|13 February 13, 2003
Yesterday the UK government ordered tanks to Heathrow airport. A protective measure in response to a terrorist threat. That’s what they told us. What tanks could possibly do to protect us is hard to imagine. Presumably they’re not going to fire shells into the airport waiting-room. Designed for all terrain attack against opposing armies, it’s hard to imagine what tanks could possibly achieve in a domestic setting except cause havoc. As far as we know, the UK hasn’t been invaded. Hordes of scimitar-waving bedouin haven’t been spotted charging on camels into Terminal Four (that’s the British Airways terminal). What can Mr Blair and the quivering coterie of tight-lipped sycophants who surround him have in mind?
According to the media - who have it directly from the government - intelligence reports on the imminence of a terrorist attack are unequivocal. These reports are doubtless as well-founded as any, as thoroughly-researched and exhaustively checked as the one issued last week on Iraq which had been copied from an old student thesis. The latter, despite having been in cold storage for several years, tasted fresh enough to impress even the US Secretary of State, once its stale flavour had been masked with a pungent adjectival sauce.
Hardly worth recording that no attack occurred on Heathrow yesterday, nor on any other airport, nor anywhere in the UK for that matter. Officialdom will claim that’s because the army forestalled the hostilities. The argument is identical to the one trotted out by those who press for war with Iraq. Saddam is quiet at the moment, but he remains a danger to the world. His weapons of mass destruction (a phrase rendered meaningless by overuse) have not been shown to exist. Nevertheless, Bush and Blair, the Pozzo and Lucky of modern politics, assert not only that they do exist but that they represent a direct and imminent threat to the two nations over which they preside. Supported by a fawning flock of mechanicals - thuggish on the US side, blustering on the British - they seize every opportunity to bang their war drum.
UN Resolution 1441 is the stick they use to beat down opposition to war. Everything the Iraqis do constitutes in the fevered brains of the world’s leaders ‘a material breach’ of 1441. The inadequacies of a CIA-doctored twelve thousand page Iraqi report on their weapons program was a ‘material breach’; missiles that ‘might possibly’ travel ten kilometres further than permitted is also a “material breach”; failure to produce any weapons of mass destruction that George and Tony know to be there, voilá another material breach. There’s probably a material breach for every man woman and child in Iraq - which is just as well because when they find themselves in the flight path of an American cruise missile tipped with depleted uranium, our brave war leaders will be able to dismiss the the loss of life and the destruction of civilian habitat with another overused weasel phrase: collateral damage.
At the palace of Westminster, it’s hard to find a senior politician, regardless of political hue, who isn’t falling into line. Harder still in Washington. Virtually the entire political class of the West’s ‘axis of thuggery’ has capitulated to war frenzy and to the bullying demagoguery of Congress and Parliament.
The only people who don’t support the rush to war appear to be - most of the world’s population. I can’t remember a time when politicians were so profoundly at odds with public opinion.
In the UK, opposition to the war takes first place among the issues that divide the citizenry from the parliament. But it isn't the only one. Private sector involvement in the national health service, in public transport and in education almost certainly lacks popular consent. One doubts whether anyone approves of the plan to concrete over large swathes of London’s diminishing green belt other than developers, builders and financiers. By voting for Ken Livingstone as their mayor, Londoners have already expressed their distaste for partial privatization of the underground. Yet these are all policies of the national government . Worse still, and despite Churchill’s reminder that ‘the duty of the opposition is to oppose’ - they are policies that her majesty’s loyal opposition wholly and enthusiastically endorses.
If there is so little to choose between the UK’s major parties, we must wonder whether voting any longer has a purpose. In the United States, where Bush lost the election but secured the presidency anyway, the same question arises. Seventy-five percent of the US electorate didn’t vote for Bush. That’s the same percentage that didn’t vote for Blair and New Labour in 2001. By making war in our name, these governments of doubtful legitimacy will trample on our rights as well as the rights and lives of those they intend attack. They will also be casting aside the ideals that form the basis of what we like to think of as western civilization, ideals seeded in the gymnasia of Athens and on Mount Sinai, and that succeeding generations of Europeans and others have nurtured in the unspoken belief that every contribution of art, of science and philosophy inched mankind forward towards a greater understanding of ourselves and of our common purpose. Two vicious “world” wars in the last century cast doubt on that enterprise. The nazis, who erupted from the same culture that produced Mozart and Beethoven and Goethe, showed us just how thin is our veneer of civility. We are still trying to digest the meaning of that ghastly nightmare which arose out of the crazed desire of a handful of men - and of one man in particular - for world domination. Now, at the beginning of the new millennium, another handful of men are embarking on a similar repellent crusade. The administration of George W. Bush, forty-third president of the United States of America, may go down as one of the nastiest and most corrupt in modern history.
February 14, 2003
One of the disappointments of the tense prolegomenon to war has been the abject deference of the BBC to the government line. Anti-Saddamites unfailingly get a daily hearing on Radio Four’s Today programme. This morning Jack Straw enjoyed a turn, followed by the ludicrously ennobled “Lord” (Conrad) Black. Mr Straw gave out his usual script. It runs as follows. We know Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. That means he is a threat to humanity. Therefore he must disarm. The inspectors haven’t found any evidence of weapons of mass destruction. The weapons must therefore, be hidden. Ergo, we must use force. The argument looks strong until one examines its premises. First, if we know Saddam Hussein has WMDs, why has nobody been able to prove it? Colin Powell’s pathetic presentation to the UN of uninterpretable photographs and garbled tape recordings impressed only those who didn’t need convincing. The latest British intelligence document has been revealed as a fake. Second, even if Saddam Hussein is hiding “illicit” weaponry, he is not attacking anyone, nor threatening to do so. The country over which he presides is poverty-stricken, its military capacity slight, its ability to threaten the United States and other “allies” a laughable fantasy. Interviewer James Naughtie - a part-time rotweiler - gave up the grandstand to Jack Straw with barely a whimper of genuine inquiry.
Conrad Black is a right-wing newspaper baron who surrendered his Canadian citizenship in exchange for a British peerage and a seat in our unelected second Chamber. So much for his democratic principles. His predictable contribution to the Today programme was to explain to listeners that people who disagreed with the Bush administration’s determination to go to war were benighted fools. If your lordship pleases.
The BBC knows that tomorrow - 15th February - one of the largest demonstrations in British history will take place in London against the war; the corporation also knows that the mood of the country is deeply antipathetic to the Blair government’s policy on this issue and to Blair’s obsequious pandering to the Bush administration; finally, it knows that half of Labour’s back benchers in parliament side with the people against the government. Yet the BBC made only passing reference to the mood of the country.
Two days ago, the BBC televised a special “debate” on the war, chaired by the ubiquitous David Dimbleby. Jack Straw again appeared as the protagonist on the government side, Daniel Perle - an American hawk - joined via satellite, and various other proponents of war and empire ringed the central arena. An array of muddled, fence-sitters filled most of the remaining chairs: the Saudi ambassador, Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, and etc. Against the war all the BBC could come up with were Tariq Ali, a middle-ranking French official, and Bianca Jagger, known largely for her surname. The anti-war contingent - whose collective voice represents the largest proportion of public opinion - received the least air-time. Daniel Perle and Jack Straw - the latter wearing a guilty smirk - received the most. Jerry Rubin, a self-important adviser to the Clinton Administration, who seems to get invited to everything, also had his say. The remaining “guests” were given no chance to speak. The occasion no more resembled a debate than the anodyne, tweedle-dum tweedle-dee, media-controlled encounters that take place every four years between US presidential candidates. All traces of intellectual effort had been excised. Instead of reasoning and argument, viewers were treated to a succession of insubstantial assertions and trite sound bites. No one picked up the only truly interesting remark of the evening which came when Mr Perle admitted that the US had already decided to go to war with Iraq and that weapons inspectors, the United Nations, NATO, Europe and uncle Tom Cobbly were a collective irrelevance that could be swatted down like a summer fly. Once again the BBC failed its constituents.
An apparently unrelated event leads one to wonder whether the BBC might have traded its traditional independence for what Yorkshire people call muck. Only last week the government announced a handsome increase in the licence fee. Nudge nudge, wink wink: you keep the plebs down over the war, we’ll see you don’t go short. Tomorrow the BBC will televise one of the most exciting soccer matches of the season: the F.A cup semi-final between Arsenal and Manchester United. The kick-off has been timed to coincide with the start of the anti-war demonstration. Keep them amused and they won’t bother with what we’re up to. Will they?
I seem to have adopted an abrasive tone in these first two diary entries, a reflection perhaps of the anger I feel about the drive towards war and about the government’s erosion of democratic accountibility. But I am also frightened by what the new American imperialism portends. What miseries await the world under this new yoke? How long will it last? How long before Americans find out that in subjugating the world, they have subjugated themselves? How long before they learn that their own freedom too has withered away, sold for a home in Mainsville and a shiny new car?
Tomorrow the demonstration, but I don’t relish the prospect. Such events leave me uneasy, not because crowds are dangerous, readily moved to excess and inclined to panic - though all these things are true. I dislike them for deeper reasons, because they seem to me to turn participants into supplicants; and because they oblige us to subsume our individuality - which is what identifies us as human - in favour of something larger in size but infinitely smaller in spirit - a single idea, a mind-numbing mantra that we know doesn’t begin to represent who and what we are. Demonstrations humiliate us, because we know that, like a potentate of old, the leader - Blair in this case - can shrug us off as he might shrug off a slight cold or a mosquito bite. Nothing obliges him to listen, nor if he hears, to heed. He can declare war eithout even a parliamentary debate let alone the support of the people. He believes he knows better than we do.
Of late, his voice has acquired a messianic tone, there is a flush about his cheeks; he perspires under questioning; his eyes reflect the manic gleam of a believer.
Tomorrow’s demonstrations will be a disquieting reminder that government has run off with our democracy. The challenge - much greater even than the immediate issue of Iraq - will be to get it back.
Download the full diary HERE.