Given that I was raised by a hardcore lefty, during that most political of decades, the 1980's it probably comes as no surprise that I'm a pointy-headed lefty myself. But while I would have become one sooner or later, it was actually a comic strip that opened my eyes to the inequalities of the world, it was a comic strip that really radicalised me age fourteen, and that comic strip was the Pat Mills written and Carlos Ezquerra drawn "Third World War" in the mature readers comic CRISIS. Having not read it for around twenty years I was interested in seeing how much of it holds up. And I think with it's attack on globalised capitalism and condemnation of western interference in the developing world, it's almost ahead of it's time. Yes, it can be preachy in places, but it's basically a left wing propaganda series, preachy comes with the territory.. It's set in the near future (for a 1988 strip obviously) and shows us the damage being wrought by monolithic western capitalism on the communities of an unamed Central American state through the eyes of some "peace volunteers" who are in fact semi-soldiers suppressing dissent on behalf of their capitalist masters. It's an angry, diatribe by UK comics most political of authors, published during a period of stifling conservatism in Britain. This was the lead story in the first fourteen issues of CRISIS, running alongside The New Statemen's revisionist and gay friendly look at superheroes.
|Eve is drafted.|
|Left to right: Paul, Eve, Ivan, Trisha and Garry.|
Their first mission see's them attempting to displace a village. One woman called Mrs. Garcia with a young son resists. She tells them she won't move to the supposedly fabulous new accomodations provided by Multiburger, not even with bribes like a years supply of them. When Garry gets aggressive with her, a man with a gun bursts out of the cupboard. Thinking he's a guerilla, Garry is about to shoot him but Eve talks him down.
|Bringing "peace" to the people.|
On their way to the Multifood village, Ivan gets on a skateboard and is pulled behind their truck. Unfortunately this is misconstrued as enemy action by the planes escorting them and they drop a can of white phosporus which hits Mrs Garcia. When they finally reach the new village, she catches fire again because her wounds weren't cleaned properly and refuses to let them near her as she burn, simply saying one word: "Basta!" as she burns to death.
|Mrs Garcia makes a stand.|
Paul: "You're not at one of your student demos now Eve! These people are dangerous...! If you stand out, they'll break you!"
After that incident, Eve who submitted her story is called to the Lieutenant's office about it. He sighs and pinches his nose before finally saying:
Lieutenant: "I think you have an attitude problem Eve".
He belittles her attempts to write the truth saying they're fighting a different kind of war now, a "Third World War". Winning doesn't matter and preventing it escalating into "Wargasm" is their job. Then he threatens to move her to a combat unit and Eve folds, saying she'll play along, "as I too, became part of the lie".
|The smug Lieutanant.|
The next story is about the ethics of crop spraying and intensive farming. In a barrio (shanty town) the team are installing televisions in the people's houses, gifts from Freeaid so they can watch their propaganda being pumped out.
The team chat for a bit about how they joined. Trisha revealed she joined so her parents could get social security under a "parent-help" scheme. She lived in Apartheid South Africa and her parents were very kind to black people, they even let their houseboy live in a shed at the bottom of the garden even though they could have got into trouble. After an uprising, they had to flee to the UK and were left with nothing, hence Trisha joining up (the relatively peaceful transition out of Apartheid was also unimaginable a couple of years before the release of Nelson Mandela).
|Poisoning the land and people.|
Paul and Eve go off and have a private chat, Eve tries to probe his past. He resists then changes the subject to wanting to broadcast all the crap they are doing to the Third World and how the only problems it has are caused by the First World. Then they kiss and start to make love. They are being watched by some real guerillas who say they'll attack tonight.
|Eve and Paul have sexy time.|
As they drink round the fire with other members of their Freeaid platoon, Trisha asks Eve if she's shacking up with Paul because he's scruffy like her. "I happen to like him" says Eve. Trisha says it's more like he's put a spell on her, she's convinced Pagan = Satanist. Suddenly they are attacked and a mortar lands close by. Paul is knocked out and the sergeant gives a panicky Eve an assault rifle.
|Eve's first kill.|
Paul: "Especially if it means dying for them. If I'd been in your position it would have been time to put my personal belief in reincarnation into practice."
God, Paul is such a sanctimonious douche. He admits to being put in the position to kill before, he was a soldier on patrol and they stopped a man whose identity had a "shoot to kill" note next to it. He opened fire and Paul fired back but wide, the man escaped and Paul got put in jail for a while. "It was another country. Another war."
The guerilla's uprising quelled, the Freeaiders leave the barrio. Somehow the dish Paul erected is able to get the Pirate channel and this story ends with an old man watching the anti-western propganda being broadcast on it.
He points out that their trillion dollar debt is being paid for by the people who never saw a penny of the money originally as it was paid to dictators and warlords. Now the poor are being heavily taxed to compensate the west. Their country had to borrow money from the International Monetary Fund, which meant they cut government spending to the bone instituting austerity measures and closing schools and hospitals. Hah! Sound familiar boys and girls?
|Discussing the mysterious "Finn".|
The team are tasked with moving the inhabitants of another barrio to a brand new location which is a prison camp in all but name. To combat Super Barrio Eve is forced to dress as a superheroine called the "Silver Saviour" and Garry as "Multi-Man". They start telling the folks they are going to be moved to a much nicer place when Super Barrio appears and starts telling the truth.
|Eve saves Super Barrio's life.|
Eve: "Some photographer took a picture of the Silver Saviour "kissing" a "dangerous subvert". And I guess with everything else that had gone wrong, they decided to shelve plans to clear the barrio - for the time being..."
Super Barrio survives and thanks her as he is taken away for treatment. She then says to Paul she knows he tipped Super Barrio off about where the people were going to be moved to. She says she read his body language and that he should be more careful. When Paul asks if Super Barrio said anything more to her, she says he said, "To hold people down forever is like putting a hand up to the sun".
The next two-parter deals with government sanctioned death squads. Our gang end up rescuing a young woman called Monica from a death squad and take her to a safe location. She tells her sad story to them (click the image for the full story). Basically her husband Sergio was a union organiser at a Multifood factory, they were captured by a death squad. She was tortured and raped and beaten so badly she has memory problems now. They let her go after five days but she hasn't found her husband, he has been "disappeared".
|Monica's sad story.|
We then travel to the dump outside town where the bodies of the disappeared are dumped where Paul and Eve help Monica try to find her husband. They search the bodies and Eve photographs them. While they are there, Paul offers up his loathesome philosophy of life. He waffles on a bit but in short, he cares not for human life which is generally against nature. Humans are not set apart from living things despite the apartheid they have created between them and nature.
Paul: "I don't believe in the sanctity of life, you see? Because that's not how nature does things."
|Looking amongst the dumped coprses of the "disappeared".|
Later Paul and Eve are in bed together, Paul wakes up from a bad dream crying out (and as with The New Stateman kudos for having an obviously sexual interracial relationship without it raising any eyebrows). He says he dreamt his old Seregant Major had come for him. Eve says she can't imagine him in the army. Paul says he joined up for comradeship and to muck around in the great outdoors because he loved nature. When he ended up in Northern Ireland he let the terrorist go rather than shoot to kill, Eve asks him why he didn't if he doesn't care about the sanctity of human life. "I don't. But it doesn't mean I have to go out and kill people" he responds hypocritically.
He ended up in military prison after the terrorist ran over his mate and killed him, something he refuses to feel guilty about. And soon he escaped saying Eve is "better off not knowing" about what it was like in jail. Later they go to secretly hand some food aid to Monica's guerilla friends. But they are surprised by the death squad from before, and Paul's old Sergeant Major is with them.
|Yes, hit Paul go on, he deserves it!|
Then the cavalry arrive in the form of Monica and her guerilla friends. They mow down the death squad and shoot Paul's old Sergeant Major. As Monica leaves, Eve says she'll think about her. Monica replies:
Monica: "No - because that may make you sad, you know? Think happy thoughts Eve. Think about the revolution.. when the death squads are gone and there are no more 'disappeared'. Think about when we are free!"
|The cavalry arrives.|
Xoyon: "Maize is the basis of our religion. Without it, we lose our Indian identity. Our Holy Book, the Popol Vul, records how the first men were made of mazie paste after the gods rejected mud as too soft and wood as too hard. We are made of maize. What are you made of?"
Eve walks with Xoyon and asks him why his government wants to change their way of life. Xoyon says they are "Ladinos - they have forgotten their roots." He says that "private ownership of land makes as much sense as private ownership of the sky, the weather or sea. Is crazy!". Trisha says that makes them "Marxists". Xoyon says they are not, both Marxism and Capitalism is against the natural order.
Xoyon: "We want to survive, the Ladinos are waging a war of genocide against us. Forbidding us to wear our traditional clothes. Speak Mayan.. or hold land in common. So we have to fight."
|Trisha tries friendly persuasion.|
Meanwhile Paul seduces Susan and has sex with her. The next day Xoyon is still standing firm about not giving in to Multifoods. The gang have a chat about Finn as they make to leave, apparently Finn's Green Army attacked a nuclear irradiator back in Britain. Ivan says "It's not terrorism - it's eco defence." When he then says they never caught Finn, Paul says he "must've found a good place to hide."
|The irradiator crashes.|
Eve says the Mayan Indians paid the price. The army thought they sabotaged the truck and steamed in wiping the village out and burning their maize fields. Only a handful escaped. Paul says she shouldn't lay a guilt trip on him, he didn't pull the triggers. Eve retorts that he gave them an excuse. He says he has to act to protect Mother Earth in the same brutal ways it's being exploited in.
Eve: "And that's your way... Finn."
|The village pays the price.|
They talk about what they'll do next, Eve says Multifood have offered her a scholarship to study in the US. Paul says she's "selling out". She says he can wear his own hairshirt, "it's better than killing people." Then they are sent to collect some orphans so Multifood can get some good publicity in their final hours there.
|Eve is distressed by the spare part kids.|
They report back to the Lieutenant saying they didn't find any children. The Lieutanant doesn't really care, he makes sure the whole compound has been rigged to explode. Then they get the final signal to get to the helicopters and leave. Paul asks Eve is she has mentioned he is Finn in her diary, she says of course not, and as they leave he smiles to himself.
|The rich fight for worthless money.|
With that done they make their way back to the helicopter being chased by the rich people. Paul makes it to the helicopter first and doesn't tell it to wait for her because he's a fucking prick, but luckily she is picked up just as it takes off. And they leave the rich folk trapped and helpless behind them.
|Eve is nearly left behind.|
Then we join Eve as she goes to see the Lieutenant. He says "I'm sure you'll be a future asset to the company" and hands her a visa so she can go and do her studying in the US. Before she leaves, he asks for the diary she's been keeping, "call it a small test of loyalty to the company." He says it might be embarrasing if her thoughts got published somewhere. "Everything costs something in this life.. surely you realised that? So.. what's it to be?"
|Eve's conscience gets the better of her.|
Having failed to win their hearts and minds, they're going to do things "the hard way." They might cut off their economic aid and blame the starvation on their leaders. Or finance armed counter-revolutionaries to do the job. They might even invade directly using manufactured evidence that they support terrorism. When Eve says they'll be stopped, he says in a few years time everyone will do what the multinationals want. "It's not 'later than you think'. It's too late." And Book One ends.
Third World War came out twenty-seven years ago and in highlighting all the horrible things the west did then to the Developing World, it's depressing to note that this kind of bullshit is STILL going on both as a part of the fallout from the War on Terror and in big corporations exploiting and cheating their dirt poor workers and propping up dictatorships all over the world still. Bah. This series did get a sequel which chronicles the further adventures of Eve as she returns to a Great Britain that is virtually a fascist state and is a far less effective strip as it exaggerates all the most paranoid intellectual left-wing fears of the eighties and extrapolates something that is so far removed from what the nineties and beyond were like that it verges on dystopian comedy. I did intend to cover it but to be honest as a story it quickly devolves into a series of barely connected points about racism, animal rights and Northern Ireland meandering from one awful event to the next without much in the way of narrative glue holding it together as well as fetishising "blackness" to an incredibly uncomfortable degree. very poor. For now though, the original Third World War: powerful, influential (on me) and radicalising. Less a comic and more a treatise on how the world sucked and still sucks. No wonder I grew up so cynical.