murdered 7 more.
The Indonesian military (TNI) expressly denied using white phosphorus, and credibly pointed out that such munitions cannot be fired from a helicopter, but would be have to be fired from a jet fighter or a bomber, from a distances of tens or hundreds of kilometres away. A statement provided to the ABC by the Papua Military Command went on to say that the TNI does not operate jet fighters, let alone bombers. On the other hand, the West Papuan armed groups make the likely claim that the road workers are in fact Indonesian military, and not civilians. Moreover, they claim that the Trans Papua Highway will be used for military purposes, and will not benefit civilians. The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-PB) has claimed responsibility for the attack which took 31 lives. Needless to say, once a dispute reaches the point of armed conflict, a political resolution becomes more and more difficult to attain.
Independence for West Papua?
There appears to be a divide between some of the armed separatist West Papuan groups and a political wing. Benny Wenda, the exiled chair of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), stated in response to the incidents in Nduga that his organisation does not want bloodshed, but does want Indonesia to come to the international table so there can be an agreement about a referendum. At the same time, Victor Yiemo, international spokesperson for the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), stated that the TPN-PB is “our military and are fighting for our freedom and we support them”.
What stance should working people take on the issue of independence for West Papua? Many on the left misinterpret the leader of the Russian Revolution, V.I. Lenin, on the issue of national liberation. While it is the case that Lenin and the Bolshevik party often advocated for the right of nations to self-determination, up to and including the right to separate – this was not always automatic. And more to the point, it was only advocated by the Bolsheviks in order to strengthen the struggle for socialism against capitalist imperialism. In the case of the nations within the Tsarist “prison-house of nations”, it was specifically put forward in order to gain working class support for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a multi-national workers’ state. This later became a reality with the founding of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1922. However, this was only possible after the working-class seizure of state power which was the spectacular success of the October Revolution of 1917.
In acknowledging the right of nations to self-determination, it does not follow that Marxists will therefore automatically advocate the exercise of such a right. In addition, while Marxists do not of course insist that a national liberation movement must necessarily have international socialist politics driving it before offering support, the politics of the leadership of such a movement must be analysed and assessed. It therefore becomes not so much a case of whether or not to demand, and fight for, independence. It is much more a case of independence with which politics?
More to the point, what is the political character of the leadership of the various groups pushing for independence for West Papua? There is no doubt a historic injustice has been perpetrated against the people of West Papua, and thus a strong case could be put forward for independence. Yet if the current political leadership of such a movement is prepared to allow blatant false flags (such as the claim of being bombed with white phosphorus) in cahoots with Australian journalists with a track record of working directly for imperialism in perhaps the dirtiest war in history, such a leadership must at the very least be questioned. Imperialism itself repeatedly used blatant false flags – claims that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against civilians, without a shred of evidence, to prosecute a war which slaughtered at least 500 000 innocent people. Is the political leadership of the West Papuan independence movement at all concerned that its movement could be associated with such forces?
United Nations – a double edged sword
Taking the cause of West Papuan independence to the United Nations (UN), or appealing to it to intervene on behalf of West Papua, has some advantages, but many disadvantages. On the one hand, it may be possible to score moral victories, in terms of votes in the General Assembly in favour. For example, the UN General Assembly has voted for many years for the lifting of the economic blockade on Cuba. Repeatedly, the only countries to vote against usually include the US and Israel. These indicative votes in favour of a basic issue of justice of course cannot be enforced, but help to establish a certain political justification. On the other hand, the UN is a body which is controlled by the various imperialist powers, and led by the largest imperialist of all – the US. Therefore, appeals to the United Nations (UN) recognises the existing power structure and builds illusions in the very system which holds the world in its death grip. It doesn’t point a way forward to liberation from this system – in West Papua or elsewhere.
The ULMWP is apparently campaigning throughout 2019 for a UN vote on West Papua, and are asking Australian to lobby the federal government to support it. This is the same UN which oversaw the discredited “Act of Free Choice” decades ago, and rubber stamped the Indonesian take-over of West Papua soon after. Some also lobby to expand the International Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP), which includes current Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Ironically, closer to home, Jeremy Corbyn is on record as opposing independence for Scotland. But the supreme danger in terms of working people swinging behind such moves is that it reinforces the central myth of corporate class rule – that, despite everything, bodies such as the UN, the Australian and UK Parliaments are “our” politicians and “our” leaders. Little could be further from the truth. These bodies are marionettes whose strings are pulled by the real rulers of the world – the holders of finance and industrial capital, accumulated daily by the endless toil of working people throughout the globe.
Neither can working people make apologetics for the Indonesian government or its military (TNI) with its role in West Papua. The only way to combat this politically though, is to reach out to Indonesian workers in West Papua and throughout Indonesia, in a struggle against capitalist rule in South West and South East Asia, and indeed throughout Australasia and the Pacific. This would impair the unhealthy dynamic of “Indonesia versus West Papua”, and also the even more unhealthy “Muslim versus Christian” by-product. Under this political context, the demand for West Papuan independence could be backed by working people in the region, and could spur on the much needed socialist revolutions in the imperialist centres. Key to this drive will be the formation of workers’ vanguard parties in West Papua, Indonesia, Australia and the Pacific. West Papua can only be liberated by the actions of workers united across Australasia.
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 Ibid, 1.
 Ibid, 11.