“I felt liberated when I saw the bombs falling”

First, I’d like to reiterate the main gist of Why the people’s instinct can be wrong and emphasise once again that my observations had nothing to do with whether you believe the imminent war is right or wrong. They’re just a description of the way it is.

“The people” have not come to terms with the fact that Iraqis can desire liberation; that Iraqis face this horrific dilemma; and that Iraqis can choose war, on the side of the Americans, in full knowledge of the consequences…

The committed leftist and the committed pacifist reel away from the human desires expressed [by Iraqis desiring liberty], because here is an implicit blessing for war. But this is what the Iraqi wants – because he knows that alone, the opposition groups are no match for the totalitarian regime…

The antiwar protesters – ten million around the world – ought to have apologised to Iraqis and offered their condolences that this time they cannot support liberty in Iraq; that they have chosen to block action that would free Iraqis. Then they should have been ashamed of themselves…

In this period, two devastating bushfires have swept across the Australian societal landscape, each in turn reinforcing the great Australian inability to imagine in any depth the lot of a stranger, each dividing the world into us and outsiders, whereby what in each case is accepted as “us and ours” is elevated to a special status through heightened familiarity, to the exclusion of the other.

The outsiders are thought of in myth-like ways, images of them are somewhat unreal, because the image of “the other” is a projection of what is necessary for “us” to uphold “our” image of “ourselves”: it has no basis in reality, and its effect is ultimately to falsify and oppress human beings.

In the Tampa and SIEV-X cases, this was called “racism”. It is no different now with the anti-war protests.

I’m saying that when they claim it is unintentional, they’re not being completely honest: true, they’re not directly intending this consequence, but a destructive intention certainly exists…

Worse, that human being’s viewpoint – who is supposed to be our kindred spirit, is he not? – is obliterated in the minds of “the people”; for example, by promoting myths such as he or she hates the Americans so much that he or she will fight for Saddam Hussein and not against him. “The people” naturally believe that Iraqis will willingly fight to save Saddam’s totalitarianism – if they had it in their mind that Iraqis want to fight with the Americans against Saddam, then they would be confronted with the unsavoury truth that their antiwar protest is denying individual liberty.

They would be confronted with the logical consequence of their negative choice: they are the ones responsible for keeping Saddam in power, for the murder of countless Iraqis by his henchmen in the years until the fall of his regime. Whether you agree with the war or not, this is the consequence of the success of the protests’ aims. From being obliterated in the minds of “the people”, the viewpoint of the Iraqi desiring liberty is obliterated in reality…

“The people” project their own anti-American obsession (in which Saddam Hussein barely exists) onto their image of Iraqis and thereby obliterate the point of view of the Iraqi who seeks liberty. In effect, they have murdered him in their minds.

Also, in The disempowerment of faith, Iraq, fragmentation, and the failed WTO protests, I wrote:

In addition, though, I’m saying that if we are horrified at the blood on our hands that might be spilt if we act, then we should also be horrified by the blood that might be on our hands if we choose not to act.

In addition, in Alternatives to warNicholas Crouch wrote:

If America invades and occupies Iraq there will be civilian casualties. It is difficult to estimate, but certainly they would be in the thousands. Margo, you and those like you don’t want thousands of innocent people to die. I understand that. It sounds reasonable. But how many innocent Iraqi civilians will die if there is NO war? How many more people will Saddam kill? Given his past history surely you must say thousands.

Now to a few replies to my critics in Our conscience is not sabotaged.


Simon Ellis sees pro-war bias in my piece. But as I emphasised above, the view I expressed can be held by people who are for or against the war. It’s a matter of honesty with yourself, and of seeing the reality, not the phantoms inside your head. Simon is seeing phantoms.

Simon writes: John … is now trumpeting the same contradiction in terms that our political masters seem so fond of – that it is the peace marchers, not the war-mongers, who are plunging this world into conflict.

This is all in your imagination, Simon. I did not make the argument that peace marchers are making war more likely. I did not even say that you are increasing the amount of conflict. Why do you take criticism of the peace marchers as pro-war propaganda?

I said that if you were to succeed in your cause then you would have helped keep the status quo in Iraq. If you disagree with this, explain why Saddam is going to stop his war against the Iraqi people if the Americans forget their war plans and retreat. Explain why Saddam and his henchmen are going to pack up their bags and go away and leave the Iraqi people alone.

So John, allow me to clarify a couple of points for your benefit:

1.The anti-war movement doesn’t support Saddam Hussein – period.

But if you succeed in your cause, then you will be helping keep the status quo in Iraq. This may not be your intention, but it is the effect. Doesn’t it bother you that your actions would lead to this if they’re successful?

If you go into town to see Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist”, park your car on a hillside, and the car rolls down while you’re in the cinema and kills someone, are you going to say, “I don’t give a stuff”?

Why would we protest against Saddam Hussein?

Why indeed. Perhaps because those were “peace” marches, and Saddam Hussein is waging a war against his own people. Also, because you ought to explicitly dissociate yourself from attempts to exploit your political actions in ways you didn’t intend. If you care about your message, you ought to prevent the possibility in advance to the best of your ability (eg Saddam using your presence as propaganda).

But most importantly, it’s to show solidarity with the Iraqi victims of Saddam’s regime, the ones you claim to be caring for – at least, the “thousands of Iraqis” that would be killed in a war, and would have to live under Saddam’s regime for years longer if you succeed.

If what you say is true – that you care for the Iraqis at all, and not just for yourself – then you’d be thinking of them during your protest and sending out “messages” that would make it impossible for Iraqis like Adnan Hassan (who I quoted) to feel the way they did watching you.

But no. Those Iraqis seeking liberty have become an abstraction – you’re preoccupied with your own concerns, in your self-centred world, despite what you say about caring for them. This is my point. The worst thing is you don’t realise your hypocrisy.

We live in Australia for crying out loud – we protest against things that we’re doing – not stuff that other people are doing!!

So if, say, the U.S. were to invade Iraq, you wouldn’t protest? Great! I expect the sounds of silence from the “peace” movement in the next month. A true peace (and quiet) movement.

Or France? Aha, I see. That’s why you never protested when Saddam gassed the Kurds, and why the world can go to hell as long as your little corner is peaceful and quiet.

But you did protest when NATO bombed Kosovo and Serbia and freed the Muslim Kosovans. So too when NATO bombed Milosevic and saved countless thousands Muslim Bosnians from his concentration camps (after the UN failure in preventing them).

Incidentally, by aiding and abetting the continuation of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq you’re doing something.

You seem to believe that by not supporting your war the anti-war movement is condemning the people of Iraq to a lifetime of brutality and oppression – as if there are absolutely no other options available. Doesn’t your very argument depend on this premise? That war is the ONLY solution to the problems faced by the people of Iraq?

“My” war? Phantoms – my piece was neither for nor against the war. Also, that war is the ONLY way of liberating Iraq is what the Iraqis themselves think. Why didn’t you bother finding out what the Iraqis think, before claiming you’re doing them a favour? You’re not even aware of your neocolonialist chauvinism, let alone what goes on outside the borders of your country.

Finally, “lifetime” is a relative concept. Ten years can be a lifetime for thousands of Iraqis in Saddam’s war against the Iraqi people.

Well I’ve gotta tell you John – you don’t understand me better than I understand myself.

I only know what you reveal. Your anti-intellectual chauvinism is probably what’s blocking you from thinking seriously about what you’re doing. The stuff I’ve been arguing is completely obvious – anyone at all can figure it out. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist. Just be aware of what you’re doing.

Unwind the spin that you’ve built around yourself – and open your eyes to the truth. You doggedly support a cause that would needlessly cause the death of thousands of innocent men, women and children.

Now here’s a prescription for you. Learn to separate fantasy from reality: Begin by understanding that no cause is supported in my previous piece. And try to take responsibility for the consequences of your actions; for instance, that your antiwar action would “cause the death of thousands of innocent men, women and children”.


Peter Funnell writes:

I march against the war in Iraq, because I don’t want any Australia citizen to go to war … My first thought was not for the Iraqis. I did it for the citizens of the country in which I choose to live, the place of my “dreamtime”. For what it will do to those I love and care about… Not wanting Australians to go to war and not killing Iraqis is the best I can do.

Me, myself and mine. At last, an honest man. “Love the furtherest” – Nietzsche. “Love myself, strike a humanitarian pose, pretend to love the other” – Australia, 2003. Well, almost.

By demonstrating that I do not support a war, I point at the only way possible – for the Iraqis to do it for themselves.

But the Iraqis have said repeatedly (and as was shown in Saddam’s crushing the uprisings following the Gulf War), they cannot do it themselves. They want war. They want the Americans to bomb Iraq.

Peter evidently believes in a world where the dice is loaded for the strong. Physical strength is everything, if you’re not strong enough to survive by yourself, to hell with you. Leave the strong be, and condemn the weak to their fate.

A very Mahatir view. A recipe for despotism – and subservience to dictators. As Orwell said, violence is acceptable as long as it’s horrific enough.

What’s more, Peter’s another guy who hasn’t bothered finding out what the Iraqis think before involving himself in actions that would influence their fate. Proves my point.


Paul Walter writes:

No, John, we won’t accept the US blowing the Iraqi people back to the stone age, and then finding ways for the rest of us to pay, yet again, for THEIR mistakes!

Well, that’s nice to know, Paul. But you’re hallucinating. My article is neither pro-war nor anti-war. My article argues for taking responsibility for our actions. Also, that we should understand the view point of the Iraqi who wants liberation before presuming to decide what’s best for him or her.

full calumny… Republican power-grab… Republicans have apparently robbed the global economy… corrupt fund-managers, media magnates, organised crime figures and armaments manufacturers… massive diversions of investment funds … blindness, greed and arrogance… The West, and the US in particular, knew… Globalist Oiligarchs…

Thanks for the American obsession, Paul. You’ve just proven my point. Now how about getting outside that confusion inside your head and addressing what I actually wrote?


Peter Woodforde writes:

John Wojdylo occasionally gnaws through the leather straps and sifts this sort of chaff from the dozens of feverish, but extremely well-funded Republican Right and Likud-Irgun terrorist sites, all chiefly characterised, incidentally, by endless pushing of the virtues of ethnic cleansing in Palestine.

Pardon, monsieur?

When Wojdylo rides a Cruise missile (or perhaps a Smart Bomb) into the suburbs of Baghdad, slapping his stetson, whoopin’ and hollerin’…

Wie bitte?

I’m extremely disappointed that Wojdylo has so far spared himself the task of linking Saddam and Robert Mugabe through a network of cricket-loving pacifists based in training camps in Pakistan…

Shto takoi?

In fact, part of Wojdylo’s reaction to those who reject a massive Cruise missile bombardment of Baghdad…

Peter’s hallucinating that I expressed a pro-war viewpoint in my article. It’s his phantasms playing up again. Thanks for proving my point, Peter.

Come on John, who else was there?

Actually, in the US a controversy is brewing over the organisers of the peace marches. I don’t know what’s being said in Australia about it, and I don’t know who organised the marches in Australia. As Michael Berube (a US academic) said:

…as I’ve said before, yes, it does matter that International ANSWER, as a front for the Workers World Party, has led the major anti-war demonstrations. These people are – how shall I put this politely? – sectarian loons…

So, to answer Peter’s question, neo-Stalinists were also there. The grannies no doubt outnumbered them; nevertheless, how would you feel if your march had been organised by somebody whose intention is to destroy our society as we know it? What if they’re actively supporting organisations or countries who want to see the fall of the West? Does it make a difference to you who organised the marches?


Michael Grau-Veliz writes:

The pro war undertones of John’s piece were not even masked.

My article is neither pro-war nor anti-war. My article is anti-left (but it also happens to be anti-right). This is what you must be reacting to. Why do you take criticism of the left as pro-war propaganda? Why cannot the left be criticised?

The pro war movement will have you believe that the freedom is only gained by war and bloodshed. That if you want freedom you have to fight for it.

The pro-war view is irrelevant to my article. But something here is revealing about you. The pro-war movement may have got the notion you mention from the Iraqis wanting liberation, who are overwhelmingly in favour of war. There’s good reason for us to believe that these Iraqis know what they’re talking about.

You haven’t found out what the Iraqis think before involving yourself in actions that would influence their fate.

The Iraqi desiring liberty is a black hole in your mind. This proves my point. The Iraqis are too weak to liberate themselves. The choice is: war and liberation from Saddam’s regime, or no war and the continuation of Saddam’s reign of terror.

You’ve made your choice, but feel entitled to ignore the consequences to the Iraqis you’re claiming to be helping. You presume to know what’s best for the Iraqis without knowing their view.

This kind of behaviour has permeated all of our society, indeed it is the basis of our economy and culture of consumerism. As bleak as this may sound, until we find an answer to curb our own selfishness and greed conflict will always exist and situations like the one we are currently facing will keep popping up.

The first step towards the answer lies in informing yourself of the viewpoint of those affected by your actions. Get to know them as human beings, not as projections of your humanitarian pose.

On the other hand the peaceniks will have you believe that war is to be avoided at all cost but offer no plausible solution. Where have these protesters been hiding for the last 12 years? Where were they when the Kurds were facing genocide? Using John’s example, where were they in the Tampa and SIEV-X incidents?



James Woodcock writes:

John makes the same assumptions of many lets-bomb-Iraq cheerleaders. It is simplistic to label all of the 10 million who marched as all being pacifists, leftists and Anti-Americanists.

I did not make this simplistic assumption: Margo Kingston did. In fact, I explicitly wrote: “First, though, the question arises to what extent are “the people” – that imaginary crowd of individuals whose viewpoint is expounded in Margo’s piece, The people’s instinct on the war – representative of the people that actually took to the streets that weekend. To what extent is the portrayal of “the people” a myth, to what extent is it accurate?”

All sorts of people marched. I mentioned two grannies in Fremantle. I had written: “So here are three examples that show how the concept of “the people” is narrower than reality. The reason is that adherents of this concept project a particular moral view onto the world and wrongly claim that “this is the world as it is”: in fact, life is bigger than theory, even antiwar theory.”

He condemns Gabriel Kolko as an apologist for Marxism and Stalinist gulags without further discussion or evidence.

I wrote that the argument will be given in a follow-up article. I’ll mention for now that Kolko’s leftist revisionist worldview is completely clear in at least two passages in the NATO piece.

However in my many attempts to convince people to support a more humane policy for asylum seekers I have found that using cold hard facts to counter the misinformation of the government was the best way to win hearts and minds. I also found I did not get very far with mere assertions that my stance was the morally superior one.

The starting point for my piece was the (initial) mystery of how an Iraqi could feel such despair at watching Western peace protesters. There’s a gulf between people, even in our own country. The world has indeed been torn asunder – but it begins inside people’s heads. It is certainly not the Iraqi’s fault. My argument explains how it happens. It is not an argument for moral superiority, let alone an assertion of it. It just tells it as it is. Unfortunately, you rarely see that in the media these days.


David Palmer, speaker at the Adelaide protest, protests:

In no way did I or anyone present endorse Saddam Hussein. Just the opposite.

I did not, however, say that the anti-war marchers that weekend directly endorsed Saddam Hussein. A few neo-nazis certainly would have, as they have done in Europe. As he informs readers of Webdiary, David did, indeed, mention the Iraqi butcher in the speech that he gave. He repeats, too, a line from the Adnan Hassan quote: “On Sunday I watched the peace activists rallying for peace without mentioning my butcher, Hussein.” But just mentioning Saddam Hussein is hardly the point. I had written: “The people” project their own anti-American obsession (in which Saddam Hussein barely exists) onto their image of Iraqis and thereby obliterate the point of view of the Iraqi who seeks liberty. In effect, they have murdered him in their minds.”

David only mentions Saddam Hussein while presuming to know what’s best for the Iraqis:

It will only strengthen the legend of the dictator Saddam Hussein and kill tens of thousands of innocent people. You and your government have already helped destroy the lives of almost half a million children through the UN embargo, but Saddam the dictator is still there…We don’t believe that dropping 4,000 bombs in the first 48 hours – as the Pentagon has announced it will do when Phase 2 of its invasion begins – will liberate the people of Iraq.

But the Iraqis do. Who are you, David, in your chauvinism, to tell the Iraqis what’s good for them? As if you know, and they don’t.

There’s the dose of American obsession, too:

Please explain to us, John, if the Bush administration is so intent on bringing democracy to Iraq why it has only provided $1 million of the $97 million allocated by the US Congress under the Iraqi Liberation Act of 1998? …

The Iraqis don’t care who frees them from Saddam Hussein. They just want to get rid of him.

David – like “the people” – don’t put two and two together. They say they understand how nasty Saddam is; they give lip service to understanding what it’s like to live under a totalitarian regime; and then they think that the Iraqis care who gets rid of Saddam.

But that’s just part of treating people like abstractions. Tampa and SIEV-X all over again. Australia is a country of embedded distance.

John Wojdylo is a sadly misinformed propagandist.

But in his speech to 100,000 people in Adelaide, David quoted the following statistic: You and your government have already helped destroy the lives of almost half a million children through the UN embargo.

He doesn’t mention that the figure of “almost half a million” comes from a joint report by the WHO and the Iraqi Government. I think it’s relevant to know that the report was co-authored by representatives from a totalitarian regime that has a vested interest in exploiting divisions in Western political opinion. Academics like Chomsky are acting in gross violation of academic standards of citation when they keep repeating this figure.

Studies conducted in the Kurdish autonomous region give the lie to the WHO-Iraqi regime’s figure. Child mortality rates are far lower in the Kurdish region than the WHO-Iraqi regime figure, despite Saddam’s use of chemical weapons in genocidal attacks in the late 1980s, and despite the fact that the Kurdish region suffers double sanctions: the UN-sanctions on Iraq, and discriminatory practices by Saddam – with full cooperation from the World Health Organization.

This is not even to state the obvious: that Saddam is responsible for diverting aid away from his people towards building his empire. The Iraqis who desire liberty think so. But David Palmer didn’t bother finding out what they think, before telling 100,000 people in Adelaide what is best for the Iraqis.

“Almost half a million”?

This is propaganda.

* * *

Michael Chong writes:

Most anti-war protesters know Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical hold over Iraqi people will not loosen by itself…

I’m completely sure that just about everybody can tick a box saying, “Iraq: (a) totalitarian dictatorship.” I’m confident that most people, when presented with a list of atrocities Saddam or his henchmen have committed, would nod in agreement that the list is completely credible. But somehow the information remains on the surface, disjointed, doesn’t gel with all their other knowledge.

I’d say our age (since about the 1930s actually, but more so since the rise of the Internet) is characterised by the tons of information people have in their heads. But despite knowing tons of information, people don’t have a feel for what a totalitarian dictatorship is – what it actually feels like inside your body, how it makes your body sick (“Hussein is like a cancer eating away at me every moment of the day.”). Often it’s because of preoccupations (eg the obsession with America) – or maybe preoccupations are projections of the mind as it tries to fill the disjointed gaps: a search for meaning.

Knowledge of people and foreign cultures often remains abstract, somehow unreal.

This is the problem of modernity – Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. People who could become lovers pass by each other unsuspectingly, because they don’t take the time to get to know what they know. They may also be captive to some preoccupation or other – like Czeslaw Milosz’s captive minds – and stuck inside their own heads, can’t make out the details of factual reality outside.

In any case, what I want to say is that merely having the information in your head does not constitute knowing. Knowing has also something to do with how the information relates to the other things you do, the standing it is given in your contemplations.

Michael Chong goes on to describe the ideal antiwar protester, one that has all the good qualities he wants, and who in his perfection, contradicts the seven anti-war protesters I have answered above.

Even if Michael’s ideal protester was present at the anti-war marches, he or she was not visible. What was overwhelmingly visible was something that led an Australian Iraqi to despair.

Even in presenting his ideal, Michael does not take into account the view of the Iraqi who wants liberation. The point about complexity and unknown consequences he makes is irrelevent to the Iraqi’s knowing that American bombs will liberate him from Saddam’s totalitarian hold on him. Michael is still presuming to know what’s best for the Iraqi. (Adnan Hassan: “I don’t care who rules my country after an invasion as long as there are less jails, less killing.”)

Believing French foreign minister Villepin’s argument that the future is uncertain – that the consequences of getting rid of Saddam are unpredictable – and that therefore one ought not act, requires believing that the Iraqi faces a fate worse than Saddam Hussein following liberation. It requires believing that the Americans are worse than Saddam, or that the risk is not worth taking, and it’s better to leave Saddam in power. If you are by nature a person who cannot take risks, it’s natural that you’ll choose the “no war” option.

If the liberty-desiring Iraqis do not have a prominent place in the contemplation of the problem, the only consistent view is the “me, myself, I view”.

“The policy of war has repeatedly failed to achieve its objectives and has incurred unacceptable risks and costs.”

This is factually wrong, and plays into the hands of dictators. I’m not going to restate basic historical facts here. Also, “global peace” cannot be an aim of war – unless you intend to contemplate “global hegemony”; and so it never was an aim of war. That’s Michael’s superficially noble invention.

In any case, I am not arguing for or against this imminent war. I don’t know why Michael mentions it. My piece is a description of the way things are, not an argument for or against war.

“I don’t believe ignorance and simplemindedness is the appropriate description of the people who find war objectionable on the basis of their personal knowledge.”

Are you telling me that all John Howard has to do to avoid the charge of “ignorance and simplemindedness” is to claim that he favours war on the basis of his personal knowledge? Or that the neo-Stalinist who wants to destroy America can avoid scrutiny by saying he’s acting on the basis of his personal knowledge? I don’t think so. Everybody’s actions are scrutable.

The issue is: where was the display of solidarity with the Iraqis who desire liberty? Where was the apology that this time, we cannot support your quest for liberty? That would have been the honourable thing to do.

But no. The anti-war movement sticks to the deception that it’s doing it for the Iraqis. The reason is simple: They then don’t have to worry about the consequences of their actions, about the fact that if the antiwar protesters were to succeed, Saddam would certainly kill many thousands more Iraqis.

“I also strongly disagree with John’s statement that ‘Australians have no personal experience of evil’. “

Michael cannot seriously contend that evil has had a normative influence on Australian life in general. A few Holocaust survivors, etc, yes. But that’s all. This is what makes Australia an archetypical postmodernist society, where all sorts of things flourish that have no chance elsewhere.

In any case, the main point is not this. The absence of evil as a formative influence on Australians leads to the following: We have never been put in a moral dilemma where we must choose between the lives of loved ones and freedom – where we must win our freedom at the expense of our innocence.

The point is that memory of the experience of making a choice forced by evil makes it easier to imagine the viewpoint of others when they’re in the same situation.

Eastern Europe’s recent history – the strong memory of positive use of American power to counter totalitarianism, and memory of having to win freedom at the expense of the lives of friends and family – is the central reason why the anti-war movement is weak east of Germany. (Kolko is completely wrong, and it’s obvious why.) While half a million protesters turned out in Berlin, and a hundred thousand in Australian cities, only 1,000 turned up in Warsaw, and not many more in Prague.

Germany never had to win its freedom – it had freedom handed to it.

Eastern Europe is vastly different to Australia because of the evil it had to contend with over five decades.


I want to make the point that force is often the necessary price of liberation. This is the case in Iraq. It’s just the way it is. But it’s also what the Iraqis think. If you are for the war, you ought to take responsibility for the casualties that would result – but the reward would be liberation of the Iraqis from Saddam.

If you’re against the war, you avoid the casualties of this imminent war, but the Iraqis will be subjected to Saddam’s war against them for years to come. Your choice is your responsibility.

The following article, by Jose Ramos-Horta, East Timor’s minister of foreign affairs, and joint-winner of the Nobel Peace prize in 1996, is pro-war, but it sheds light on the choice facing us, irrespective of whether you’re for or against the war.

Here are some excerpts [see “War for Peace? It Worked in My Country”, New York Times, Feb 25, 2003]:

There is hardly a family in my country that has not lost a loved one. Many families were entirely wiped out during the decades of occupation by Indonesia and the war of resistance against it. The United States and other Western nations contributed to this tragedy. Some bear a direct responsibility because they helped Indonesia by providing military aid. Others were accomplices through indifference and silence. But all redeemed themselves. In 1999, a global peacekeeping force helped East Timor secure its independence and protect its people. It is now a free nation.

But I still acutely remember the suffering and misery brought about by war. It would certainly be a better world if war were not necessary. Yet I also remember the desperation and anger I felt when the rest of the world chose to ignore the tragedy that was drowning my people. We begged a foreign power to free us from oppression, by force if necessary.

So I follow with some consternation the debate on Iraq in the United Nations Security Council and in NATO. I am unimpressed by the grandstanding of certain European leaders. Their actions undermine the only truly effective means of pressure on the Iraqi dictator: the threat of the use of force.

But if the antiwar movement dissuades the United States and its allies from going to war with Iraq, it will have contributed to the peace of the dead. Saddam Hussein will emerge victorious and ever more defiant. What has been accomplished so far will unravel. Containment is doomed to fail. We cannot forget that despots protected by their own elaborate security apparatus are still able to make decisions.

Saddam Hussein has dragged his people into at least two wars. He has used chemical weapons on them. He has killed hundreds of thousands of people and tortured and oppressed countless others. So why, in all of these demonstrations, did I not see one single banner or hear one speech calling for the end of human rights abuses in Iraq, the removal of the dictator and freedom for the Iraqis and the Kurdish people? If we are going to demonstrate and exert pressure, shouldn’t it be focused on the real villain, with the goal of getting him to surrender his weapons of mass destruction and resign from power? To neglect this reality, in favour of simplistic and irrational anti-Americanism, is obfuscating the true debate on war and peace…

Yes, the antiwar movement would be able to claim its own victory in preventing a war. But it would have to accept that it also helped keep a ruthless dictator in power and explain itself to the tens of thousands of his victims.

History has shown that the use of force is often the necessary price of liberation. A respected Kosovar intellectual once told me how he felt when the world finally interceded in his country: “I am a pacifist. But I was happy, I felt liberated, when I saw NATO bombs falling.”

Our conscience is not sabotaged


The last laugh. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies. www.daviesart.com

Hi. Today, responses to John Wojdylo’s attack on the motivations of peace marchers in Why the people’s instinct can be wrong. Contributors are Simon Ellis, Peter Funnell, Michael Chong, James Woodcock, Michael Grau-Veliz, Paul Walter, David Palmer and Peter Woodforde.

John’s claim that popular opinion on the war and on boat people are both borne of denial of the “other” is a challenging one. Many protesters, in my view, are with minority opinion on boat people and detention policy, stressing humanitarian concerns, universal human rights, and compliance with international law. Their stance is consistent. Why have others joined them? I think it’s partly about the Australian instinct for isolationism. To build Fortress Australia against boat people, then want to fight a war a long way away against a nation of no direct threat to us is a contradiction for many.

I also think that, perhaps paradoxically, the Bali bombings increased opposition to the war. Australians saw and felt the horror of indiscriminate mass violence against their own people, innocents all, creating empathy for the fate which awaits Iraqi civilians when the war begins. They want to avoid being a part of inflicting harm on innocents if at all possible. They also fear becoming a higher priority target for terrorism in our region if we invade Iraq.

To begin, Webdiary poet Michael Chong wrote this poem after hearing “John Howard’s latest demonstration of “How to piss off one million people with short sentences”.

Sabotaging conscience

by Michael Chong

‘kiss my ass, take it to the president’ Charles Bukowski in ‘I cannot Stand Tears’

Field Commander Howard

his face grows soured

as he stares down

into the crowed streets.

“These marchers’ hands will not salute

and their feet do refute

the order of my

drummer boys’ beats.”


So the Commander himself moves

to the spot with a higher view

and then unleashes

his world-famous megaphone.

He shouts of certain harms

in refusing his call to arms

as he casts upon the rowdy sinners

his first stone.


This march of objection

Howard accuses of collaboration

With the enemy’s aforesaid

murderous ways.

But that’s no way to interpret

a situation so delicate.

And besides this is what

the marching people say.


“Often we’re left to accept

democracy’s alleged effects

and ask whither

our conscience withdrew.

But at time such as it is,

future obscured by debris

mere show of hands

just will not do


We fear that your current mission

of spreading bombs and salivation

will not be executed

as planned or as conspired

And it will not do to deduce

that justice will issue

from cannons that are meant for

issuing of fire


Those held hostage

to the Tyrant’s chemical rage

will not be rescued

but simply evicted.

Just as choices of participation

in war and in litigation

are seldom offered

but always inflicted.


So we’ll not hear you criticise

the fitness of our hearts’ eyes.

Compassion’s aim, you know

is always true.

Our conscience is not sabotaged

and our passions are not overcharged.

Honour is erected upon reason

of many not just a few”


Simon Ellis

Like many of your readers I’ve just finished a couple of hours struggling through and trying to comprehend John Wojdylo’s latest epic, but this time I was struck by a fundamental change in his analysis – a new and almost manic edge to his reasoning.

I’ve always seen John’s pieces as credible attempts to build up an intellectual argument to support his hawkish stance on a particular issue, and despite the fact that I disagree with him at the most basic of levels, he has won my grudging respect through his unassailable use of logic and reason.

His latest effort, however, falls far short of the mark, and is a prime example of how an acute intellect can sometimes betray its owner.

John appears convinced that he alone has the clarity of thought to see the ‘real’ intentions of the protesters, or at the very least that he alone is able to understand the true nature of the mass demonstrations around the world. John has seen through the anti-war movement’s self-delusion and is now trumpeting the same contradiction in terms that our political masters seem so fond of – that it is the peace marchers, not the war-mongers, who are plunging this world into conflict.

Does he realise how ridiculous this argument is? Is he so caught up in the complex mental gymnastics that he’s had to put himself through in order to justify his pro-war position that he can’t see what is right there in front of his face?

I think so. I think that the very intellect that has served him well in the past has got him so caught up in assumptions, and counter arguments, and rationalisations that he can’t see the fundamental truth – which is that he is in denial.

John denies that the protesters ‘understand’ what they’re doing. He denies that the majority of Australians do not support his position by assigning trivial motivations to their actions. But most of all he denies the very message of the anti-war movement – because to recognise it would be to introduce an absolute counter-argument to his position, and that is not John’s style.

So John, allow me to clarify a couple of points for your benefit:

1.The anti-war movement doesn’t support Saddam Hussein – period. As much as you and your political namesake would like to believe that it does (because it allows you room to re-claim the moral high ground) it just doesn’t. Opposition to a war on Iraq does not equate to support for the dictator who runs the country. Duh.

2. The fact that Saddam interprets the demonstrations as ‘support’ is irrelevant. It is like arguing that those who oppose the death penalty should shut their mouths because the murderer on death row is interpreting their opposition as implicit support for his innocence. What would you suggest the anti-war movement do John? Keep quiet as a mouse in case an insane tyrant interprets their ‘anti-war’ message as support? Geez mate – get real.

3. The anti-war movement does not support the status quo in Iraq. Not one person who demonstrated in Australia last weekend would argue against the absolute necessity of removing Saddam from power, nor the necessity of ensuring Iraq does not have WMD. The anti-war movement simply believes that the world can and should achieve these ends without killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people. That’s all there is to it! We want Saddam out as much as you do – we’re just not prepared to go to the same violent lengths as you are to achieve it.

4. It is illogical to argue that anti-war protesters should be condemned for not marching against injustices perpetrated by other countries. Why would we protest against Saddam Hussein? We live in Australia for crying out loud – we protest against things that we’re doing – not stuff that other people are doing!! It is completely nonsensical to argue that we have no right to protest against our Government’s actions because we don’t protest other Governments’ actions.

5. Yours is NOT the only way. You seem to believe that by not supporting your war the anti-war movement is condemning the people of Iraq to a lifetime of brutality and oppression – as if there are absolutely no other options available. Doesn’t your very argument depend on this premise? That war is the ONLY solution to the problems faced by the people of Iraq?

No doubt John would be convinced that it is in fact me who is in denial. That all the arguments set out above merely serve to re-enforce the fact that I have allowed my inner dove to cloud my reasoning, or alternatively that only he is able to really understand the reality behind my viewpoint. Certainly if this gets published I expect a 20 pager from John refuting my every point with a complex and verbose web of counter-argument.

Well I’ve gotta tell you John – you don’t understand me better than I understand myself. In fact, all evidence suggests you don’t understand the vast majority of Australians at all. Come down from your intellectual ivory tower mate – unwind the spin that you’ve built around yourself – and open your eyes to the truth. You doggedly support a war that will needlessly cause the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children – when there are other avenues available to us.



Peter Funnell in Farrer, ACT


John Wojdylo has turned himself inside out this time. I march against the war in Iraq, because I don’t want any Australia citizen to go to war. This apparently is an incomplete state of mind or being and does not assist the freedom loving Iraqis. My first thought was not for the Iraqis. I did it for the citizens of the country in which I choose to live, the place of my “dreamtime”. For what it will do to those I love and care about.

I don’t want Iraqis killed anymore than Australians. I hope the Iraqis get rid of Saddam’s regime, but that’s their responsibility. I do what I can to help by not joining the fight against them. By demonstrating that I do not support a war, I point at the only way possible – for the Iraqis to do it for themselves.

I am not responsible for what Saddam might think he can achieve by exploiting my unwillingness to kill Iraqis. He will do what is necessary for his purpose. I will not meet him on ground of his choosing. I will not be an agent for the death of Iraqis and enable him to point to me and say you were prepared to kill Iraqis. I am not.

I live in Australia, I am an Australian citizen, I will speak to Australians through my simple participation in a march. That’s where I start because that is my first responsibility.

The Wojdylo spins a convoluted intellectual yarn. It quite literally disappears up its fundamental orifice. It lacks “instinct” of any kind.

I’ll stay with my instincts and the instincts of others who marched because among their many individual motives they simply don’t want Australians to go to war against Iraq. If a fascist marches alongside me, that’s all right by me on this issue. My instincts tell me that tens of thousands of ordinary people march because they are concerned we should not go to war.

It was “instinct” that motivated people. The sense that war is bloody pointless and you have to be desperate to get involved in one. Not wanting Australians to go to war and not killing Iraqis is the best I can do. I felt that was the sum total of the “people’s instinct” on this one. Simple enough. It will do me.


Michael Chong in Manly, Sydney

I must admit that John Wojdylo’s article was as powerful as it was sincere, and should be read by all those at the anti-war rallies. Although the article did cause me to rethink my position, I disagree with his judgement on the current anti-war movement:

“[ T]hey are the ones responsible for keeping Saddam in power, for the murder of countless Iraqis by his henchmen in the years until the fall of his regime. Whether you agree with the war or not, this is the consequence of the success of the protests’ aims. From being obliterated in the minds of “the people”, the viewpoint of the Iraqi desiring liberty is obliterated in reality.”

To begin with, I don’t believe the anti-war protests will stop the war. The war is still ON and diplomatic squabbles at the UN will not do much more than to buy a few weeks time.

More significantly, he assumes that objection to the war can be interpreted, by the process of negation, as a demand for complete disengagement by the world from the Iraq situation. It is possible that a few extreme isolationists may have been present at the rally, but, surely, these protesters, along with the Nazis, were a tiny minority amongst the thousands who have put some thought into this issue.

Most anti-war protesters know Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical hold over Iraqi people will not loosen by itself. All sides in the debate understand that the continuation of the current Iraqi regime also means the continuation of its brutality against the people. This, along with the other critical issue of Hussein’s threat to the international security, is the problem faced by everyone around the world, regardless of their ideological, political or religious differences.

The current situation meets the classical definition of a crisis, where possible solutions to the problem generate even greater webs of complex and uncertain consequences, to the extent that all those involved in the crisis become unable to move in any particular direction. In such situations there will always be one party that calls for decisive action and brands any disinclination towards such an action as a failure to address the problem.

This is precisely what the US has done. Colin Powell has repeatedly accused those who reject the military solution of running away from the problem, a predictable strategy of putting words in the mouths of opponents to manipulate the discussion into a stark division between those ‘for’ the solution and those ‘against’. We became all too familiar with this game during the Cold War. To those who accept the picture of polarised opinions presented by Powell, it is natural to assume that those “the antiwar protesters – ten million around the world – ought to have apologised to Iraqis and offered their condolences that this time they cannot support liberty in Iraq; that they have chosen to block action that would free Iraqis”.

I do not believe that the distrust against the US’s tendency to run head-first into any type of international crisis can be construed as a retreat from our responsibility to address the issue of Saddam’s dictatorship.

It is perfectly legitimate to ask whether full military engagement will achieve the result of liberating the Iraqis and reconstructing the society ravaged by the Gulf War and the sanctions, and to point out that the humanitarian justification of the coming war is only incidental to Bush’s stated objective of disarming Saddam.

Significantly, the recent protest against the war in Iraq was also the expression by the people of their disillusionment with the current strategy of militarism, as a matter of principle and of policy. Ever since the Second World War international military actions, particularly those by the US, have not achieved their stated aims of achieving the global peace. At best military solutions resulted in a stalemate of threats and, in most cases, the presence of the US Army has created cascades of reactions that haunt the world for decades.

This was one the main points most protesters were arguing for: The policy of war has repeatedly failed to achieve its objectives and has incurred unacceptable risks and costs. This says nothing about whether or not the protesters have failed to recognised the need for global security or for a just response against criminal dictators. The protesters simply did not agree that the stealth bombers and cruise missiles will have a positive impact.

What we now need from the anti-war movement is a positive contribution to a debate currently locked inside the polemic cages of the war-or-nothing scenario. People want a third solution, a fourth one or maybe a fifth, so that we don’t end up in a position where we are fighting another war that kills the people we might have been able to save.

We resent this stalemate hostage negotiating position where you must choose either the assailant or the victim. Problems of human affairs can rarely, if ever, be reduced to choosing between a yes or no answer. However, there is a serious disadvantage against the anti-war movement which has prevented its full articulation: lack of information. No one outside the US military command knows of how the war would conducted, what will happened after or whether Saddam will be deposed at all.

I also strongly disagree with John’s statement that ‘Australians have no personal experience of evil’. Apart from the Bali victims and their families and friends, there are many people in Australia today who have suffered in wars and under oppressions. The Australian soldiers’ experiences of the battles in the South Pacific are some of the worst war stories that could be told. There are Holocaust survivors, refugees from war torn Vietnam, the indigenous people who have lived under subjugation in their own land, and many more.

These Australians were not manipulated into taking anti-war stance. They know themselves what a war does. Some follow their wisdom, others are pushed by their own convictions. I don’t believe ignorance and simplemindedness is the appropriate description of the people who find war objectionable on the basis of their personal knowledge.

I do not believe that the process of negation can necessarily construe the positions of the protesters as endorsing or ignoring the continued murder of Iraqis by their government. The vast majority of the protesters would abhor the idea that the deaths at the hands of Saddam is somehow better than the deaths at the hands of a US paratrooper. But the protest was not about comparing the moral validity of the two appalling option. It was an objection against one particular course of action that this government has decided to take without providing, or even hinting at, any alternatives actions that we know exist.

There are precious few forums for serious political debates in Australia, and there aren’t many occasions where grannies and mums gather for a political reason. Given the current state of our body politic, people’s engagement in political activities must surely be encouraged, not deplored – especially when the Government is willing to interpret the people’s silence as a mandate for its actions.

Australian democracy has for far too long been starved of the nourishing milk of public discourse and the alienation of the people from their governments.


James Woodcock

Three bones to pick with John Wojdylo

1) John makes the same assumptions of many lets-bomb-Iraq cheerleaders. It is simplistic to label all of the 10 million who marched as all being pacifists, leftists and Anti-Americanists. Many people – including my Liberal voting mother – are unconvinced that the case for war has been made. With that debunked, a lot of his historical and philosophical arguments collapse under their own weight.

2) His pseudo-intellectual arguments are exposed when he condemns Gabriel Kolko as an apologist for Marxism and Stalinist gulags without further discussion or evidence, particularly as Kolko’s thoughtful The crisis in NATO: A geopolitical earthquake? is about NATO and has nothing to do with defending Communism. This is nothing more than name calling.

3) I agree with Wojdylo that there are some uncomfortable crossover points with the majority of Australians agreeing with the turning away of Tampa and opposing the war against Iraq. Both may in part be a symptom of growing isolationism and a shunning of the “other”. However in my many attempts to convince people to support a more humane policy for asylum seekers I have found that using cold hard facts to counter the misinformation of the government was the best way to win hearts and minds. I also found I did not get very far with mere assertions that my stance was the morally superior one. I would suggest that John Wojdylo may like to try to do the same.

PS: On the other hand I thought The intellectual holocaust in our universities has just begun was absolutely brilliant. What a complex person our John is!


Michael Grau-Veliz in Sydney

The pro war undertones of John’s piece were not even masked. No one likes war and the following quote by Hermann Goerring explains why:

“Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don’t want war: neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

I can see why John wrote what he did, and it’s a reflection of why we have gotten into this situation in the first place. The pro war movement will have you believe that the freedom is only gained by war and bloodshed. That if you want freedom you have to fight for it. That a totalitarian government can only be defeated by force. They forget to mention, however, who puts these fascist totalitarians in power in the first place, or who allows them to flourish. What have these so called “liberators” been doing for the last 12 years? Why the sudden need to get rid of Saddam – does he pose a bigger threat than he did last year or the year before that?

On the other hand the peaceniks will have you believe that war is to be avoided at all cost but offer no plausible solution. Where have these protesters been hiding for the last 12 years? Where were they when the Kurds were facing genocide? Using John’s example, where were they in the Tampa and SIEV-X incidents?

I agree with John that we have become complacent and accustomed to our peace, but so has the rest of the Western world. Every type of atrocity is OK as long as it’s not on our back yard. It is easier to turn away from the atrocities of the world then to try to find solutions for them and as long as it doesn’t affect us – who cares?

This kind of behaviour has permeated all of our society, indeed it is the basis of our economy and culture of consumerism. As bleak as this may sound, until we find an answer to curb our own selfishness and greed conflict will always exist and situations like the one we are currently facing will keep popping up.


Paul Walter in Adelaide

I am sorry, I do not quite see why you value this John Wojdylo so much. That is one of the silliest articles I have ever read. He is a lay-down misere for an editorial job at the “OZ”.

He obviously missed the SBS documentary on Saturday that laid down in microscopic detail the full calumny of the Republican power-grab in the 2000 US election, for instance. He can’t recognise that the US acts as a de-facto global government wreaking the same havoc on an international scale as a banana dictator does locally.

Didn’t he read about the same Republican mindset, as described in US Senator Byrd’s speech at A lonely voice in a US Senate silent on war, especially the bit about the $6 TRILLION the Republicans have apparently robbed the global economy of since coming to power? This money was needed for the global poor, not a pack of corrupt fund-managers, media magnates, organised crime figures and armaments manufacturers. The faltering US economy is revealing at this very moment the result of massive diversions of investment funds and at a more intrinsic level, confidence, because of Bush and several preceding US administrations and their blindness, greed and arrogance.

US and other Western politicians and the interests they represented put Saddam there. They are most responsible ultimately; not people who have witnessed the dirty scene and dare to pass comment on it. The people REALLY responsible are now starting to falter and to choke on their own guilt and many others will suffer for their denial unless they are honestly confronted. Saddam is the symptom, not just the disease.

The West, and the US in particular, knew what he was and what he would do, and knowing this FULL-WELL kept him there. This was particularly true in 1991, after Bush Sen. urged the Iraqi people to “rise up”, and then callously abandoned them to cop Saddam’s venom at the end of that war.

If I deliberately allow my savage dog to wander the streets and he bites someone, it’s not ultimately the dog that is responsible – I am. Is Saddam the “dog” of powerless pacifists, or the armed powers who maintained him for their own sick ends then have the cheek to publicly blame the rest of us for?

What the demonstrators are arguing for, as ever, is for an acceptance of responsibility from the Globalist Oiligarchs ultimately responsible for the mess, instead of the usual fobbing off of blame and responsibility onto everyone else.

No, John, we won’t accept the US blowing the Iraqi people back to the stone age, and then finding ways for the rest of us to pay, yet again, for THEIR mistakes!

We read of the wonderful conclusion drawn by some that because of all this complicity we then SHOULD inflict suffering on thousands of Iraqi people! To question the behaviours and underlying mentalities that have driven acts like the 2000 US election gerrymander, and numerous foreign affairs antics driven ONLY by cold-blooded self-interest, is absolutely and utterly necessary in attempting to acquire a balanced perspective concerning unfolding events.

To not to have noticed these is to pretend blindness. To ignore them is to fall into the simplistic and criminal expediency of scapegoating, to avoid admitting error, as right-wingers do with Saddam.



David Palmer in Adelaide

John Wojdylo is a sadly misinformed propagandist. Just one example is a quote from his latest: “At least one other person saw what I saw, knows what I know, thought some of my thoughts that weekend. He is Adnan Hassan (pseudonym), an Iraqi refugee living in Australia: ‘On Sunday I watched the peace activists rallying for peace without mentioning my butcher, Hussein.'”

Here are excerpts from the speech I gave at the Adelaide rally, attended by 100,000 people according to the police estimate:

We also have a message for U.S. President George W. Bush. The game is up, George. We’re sick and tired of your games and deception. We don’t believe that dropping 4,000 bombs in the first 48 hours – as the Pentagon has announced it will do when Phase 2 of its invasion begins – will liberate the people of Iraq. It will only strengthen the legend of the dictator Saddam Hussein and kill tens of thousands of innocent people. You and your government have already helped destroy the lives of almost half a million children through the UN embargo, but Saddam the dictator is still there.

Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter has told us that we should expect Saddam to lie – that the real issue is to contain him and to outwit him. Law enforcement not war is now underway to bring the criminal Bali bombers to justice. Saddam Hussein did not direct these criminals. And Osama bin-Laden does not live in Baghdad. 4000 bombs dropped on the people of Iraq in a 48 hour period will not lead to the capture and prosecution of all those who were part of the Bali bombing criminal network.

In no way did I or anyone present endorse Saddam Hussein. Just the opposite. Please explain to us, John, if the Bush administration is so intent on bringing democracy to Iraq why it has only provided $1 million of the $97 million allocated by the US Congress under the Iraqi Liberation Act of 1998? Why is the US planning to put in a military governor in Iraq for two years, against the wishes of the (US sponsored) Iraqi Opposition? And why do the Kurds to the north now fear that invading Turks – supported with US arms – will commit a new genocide against them? Is it possible that the situation is more complex than you portray it?

At the very least, you need to have a bit more confidence in democracy as something that comes from the people rather than a handful of politicians who label us misguided.


Peter Woodforde in Melba, ACT

John Wojdylo excelled himself. I particularly enjoyed: “As in Europe, especially Germany, where the movement is relatively strong in support of Arabs generally and Saddam Hussein in particular (this is surprising, but only on the surface), there were undoubtedly neo-nazis present in the Australian marches hoping for Saddam’s victory – meaning survival – and an American downfall.”

Come on John, who else was there? Yasser Arafat in mufti? Osama bin Laden? Martin Bormann? Alger Hiss? Julius and Ethel Rosenberg? Manning Clark with his order of Lenin? Skippy? Don’t feel restrained, JW. Give full rein to your imagination.

I take it that John Wojdylo occasionally gnaws through the leather straps and sifts this sort of chaff from the dozens of feverish, but extremely well-funded Republican Right and Likud-Irgun terrorist sites, all chiefly characterised, incidentally, by endless pushing of the virtues of ethnic cleansing in Palestine.

In fact, part of Wojdylo’s reaction to those who reject a massive Cruise missile bombardment of Baghdad – “For the people’s instinct – probably even will – is to avoid this path at all costs, avoid categorical conclusions, find ways to convince themselves that this conclusion which merely seems categorical can be safely subverted” and “Because maiming or killing at their hands is impossible to contemplate. Because they have never come to terms with the risks and sacrifices necessary for freedom – which here means that the Iraqi’s dream of liberation cannot be central in their considerations” – have clear echoes of those American and Likud terrorist extremists who ceaselessly deride the position of moderate and leftist Israelis and Americans. And occasionally kill them, too. Ask Yitzhak Rabin.

When Wojdylo rides a Cruise missile (or perhaps a Smart Bomb) into the suburbs of Baghdad, slapping his stetson, whoopin’ and hollerin’, I do hope some gallant CNN cameraman broadcasts his moral mission live to the world. We’d hate to see him miss the publicity, let alone the mathematical precision of such a flight. From hyperbole to parabola. Ride ’em cowboy! Make the world safe for dichotomy! Yee-har!

As to whether he’ll be able to keep shovelling out his personal Augean stable from the Other Side, I’m not sure.

PS: I’m extremely disappointed that Wojdylo has so far spared himself the task of linking Saddam and Robert Mugabe through a network of cricket-loving pacifists based in training camps in Pakistan, and can only hope he’s shaping up at the crease to smack their all their balls to the boundary.

Why the people’s instinct can be wrong

I’ll take up Margo’s invitation in The people’s instinct on the war to answer the following:


What’s made the world split asunder over [the impending war]? What’s the really big picture here? What’s at the bottom of the intensity of feelings about it? Any ideas?

First, though, the question arises to what extent are “the people” – that imaginary crowd of individuals whose viewpoint is expounded in Margo’s piece – representative of the people that actually took to the streets that weekend? To what extent is the portrayal of “the people” a myth, to what extent is it accurate?

I believe it’s possible that some of the people who tagged along imagined they were mourning the victims of the imminent war in advance, without subscribing to any of the views of “the people”. Or without asserting anything – not even “I am against the imminent war”. Simply just mourning in advance.

Others would have rejected “the people’s instinct” and actually acknowledged the good the war would do, while also mourning in advance. They would have brushed off the ubiquitous messages to the contrary as an irritation, as constant noise that interfered with their private requiem.

I think it’s something of a national characteristic that some Australians just do things for private reasons, despite what everyone around them is doing and what the official purpose of an event is. Just the fact that a lot of people are to be mobilised on the same day, and the focus is on the imminent war in Iraq, is enough to agitate a person’s thoughts.

That’s about it, though, for the legitimate moral reasons – as I see it – for people to gather in this way on or near the occasion of a war of this kind, given the Iraqi reality. The other reasons for demonstrating, particularly in the light of the way it was actually done, cause the world to be torn asunder. My purpose is to explain this view.

One more view not held by “the people” would have been manifested by a tiny minority of demonstrators: As in Europe, especially Germany, where the movement is relatively strong in support of Arabs generally and Saddam Hussein in particular (this is surprising, but only on the surface), there were undoubtedly neo-nazis present in the Australian marches hoping for Saddam’s victory – meaning survival – and an American downfall.

So here are three examples that show how the concept of “the people” is narrower than reality. The reason is that adherents of this concept project a particular moral view onto the world and wrongly claim that “This is the world as it is”: In fact, life is bigger than theory, even antiwar theory. “The people” would find preposterous the near certainty that neo-nazis were present amongst their number at the antiwar rallies in Australia. Reality is stranger than theory.

Of course, we’re lucky enough to be living in a democracy in which we have the right to express more or less whatever we want. As with Tampa and SIEV-X, Australians are quite free to express all aspects of our national character, even abhorrent ones.

I want to explain why it’s possible to get the same sick feeling from the antiwar protests as with Tampa and SIEV-X. It’s not because of the neo-nazis, but the mainstream protesters – “the people”. Even the elderly, some of whom walked because they were sick of war and fighting, and were concerned for their grandchildren. The feeling is that of Australia selling her soul.

The feeling has nothing to do with whether one believes the imminent war is morally right or wrong. It has something to do with the way the protests were done.

It has a lot to do with our ability to recognize and accept responsibility for the consequences of our actions, especially our negative choices. The way we make sense of a foreign event such as the Iraqi crisis directly affects the kind of society forming around us through the sum of actions of people like us.

A repeat of the mistake Australians made with Tampa and SIEV-X was always on the cards because – as I will demonstrate – an inalienable part of both the pure leftist and pure pacifist positions is a denial of individual freedom, especially if winning this freedom requires the help of “imperialist” or capitalist forces (in the former case) or risk of loss of life (latter case). This denial occurs in a way that people aren’t normally used to thinking about. It nevertheless happens: It’s very real.

The critical point is that as they pursue their own ideological ends, adherents of these positions obliterate knowledge of the individual’s condition. Their moral failure lies in this obliteration – not in their apparent inadvertent support for a dictator.

Long before accepting this freedom-desiring individual as a kindred spirit – which you’d think is natural, considering we live in a country that supposedly loves liberty – committed leftists do everything in their power to stymie the forces that could give this individual what he or she wants. This has the practical effect of prolonging the reign of even the dictator who has caused the death of two million.

Today, we’re seeing the most extreme application in history of the words of Sir Stafford Cripps, a prominent left-wing member of the British Labour Party in the 1930s:

We believe Imperialism with its competition, exploitation and aggression to be an unjust and evil basis for a society of nations. We cannot, therefore, support wars – whatever excuses may be made for them – the objective of which is to perpetuate the system we not only dislike but which we believe to be the fundamental cause of war.

Cripps’s error lay in failing to recognise that ideas are contagious, that fascism is a system as much as the “Imperialism” he hated, and that a fascist dictator rarely lives in isolation: He easily attracts unscrupulous allies. Jorg Haider and Russian ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky have made several trips to Baghdad to meet Saddam Hussein. Haider even appeared in a long al-Jazeera interview in which at one point he labelled the genocide of the Kurds a “rumour”. Of course, we don’t know what went on at these meetings – perhaps these were no more than mutual moral support sessions between friends.

Cripps did support wars if they were (ostensibly) not in the cause of capitalism or imperialism. Today, he would perhaps be a supporter of a strictly UN-sanctioned war – though if a UN veto favoured imperialism by a smaller country, then his position would be shown to be inconsistent and his assertion that he supports justice for all a self-delusion – just as it has always been with the Leninists and Marxists. The antiwar obsession of the British Labour Party subsided after Mussolini invaded Abyssinia in 1935, at which point the party’s foreign policy was altered to reflect the fascist threat.

Preoccupation with the figurehead of the forces determined to neutralise the dictator’s power, and failure to take seriously the desires of the victim of totalitarian oppression, makes it seem that it is the dictator who is the kindred spirit of the leftists and pacifists. The sum of their actions always go towards helping him out.

George Orwell in the 1940s may have been the first to write this observation in English. But he didn’t explain it. This Webdiary piece develops George Orwell’s view. Of course, nothing I write is truly new. It’s just that all of it seems to have been forgotten.

I’m saying that when they claim it is unintentional, they’re not being completely honest: True, they’re not directly intending this consequence, but a destructive intention certainly exists.

The position of the committed pacifist, on the other hand, is an excuse for the status quo. It contradicts itself because it excuses violence in the past. For example, Mohandas Ghandi’s support for Palestine was an excuse for the violent conquest of the land by Arabs a century or more before. As I explained in Saddam’s Desire for Genocide, Ghandi’s philosophy excuses empire-building and genocide. When the Jews were faced with extermination by the Nazis, Ghandi advised them to turn the other cheek and thereby preserve their righteousness.

If the status quo is to be preserved through pacifism, why should I not build as great an empire as I can starting now, before the political effect of pacifism makes expanding my empire impossible? Unsurprisingly, some pacifists have through the years been attracted to French empire-building through diplomacy, which has always had elements of betrayal and collaboration with dictators.

The above outline of ideologies has been fleshed out solidly in modern history, and later (in Part 2) I’ll expand on them in the context of the Iraq crisis. For now, I’ll just cite George Orwell, from his Notes on Nationalism (May, 1945):

Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writings of younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States.

Moreover they do not as a rule condemn violence as such, but only violence used in defence of western countries. The Russians, unlike the British, are not blamed for defending themselves by warlike means, and indeed all pacifist propaganda of this type avoids mention of Russia or China.

It is not claimed, again, that the Indians should abjure violence in their struggle against the British. [JW: Or nowadays, that the Palestinians should, against the Israelis.] Pacifist literature abounds with equivocal remarks which, if they mean anything, appear to mean that statesmen of the type of Hitler are preferable to those of the type of Churchill, and that violence is perhaps excusable if it is violent enough.

The world being “split asunder” is nothing new. In this essay, though, I’m focussing on the moral picture – what exactly is being torn? How does it happen?

My personal view is that the process of splitting asunder is caused by the forms that the human mind is prone to taking, the form a mind takes despite itself. Present-day resonances with these immutable logical forms – which are as real as the antiwar movement – explain why “the people” are so easily distracted by conspiracies about the Americans while paying virtually no attention to – and having little understanding of – the role of Saddam Hussein in the life of the Iraqi who thirsts for freedom.

Regarding “the people’s instinct”, I cannot agree with what it is purported to be. The Volksgeist can imbue an individual with any instinct – but in the case of the imminent war on Iraq, it is probably a confluence of unexamined fears that renders the individual easily manipulable towards making dreadful mistakes.

Instinct cannot resolve the terrible moral dilemma faced by the Iraqi desiring freedom. The final step has got to be an act of human will, because the situation is far outside the bounds of what is met in everyday life, especially in the West. The Westerner’s instinct shies away from understanding this Iraqi, from sympathising with him or her, from taking stock of this Iraqi’s existence at all. The elderly couple in Fremantle, Western Australia, for example, who walked because they were sick of war and fighting, and were concerned for their grandchildren, had no feelings at all for the Iraqi desiring freedom, even though their actions were contributing to keeping a regime in power that makes most Iraqi lives miserable.

It’s worth recalling that “the people’s instinct” was manipulated in the events surrounding Tampa and the SIEV-X catastrophe to the advantage of unscrupulous, power-seeking opportunists. The gut feeling of even a seeming majority of Australians can be dreadfully wrong.

Even a great literary and scientific nation such as Germany can become thoroughly corrupt and get a deep gut feeling that is abhorrent in hindsight. The Volksgeist drove half a million to protest in Berlin; and now 53 percent of Germans cannot tell the difference between a man who has perpetrated genocide on his own citizens and caused the death of at least two million, and a figurehead who has committed the lives of two hundred thousand of his nation’s sons and daughters to neutralise his power. This is extremely disturbing, because the view minimises the danger of fascism while blaming the world’s problems on those that fight fascism.

The vehemence of the obsession with the figurehead is stunning. An anti-personality cult has been set in motion around the world – it vilifies Bush, while the fact remains that a team plans US policy, not an individual. The team members with few exceptions have the opposite traits for which Bush is vilified. Valid criticisms of the Bush administration can be made, but we hardly ever hear them.

Dangerous, politically ambiguous chauvinism has been around for a century or more. Here’s an example. In May 1944, just before D-Day, at the height of the Nazi dictatorship in France (perpetrated by the collaborating Vichy government), Hubert Beuve-Mery, future founder and director of Le Monde, wrote (and meant it):

The Americans constitute a real danger for France, a danger that is quite different to that which Nazi Germany menaces us with, or the danger the Russians could threaten us with. The Americans could well stop us from starting a necessary revolution, and their materialism does not even have the grandeur tragique of the materialism of the totalitarian regimes. While they uphold a true cult of liberty, they do not feel the need to free themselves from the servitudes that are part and parcel of their capitalism. [Quoted in: “The Anti-American Obsession”, Jean-Francois Revel, 2002]

Similar “third way” sentiments – as well as orthodox pro-communist views – were expressed during World War II in the Stalin-initiated socialist resistance movement, the National Army, which comprised about 10 percent of the entire anti-German resistance in Poland. The difference in Poland, however, is that communists came to power after the war, and the misguided “moderate” socialists were swept away after betraying mainstream Polish military: they’d fought for an illusion. This led, for one thing, to the murder of several thousand Polish military and intellectuals, who had fought for the Home Army, by the Russians immediately after the war. (This was after Katyn. The Katyn murders – in which 20,000 Polish officers and intellectuals were murdered by the Russians, occurred in 1941.)

With the Americans now seemingly opting for eventual extended military occupation of Iraq, it is worth mentioning that according to Revel, the political left was against the Marshall plan in Europe, as it considered the plan a neo-colonialist and imperialist manoeuvre on the part of the United States. Half a century later, with leftist opposition to planned American occupation of Iraq, little has changed. After WWII, the left wanted a Marshall plan for Africa instead. If the left had got its way at the expense of the Americans, Germany would have been an economic backwater today.

“The people’s instinct” is probably a confluence of unexamined fears that renders the individual easily manipulable towards making dreadful mistakes, for it cannot guide the will in the crucial final step when this involves a terrible moral (or other) dilemma. In my next column, I’ll show how “the people” (remember, I’ve defined this specifically) – having lost the ability to drive out the demons awoken by these unexamined fears, with science, logic and history – are captive in a hell of their own making. Moreover, instead of seeing the thing as it is, they are distracted by side-issues that – although often important in their own right – are not the most important thing. My aim is not to vilify or confront, but to diagnose, clarify, and offer a way out.

For now, I’ll just outline the main points, leaving the factual back up to my next column. “The people” have lost the passion for knowledge and the necessary patience for precision, and they steal certitude that neither they nor anyone else are entitled to. Just these one or two failures are enough to kick off a chain of imprecision and false certitude, like Chinese whispers happening inside their head, which causes an evolving view to diverge ever further from reality until it reaches one of a few plateaux that are familiar to all of us. Reality checks don’t work, as new facts are overwhelmingly used to confirm neurotic fears rather than explode them.

In what matters most, “the people” have retreated from the world of documented fact into a world of congealed phantasms. They project their rationalisations and obliterate reality rather than expound on reality. Of course, “the people” are not the only ones who can suffer from this, but the subject here is Iraq, and I’m focussing on recent actions of “the people”.

The historians among them falsify history and stubbornly never apologise for teaching falsehoods or for damaging the education of generations of students and other readers. Even after overwhelming documentary evidence of the true state of affairs becomes available, these historians continue disseminating their old views, hence become historical revisionists.

For example, leftist historical revisionists still cannot come to grips with the evil of the Soviet communist state: They deny it, and falsify particular events to make the reality fit their view. Every observation they make of the Iraqi crisis is corrupted by this skewed vision; they simply cannot be trusted, and since their arguments are superficial, they have little (but not nothing) of value to offer the reader who seeks clarity. Gabriel Kolko, in The crisis in NATO: A geopolitical earthquake?, for decades a hero of Marxist falsification and apologies for Stalin’s gulags, is one such historian.

George Orwell wrote about this, too, in the early 1940s. The condition is still thriving in 2003. These are not just randomly repeated discoveries: Ideas have a life of their own. They get rediscovered and perpetuated from generation to generation. Although such a notion is generally considered alien in Australia, it is no less true because of it.

Are the protesters innocent? Or are they morally blameworthy? I believe the latter is certainly the case. How exactly have they caused the world to be torn asunder?

It must be emphasised that apart from the neo-nazis, none of the protesters would have wanted Saddam Hussein to win. They do, after all, have a feeling for peace that they were promoting, even if it was expressed as vilification of Bush. Moreover, consideration of the potential victims of the imminent war was certainly a part of their protest, even if their conception ignored the view of the Iraqi seeking liberation.

But it is easy to be appalled at violence, especially when it hasn’t happened yet and everybody fears the worst, and especially in Australia, where governments are increasingly promoting an image of being keepers of order, at a time when being seen to be tough on crime is a vote-winner. It is much harder for “the people” to come to terms with the dilemma faced by Iraqis who dream of freedom.

Furthermore, the protesters would have been appalled if it were explained to them that their action was subsequently used by the dictator and his henchmen to prop up the totalitarian regime oppressing the Iraqi people – by buying time and waiting for public support in the USA and Britain to collapse, a tactic Saddam announced in an Egyptian newspaper interview back in January. Saddam’s plan has been falling into place ever since.

Saddam’s tactic seems to be working, with extreme pressure recently having been placed by their electorates on the prime ministers of Britain and Spain, Tony Blair and Jose Maria Aznar, following the French and German-led revival of the worldwide antiwar movement.

Nevertheless, protesters that wash their hands of responsibility for handing Saddam the initiative would be acting dishonestly. They would be denying their culpability (ie unintentional causation) in the same way that many Australians, having supported the unscrupulous opportunists on the Tampa and SIEV-X issues, deny responsibility for the self-mutilation of asylum seekers in Australian concentration camps. These denialists think every man is an island. We’re far away from Iraq, why should our actions have any influence there? (Similarly: we’re far from Iraq, why should it be Australia’s problem?) But the distance we imagine between us and Iraq is mirrored in the distance between fellow Australians.

Perhaps Australia’s landscape is a strong influence, embedding distance between human beings. Or perhaps it’s our relatively comfortable existence influences our worldview.

The protesters – or, at least, “the people”, because their view is what I have on paper before me – are without doubt morally blameworthy.

The reason lies not in the fact that Saddam Hussein was able to use their protest towards his own goals, but in their wilful promotion of – and wilful neglect in permitting – the long gradual process of forgetting – the “Chinese whispers process” – of the point of view of the Iraqi who thirsts for liberty. “The people” have driven this Iraqi from their mind, so their naive and dreadfully misconceived protest became thinkable. In the end, if Hans Blix does his job well, then it probably won’t matter to Saddam Hussein. But it will always matter to the Iraqis who watched the protesters and despaired – those who call Australia “home”, and now wonder what sort of society can so passionately ignore the victims of totalitarianism who long for freedom.

“The people” have rendered themselves incapable of acting (eg holding a demonstration) in full knowledge of that other human being’s viewpoint.

Worse, that human being’s viewpoint – who is supposed to be our kindred spirit, is he not? – is obliterated in the minds of “the people”; for example, by promoting myths such as he or she hates the Americans so much that he or she will fight for Saddam Hussein and not against him. “The people” naturally believe that Iraqis will willingly fight to save Saddam’s totalitarianism – if they had it in their mind that Iraqis want to fight with the Americans against Saddam, then they would be confronted with the unsavoury truth that their antiwar protest is denying individual liberty.

They would be confronted with the logical consequence of their negative choice: they are the ones responsible for keeping Saddam in power, for the murder of countless Iraqis by his henchmen in the years until the fall of his regime. Whether you agree with the war or not, this is the consequence of the success of the protests’ aims. From being obliterated in the minds of “the people”, the viewpoint of the Iraqi desiring liberty is obliterated in reality.

The anti-American Iraqi myth is useful because it allows protesters to feel comfortable in stopping the march to war. They don’t have to worry about the consequences of their actions.

I emphasise that although “the people” support Saddam implicitly, this is not why they are morally blameworthy. On this count, they are culpable, but not blameworthy.

The morally blameworthy act occurs when “the people” project their own anti-American obsession (in which Saddam Hussein barely exists) onto their image of Iraqis and thereby obliterate the point of view of the Iraqi who seeks liberty. In effect, they have murdered him in their minds.

They lose touch with his or her reality – but that reality is what we ought to be considering seriously, regardless of whether we’re marching in an antiwar protest or chanting “Death to Saddam”. “The people” create a myth that helps them accept the consequences of their worldview painlessly. Where is the pain that goes with peace? Don’t worry, the Iraqi is already suffering it.

This twisted Australian vision is held despite the received notion that Australia is supposed to be a nation that upholds liberty. The Iraqis do not exist anymore as people who long for the things we take for granted. “The people” have repeated the morally blameworthy act perpetrated by those who used Tampa and the SIEV-X catastrophe for their own ends.

To sum up, then, these last two years have been an extraordinarily difficult time to be an Australian. Twice already, the 21st century has exposed deep flaws in the Australian character. Of course, Australia is not uniquely afflicted with these problems; but historical, geographical, demographic and other factors conspire to make them particularly pronounced here.

In this period, two devastating bushfires have swept across the Australian societal landscape, each in turn reinforcing the great Australian inability to imagine in any depth the lot of a stranger, each dividing the world into us and outsiders, whereby what in each case is accepted as “us and ours” is elevated to a special status through heightened familiarity, to the exclusion of the other.

The outsiders are thought of in myth-like ways, images of them are somewhat unreal, because the image of “the other” is a projection of what is necessary for “us” to uphold “our” image of “ourselves”: It has no basis in reality, and its effect is ultimately to falsify and oppress human beings.

The first Australian catastrophe was the assertion of State power – feeding and fed by nationalist paranoia – over human decency; the second, as we have now seen, is the assertion of a pose of international solidarity, in a movement of vilification of a figurehead – feeding and fed by self-seeking neurosis ostensibly in the name of justice.

Both are ultimately inward-looking. Both, as George Orwell wrote, are forms of nationalist isolationism, despite the latter’s internationalist pose.

Like Ghandi, their proponents in each case excuse empire-building – and empire builders and dictators are their kindred spirits. Chirac is now celebrated as a hero, even though it is because of him that Radovan Karadzic – who ordered the first concentration camps to be built in Europe since the Nazis built theirs – is still free in the Respublika Srpska; and even though Chirac, “Africa’s godfather”, is engaging in imperialism of his own in Africa and the Arab countries, at the expense of NATO and the European Union. That’s an enormous price to pay for megalomania.

At least one other person saw what I saw, knows what I know, thought some of my thoughts that weekend. He is “Adnan Hassan” (pseudonym), an Iraqi refugee living in Australia:

On Sunday I watched the peace activists rallying for peace without mentioning my butcher, Hussein.

They marched alongside Hussein’s activists, I saw them very clearly. I watched the Greens seeking votes. I watched Labor seeking leadership. I watched the Democrats trying to save their sinking party. I did not see John Howard marching, but he too is serving his own interests.

I don’t care if this war is for oil or not. I didn’t get any advantage from oil under Hussein and if it goes to the US, who cares?

My only wish is for the sinking ship of Iraq to be saved. We tried very hard to save ourselves but we couldn’t. All the nation rebelled in 1991, but was put down brutally, right before America’s eyes. Hussein has survived more than 20 assassination attempts.

“I looked to the Iraqi opposition groups to unite so they could form a government after an invasion. There is not much hope of that either.

“I don’t care who rules my country after an invasion as long as there are less jails, less killing. (Feb 20, theaustralian)

The committed leftist and the committed pacifist reel away from the human desires expressed here, because here is an implicit blessing for war. But this is what the Iraqi thirsting for liberty wants – because he knows that alone, the opposition groups are no match for the totalitarian regime.

The antiwar movement sees itself criticized here for its selfishness, and tries desperately to subvert the point of view of liberation: The article is a “fake”, or the author was “paid” to write it by a Murdoch newspaper, or the author is simply “misguided”, or “this refugee is only one voice, the Iraqis don’t want to be liberated”. Accordingly, a more realistic road to liberation exists, guided by the phantasms of those who have never had to fight for it. In their hearts, antiwar protesters deny the freedom people like Adnan desire.

The antiwar protesters – ten million around the world – ought to have apologized to Iraqis and offered their condolences that this time they cannot support liberty in Iraq; that they have chosen to block action that would free Iraqis.

Then they should have been ashamed of themselves.

Adnan Hassan has a personal stake, he faces a moral dilemma of a kind that no Australian has ever had to:

Hussein is like a cancer eating away at me every moment of the day. If I say no to war, Hussein will stay and his cancer will kill me. If I say yes, my relatives and friends may be among the civilian casualties. I have no choice. That is why I feel the most unfortunate person on the face of the earth. That is why I wept.

“The people” have not come to terms with the fact that Iraqis can desire liberation; that Iraqis face this horrific dilemma; and that Iraqis can choose war, on the side of the Americans, in full knowledge of the consequences.

I repeat an essential point of my argument: I have been focussing on the quality of “the people’s” moral choice, not on the rights and wrongs of a war.

Like Tampa and SIEV-X, the antiwar marches expose gaps in Australians’ ability to function as moral people, which means as people who can imagine the lot of another and do the right thing of their own free will. There’s room for improvement. Australia’s only hope for the future is if enough people find the will to improve. Otherwise Tampas and concentration camps for asylum seekers will keep recurring.

Australians have no personal experience of evil. A few experienced Bali, but that was over very quickly. We may experience bad things, but these can always be relied upon to transmute into something good, or at least tolerable. Tolerable means something that can be shunted off away from sight, dealt with “on the fly” as we focus on more urgent private concerns. Evil has always been merely an irritation that we could push out of our minds at will, allowing us to concentrate on our business – ourselves, our family, our city, our state, our country – in peace. This is our privilege in our free country.

Peace. Peace of mind.

We have never had to live under a totalitarian regime whose ruler has a will to win at any cost, a will to create theatre of any intricacy. Our naivety makes us credulous of Saddam’s theatre – as if naturalism must contain truth – and incredulous of Bush’s theatre – as if surrealism cannot contain truth.

We have never been put in a moral dilemma where we must choose between the lives of loved ones and freedom – where we must win our freedom at the expense of our innocence.

The antiwar protesters are in fact protesting for their own innocence – the cause is self-interest.

The moral dilemma faced by people like Adnan is not our dilemma. Coming to the aid of a liberation movement cannot be the moral justification for this imminent war. Our dilemma is something else.

A valid justification for war must focus on neutralising the threat of Saddam Hussein, this latest appearance of fascism, which can make strange bedfellows at any time – like the Nazis and the Japanese, and the Nazis and some Arabs, both in World War II and now. If the war is just, then it ought to be triggered after the “Rais” (the “Fuehrer”, as Saddam Hussein is called in Iraq) refuses to prove his good intentions to the international community. But the justification for the imminent war requires a completely different argument than the one I have given in this essay, and has nothing to do with it.

Nevertheless, I’ll note that even if “the people” ceased vilifying the enemy of the dictator, and used documented facts to understand the existence of Saddam, they cannot go so far as that sequence of thoughts that would categorically imply only one course of action: the course of action that says we must stop him by force.

For the people’s instinct – probably even will – is to avoid this path at all costs, avoid categorical conclusions, find ways to convince themselves that this conclusion which merely seems categorical can be safely subverted.

Because maiming or killing at their hands is impossible to contemplate. Because they have never come to terms with the risks and sacrifices necessary for freedom – which here means that the Iraqi’s dream of liberation cannot be central in their considerations. The world must therefore be torn asunder, into two camps: “us” and “the stranger”.

The crisis in NATO: A geopolitical earthquake?

NATO is just one of the world’s power blocs under enormous strain over war on Iraq. Webdiary’s international relations expert Scott Burchill has just received an analysis of the NATO crisis his friend Gabriel Kolko, Professor Emeritus at York University, Toronto. “He is arguably the world’s most distinguished war historian, author most recently of Another Century of War? (The New Press, New York 2002) and a leading political analyst of NATO and US foreign policy,” Scott says.

Just yesterday, Tony Blair warned France and Germany that undermining the transatlantic alliance was the most dangerous game of all in world politics. John Howard, in hiding from the quality media, told talk-back radio: “If the world walks away from this, the damage to the authority of the United Nations will be incalculable, the damage to the United States will be huge.”

Professor Kolko’s piece was written just before NATO papered over the cracks and backed preparations to defend Turkey, and Turkey – faced with almost 100 percent opposition to war from its people – demanded more aid money in return for allowing a US attack on Iraq from Turkey. The wild swings in this ‘game’ never end. Turkey wants NATO to defend it from retaliation from Iraq, NATO says no, then yes, then Turkey says maybe no to the US! What is happening here? Over to Professor Kolko.

The crisis in NATO: A geopolitical earthquake?

Gabriel Kolko

The next weeks should reveal whether we are experiencing the equivalent of a geopolitical earthquake.

Washington intended that NATO, from its very inception, serve as its instrument for maintaining its political hegemony over Western Europe, forestalling the emergence of a bloc that could play an independent role in world affairs. Charles DeGaulle, Winston Churchill, and many influential politicians envisioned such an alliance less as a means of confronting the Soviet army than as a way of containing a resurgent Germany as well as balancing American power.

Publicly, the reason for creating NATO in 1949 was the alleged Soviet military menace, but the US always planned to employ strategic nuclear weapons to defeat the USSR – for which it did not need an alliance. But no one in Washington believed a war with Russia was imminent or even likely, a view that prevailed most of the time until the USSR finally disappeared.

There was also the justification of preventing the Western Europeans from being obsessed with fear at reconstructing Germany’s economy, and American military planners were concerned with internal subversion.

When the Soviet Union capsized over a decade ago, NATO’s nominal rationale for existence died with it. But the principal reason for its creation – to forestall European autonomy – remains.

For Washington, the problem of NATO is linked to the future of Germany, which since 1990 has been undecided about the extent to which it wishes to work through that organisation or, more importantly, to conform to US’ initiatives in East Europe. Germany’s unilateral recognition of Croatia in December 1991 was crucial in triggering the war in Bosnia and revealed its potentially dangerous and destabilising capacity for autonomous action. Its power over the European Monetary Union and European Union understandably causes other Europeans to fear the revival of German domination.

But for the US, the issue of Germany is also a question of the extent to which it can constrain America’s ability to play the same decisive role in Europe in the future as it has in the past. Such grand geopolitical questions have been brewing for over a decade.

NATO provided a peacekeeping force in Bosnia to enforce the agreement that ended the internecine civil war in that part of Yugoslavia, but in 1999 it ceased being a purely defensive alliance and entered the war against the Serbs on behalf of the Albanians in Kosovo. The US employed about half the aircraft it assigns for a full regional war but found the entire experience very frustrating. Targets had to be approved by all 19 members, any one of which could veto American proposals. The Pentagon’s after-action report of October 1999 conceded that America needed the cooperation of NATO countries, but “gaining consensus among 19 democratic nations is not easy and can only be achieved through discussion and compromise.”

But Wesley Clark, the American who was NATO’s supreme commander, regarded the whole experience as a nightmare – both in his relations with the Pentagon and NATO’s members. “[W]orking within the NATO alliance,” American generals complained, “unduly constrained U.S. military forces from getting the job done quickly and effectively.” A war expected to last a few days instead took 78-days. The Yugoslav war taught the Americans a grave lesson.

Long before September 11, 2001, Washington was determined to avoid the serious constraints that NATO could impose. The only question was of timing and how the United States would escape NATO’s clear obligations while maintaining its hegemony over its members. It wanted to preserve NATO for the very reason it had created it; to keep Europe from developing an independent political as well as military organisation.

Coordinating NATO’s command structure with that of any all-European military organization that may be created impinges directly on America’s power over Europe’s actions and reflects its deep ambiguity. Some of its members wanted NATO to reach a partial accord with Russia, a relationship on which Washington often shifted, but Moscow remains highly suspicious of its plans to extend its membership to Russia’s very borders.

When the new administration came to power in January 2001, NATO’s fundamental role was already being reconsidered.

President Bush is strongly unilateralist, and he repudiated the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, opposes further restrictions on nuclear weapons tests or land mines, and is against a host of other existing and projected accords. He also greatly accelerated the development of Anti-Ballistic Missile system, which will ostensibly give the U.S. a first-strike capacity and which China and Russia justifiably regard as destabilising – thereby threatening to renew the nuclear arms race.

Downgrading the United Nations, needless to say, was axiomatic.

The war in Afghanistan was fought without NATO but on the US’ terms by a “floating” coalition “of the willing,” a model for future conflicts “that will evolve and change over time depending on the activity and circumstances of the country”. It accepted the small German, French, Italian, and other contingents that were offered only after it became clear that the war, and especially its aftermath, would take considerably longer than the Pentagon expected. But it did not consult them on military matters or crucial political questions.

Washington has decided that its allies must now accept its objectives and work solely on its terms, and it has no intention whatsoever of discussing the merits of its actions in NATO conferences. This applies, above all, to the imminent war against Iraq – a war of choice.

This de facto abandonment of NATO as a military organisation was made explicit during 2002 when Washington proposed a simultaneous enlargement of its membership to include the Baltic states and to allow Russia to have a voice, but no veto, on important matters. The nations along Russia’s borders regard NATO purely as protection against Russia, and are therefore eager to please the US – which wants no constraints on its potential military actions.

The crisis in NATO was both overdue and inevitable, the result of a decisive American reorientation, and the time and ostensible reason for it was far less important than the underlying reason it occurred: The US’ growing realisation after the early 1990s that while the organisation was militarily a growing liability it remained a political asset.

That the United Nations and Security Council are today also being strained in ways too early to estimate is far less important because the U.S. never assigned the UN the same crucial role as it did its alliance in Europe.

Today, NATO’s original raison detre of imposing American hegemony is now the core of the controversy that is now raging. Washington cannot sustain this grandiose objective because a reunited Germany is far too powerful to be treated as it was a half-century ago, and Germany has its own interests in the Middle East and Asia to protect.

Germany and France’s independence is reinforced by inept American propaganda on the relationship of Iraq to Al-Qaeda (from which the CIA and British MI6 have openly distanced themselves), overwhelming antiwar public opinion in many nations, and a great deal of opposition within the US establishment and many senior military men to a war with Iraq.

The furious American response to Germany, France, and Belgium’s refusal, under article 4 of the NATO treaty, to protect Turkey from an Iraqi counterattack because that would prejudge the Security Council’s decision on war and peace is only a contrived reason for confronting fundamental issues that have simmered for many years.

The dispute was far more about symbolism than substance, and the point has been made: Some NATO members refuse to allow the organisation to serve as a rubber stamp for American policy, whatever it may be.

Turkey’s problem is simple: The US is pressuring it, despite overwhelmingly antiwar Turkish public and political opinion, to allow American troops to invade Iraq from Turkey and to enter the war on its side. The US wants NATO to aid Turkey in order to strengthen the Ankara government’s resolve to ignore overwhelmingly antiwar domestic opinion, for the arms it is to receive are superfluous.

But the Turks are far more concerned with Kurdish separatism in Iraq rekindling the civil war that Kurds have fought in Turkey for much of the past decade, and the conditions they are demanding on these issues have put Washington in a very difficult position from which – as of this writing – it has not extricated itself. Turkey’s best – and most obvious – defense is to stay out of the war, which the vast majority of Turks want. It may end up doing so.

America still desires to regain the mastery over Europe it had during the peak of the Cold War but it is also determined not to be bound by European desires – r indeed by the overwhelming European public opposition to a war with Iraq. Genuine dialogue or consultation with its NATO allies is out of the question. The Bush Administration, even more than its predecessors, simply does not believe in it – nor will it accept NATO’s formal veto structure; NATO’s division on Turkey has nothing to do with it.

Washington cannot have it both ways. Its commitment to aggressive unilateralism is the antithesis of an alliance system that involves real consultation. France and Germany are now far too powerful to be treated as obsequious dependents. They also believe in sovereignty, as does every nation which is strong enough to exercise it, and they are now able to insist that the United States both listen to and take their views seriously. It was precisely this danger that the U.S. sought to forestall when it created NATO over 50 years ago.

The controversy over NATO’s future has been exacerbated by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s attacks on “Old Europe” and the disdain for Germany and France that he and his adviser, Richard Perle, have repeated, but these are but a reflection of the underlying problems that have been smoldering for years.

Together, the nations that oppose a preemptive American war in Iraq and the Middle East – an open-ended, destabilizing adventure that is likely to last years – can influence Europe’s future development and role in the world profoundly. If Russia cooperates with them, even only occasionally, they will be much more powerful, and President Putin’s support for their position on the war makes that a real possibility.

Eastern European nations may say what Washington wishes today, but economically they are far more dependent on Germany and those allied with it. When the 15 nations in European Union met on February 17 their statement on Iraq was far closer to the German-French position than the American, reflecting the antiwar nations’ economic clout as well as the response of some prowar political leaders to the massive antiwar demonstrations that took place the preceding weekend in Italy, Spain, Britain and the rest of Europe.

There is every likelihood that the U.S. will emerge from this crisis in NATO more belligerent, and more isolated and detested, than ever. NATO will then go the way of SEATO and all of the other defunct American alliances.

The reality is that the world is increasingly multipolar, economically and technologically, and that the US’ desire to maintain absolute military superiority over the world is a chimera. Russia remains a military superpower, China is becoming one, and the proliferation of destructive weaponry should have been confronted and stopped 20 years ago.

The US has no alternative but to accept the world as it is, or prepare for doomsday. The conflict in NATO, essentially, reflects this diffusion of all forms of power and the diminution of American hegemony, which remains far more a dream than a reality.

Why are Australians being sent to kill Iraqis?

“They have guns and bombs and the air will be cold and hot and we will burn very much.” Assem, 5 years, Iraq.

The justifications being offered by Bush, Blair and Howard for attacking Iraq are constantly changing. Most Australians, as they demonstrated at the weekend, have rightly concluded that they are pretexts, arguments of convenience served up to garner public opinion.

Nothing is more certain, however, than that the publicly stated reasons are not the real reasons. A sudden commitment to democracy, the protection of human rights and the elimination of weapons of mass destruction are not at the heart of the Bush administration’s rush to create a new killing field.

The United States has “form” on all these fronts and many of its own citizens have had the temerity to remind the Bush administration of U.S. governments’ dismal record to date. As Lewis Lapham say bluntly in his December 2002 Harper’s Magazine essay ‘Road to Babylon’:

“We’re good at slogans, but we don’t have much talent for fostering the construction of exemplary democracies; we tend to betray our allies, dishonor our treaties, and avoid the waging of difficult or extensive wars. A Government that must hold Senate hearings to discover whether it has a reason to go to war is a government that doesn’t know the meaning of war.”

We’ve been told anyone who expressed such views is somehow suspect – “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists”. You either support the virtuous United States or you’re with the “evildoers”. As Joan Didion argues in ‘Fixed opinions, or the hinge of history’ (The New York Review of Books, 16 January), September 11 is being used to justify the “reconception of America’s correct role in the world as one of initiating and waging virtually perpetual war”. It’s also being used to forcefully silence critics in the U.S. and elsewhere.

As Laura Rediehs has argued, Bush and his apologists draw a sharp line between good and evil, assigning people and nations to one side or the other. Neutrality or complexity are not possible. “Every attitude, action or person must be assigned to one side or the other. Therefore, to question the official interpretation of these events (Sept 11) or to question the appropriateness of a military response is to remove oneself from the side of goodness … the questioner must be regarded as evil,” questioning goodness itself. (Collateral Language: A User’s Guide to America’s New War, New York University Press, 2002.)

Apparently all this is good enough for our Prime Minster, who simply parrots Bush’s assertions about Iraq and the “war on terrorism”, imitating the pre-emptive strike rhetoric to the alarm of our neighbours.

The Prime Minister appears to unembarrassed by Bush’s petulant impatience, by his whining complaint that he is fed up with watching what he describes as a B-Grade movie, by his childlike reasoning that things will be so because he says so – “I’ve made up my mind, that Saddam needs to go.” Or trivialising what’s at stake – “The game is over.”

There is no doubt that the U.S. is about to attack Iraq, with or without UN endorsement, but certainly with British and Australian troops in tow. Our troops are joined with the massive U.S. contingent and a significant British force. They are poised to attack Iraq.

They are being readied to rain down bombs on the Iraqi people in what one Pentagon source described as the “Shock and Awe” strategy. As reported in the New York Times of February 2:

“The Pentagon has disclosed its plan to maintain peace by carrying out an opening blitzkrieg on Iraq, more than 3000 bombs and missiles in the first day of a U.S. assault so that you can have this simultaneous effect rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima, not taking days or weeks but in minutes.”

Even if this is nothing more than a crude device to scare Saddam Hussein into fleeing the country, that such a strategy could be articulated is grotesque.

Depleted uranium weapons, whose use during the last Gulf War is already linked to increases in childhood cancers will, almost certainly, be used again. Indeed, the United States has not ruled out the use of nuclear weapons. Why is our Government supporting these actions?

Recent reports from the U.N and Medact estimate that if the threatened attack on Iraq eventuates, between 48,000 and 260,000 people could be killed. Civil war within Iraq could add another 20,000 deaths. They estimate that later deaths from adverse heath effects could add a further 200,000 to this hideous total.

The estimates of the toll of death and misery which might result from an attack on Iraq do not include the use of nuclear weapons which we know the U.S is contemplating (William Arkin, Los Angeles Times, 26 January, 2003). Sources within government confirmed: “The current planning focuses on two possible roles for nuclear weapons: attacking Iraqi facilities located so deep underground that they might be impervious to conventional explosives; thwarting Iraq’s use of weapons of mass destruction.”


The burden of proof and argument must always be on those who argue for war. We should not have to argue and demonstrate against the use of violence. Peace and non-violent means of conflict resolution should be the starting point of any discussion.

That, after all, is why the United Nations was founded. It is why we have helped devise and have adopted so many conventions and treaties to prevent war, human rights abuses, including torture and persecution.

It is easy to be distracted by the minutiae of the arguments, but we sometimes forget to ask whether the arguments or the evidence in support of war justify the killing of tens or even hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people. Or the flow on effects, including greater instability in the region, and the probable generation of a new wave of anti-western extremism, including in our region.

Our Prime Minster’s statement to the Parliament was simply a pale echo of the U.S. propaganda and is no more convincing.

Neither the Blix report, nor Blair’s plagiarised dossier nor Powell’s “evidence” before the Security Council justify war. Blix, himself specifically repudiated many of the claims made in Powell’s presentation and said that his own report was being misrepresented by the U.S. to justify war.

We know too that the U.S. government also has a history of using disinformation to drum up support for war, including the Gulf of Tonkin incident to justify the campaign in Vietnam.

Amongst others, Major-General Alan Stretton, a former deputy director of the Joint Intelligence Bureau wrote recently that he was unconvinced by the Powell evidence to the Security Council.

More damningly, he concluded: “Even if these US intelligence reports are true, there is still no valid reason why the Australian Government should be sending young Australians to be embroiled in a war in the Middle East where the consequences and duration are unknown.”

It is often those who have seen war who most revile the use of force. A war correspondent who has seen the end result of “orders from far away” describes his experience in Vietnam and anticipates the likely effects of the waves of B52 bombers which will be used in Iraq. He remembers the “children’s skin folded back, like parchment, revealing veins and burnt flesh that seeped blood, while the eyes, intact, stared straight ahead”.

This raises the question, what is the actual imminent threat posed by Iraq to the U.S. or any other nation which would justify war? Mere possession of weapons, even if established, is not evidence of an aggressive threat. The U.S. falls back on the “someday” argument to justify strike without threat, against international law.

The most obscene suggestion is that the U.S. now has to go to war because it threatened to and, otherwise will lose face. “Our credibility will be badly damaged,” one official said.

We desperately need a peaceful resolution to this and conflicts like it. We have to ask, if containment and surveillance have worked until now, why abandon them? Have we really explored all means less terrible than war? Is it really beyond human imagination and intelligence to devise other diplomatic and security solutions such as those proposed in recent days by France and Germany? Is killing Iraqis really the only course of action open to us?

Killing people should not be considered until all alternative means have been tried and failed. We cannot in good conscience say that this is the case.

I’ve heard Coalition MPs justify an attack in terms not dissimilar to those of the Bush administration; that because they do not intend to kill children that they are somehow exonerated. Even if Bush and Howard claim they do not to intend to kill innocent civilians, they are still using military techniques which they know with certainty will result in the loss of innocent lives. As Rediehs so eloquently puts it: “So, although both sides in this Great Cosmic Battle employ similar techniques- violence that includes the killing of innocent civilians – our doing this is justified because we are good; their doing it is unjustified because they are evil.”

Like many in the community, I’ve tried to make sense of what’s happening; to read and think and talk, to gain some sense of control over the dark chaos we’re confronting. Like many, I cannot help but to return again and again to the images of children dying. The face on the poster which advertised last weekend’s rallies was that of a child. And rightly so, because children will be – already are – the most likely victims of an attack on Iraq.

Of the approximately 25 million people living in Iraq, 12 million are children, with four million under the age of 5. Every time a bomb hits, on average, we can expect half of the victims to be children.

Writing in The Guardian, Jonathan Glover tells how in discussing medical ethics with his medical and nursing students, it is clear that everyone agonises over life and death decisions, for example, when discussing whether to continue life support for a severely disabled child, never rushing the discussion.

He is struck by “the contrast between these painful deliberations and the hasty way people think about a way in which thousands will be killed”.

“Decisions for war seem less agonising than the decision to let a girl in hospital die. But only because anonymity and distance numb the moral imagination.”

We know that Iraqi children are already suffering as a result of the last Gulf war and the sanctions that have been imposed since 1991. Several meticulous reports, including from the U.N., attest to the already fragile state of Iraqi children.

The most recent, ‘Our Common Responsibility’, from the International Study team, which documented the effects of the last war on the children of Iraq, has assessed the vulnerability of Iraqi children today, forecasting a “grave humanitarian disaster” should war occur. This independent group of academics, researchers and practitioners used data from a wide variety of sources and more than 100 unaccompanied visits and interviews within Iraq, particularly in Baghdad, Karbala and Basra.

They concluded that “Iraqi children are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of war than they were before the Gulf War of 1991”, in part, because they are more dependent on food distribution programs which are likely to be disrupted by war. If war breaks out the number of children who are malnourished will almost certainly grow beyond the 500,000 already affected.

These children are particularly vulnerable to infectious diseases that are likely to increase with damage to water supply and sewerage treatment facilities, already operating below capacity because of sanctions. The death rate among children under five is already 2.5 times greater than in 1990, and has improved only slightly as result of the Oil For Food program initiated after adverse publicity on the devastating effects of sanctions.

Furthermore, the health care system, formerly one of the best in the region, is in a run-down state, with severe shortages of health professionals, many of whom have fled, and some of whom are rotting in our own Gulags.

The United Nations itself estimates that an attack on Iraq could force more that 1.4 million people to flee Iraq and another 2 million to within Iraq away from their homes. It is clear that no one is prepared for such an exodus, least of all the Australian government.

As SMH journalist Mike Seccombe pointed out recently, the newfound concern by the Government ministers and MPs for the plight of Saddam’s victims has not been much in evidence over the last few years – ask the poor bastards who are still being brutalised on Nauru. Ask the more than 1000 Iraqis who have been held in detention for varying periods. Ask their children, who have been locked up in contravention of every relevant UN Convention to which Australia is signatory.

These are the same people for whom the Government felt such compassion that it systematically denigrated them as “greedy, wealthy queue jumpers,” as “illegals” who were prepared to manipulate the Australian people with their hunger strikes and desperate acts of self harm.

These are the people described as unworthy future citizens because they “threw their children overboard,” a claim we now know to be a calculated lie of political convenience. The Government so well understood the trauma they had already experienced at Saddam’s hands that it refused them aid altogether, marooning them on remote islands, trying to deny any responsibility for their wellbeing. They sent over 600 desperate Iraqi people to rot on Manus and Nauru, where many of them are still being held.

Just last week, the Senate was told in the Estimates hearings of seven Iraqi women and their children being detained on Nauru, despite the fact that their husbands have been granted temporary protection visas. The Senate was told that the women could not claim refugee status just because their husbands could. When asked what would happen to them, the official said, in the bloodless language of DIMIA and its minister, “The individuals on Nauru are free to return to their homeland or any other country they may wish to travel to.” Alexander Downer had just spent part of question time that day spelling out what women in Iraq can expect when they fall foul of the regime – rape, torture and murder. Not to mention the bombs that will fall. When challenged about the gross hypocrisy of this position on radio the next day, Downer said, “We don’t send people back who would be at risk. We send people back we think have been rorting the system.”

The government felt such pity for the plight of Saddam’s victims that it turned its back on the foundering SIEV-X and allowed 353 of people to drown, victims of either indifference or a deliberate strategy of sabotage, or in the chillingly clinical language of this government, a “disruption” program. The majority of these poor souls were Iraqi, 142 women and 146 children trying to join their husbands and fathers here on temporary protection visas which cruelly deny them family reunion.

There are an estimated 4000 Iraqis here on these temporary visas, many now up for review and renewal. Like the Afghani man who committed suicide last week rather than face return, many will now be under enormous strain. They know that some of their compatriots have already been either forcibly returned to the region or coerced into agreeing to their own deportation, although even Syria is now refusing to take them.

Just a few weeks ago I helped organise the removal of an Iraqi asylum seeker from a vessel where he’d stowed away. A political refugee, he’s now in the Perth Detention Centre. He’d been held in a paint cupboard on board the ship for two months as the vessel pled the coastal trade because the Australian government has made it clear to all ship owners that they allow asylum seekers to land here at their peril. They risk prosecution and the cancellation of their permits. Such sympathy for those feeling the Monster of Baghdad!

To return to the children of Iraq, the most disturbing reports contained in “Our Common Responsibility” were those of the psychologists on the team. They followed up children who were interviewed after the last war and found, unsurprisingly that children “continued to experience sadness and remained afraid of losing their family”. They described the increased stress on parents from the effects of the last war and the sanctions and the subsequent difficulty parents have in providing a caring and supportive environment for the children.

We all understand that losing people we love, particularly children, causes long lasting grief and depression. These experiences can be devastating for children. During the early part of the sanctions regime, childhood mortality escalated at an alarming rate to reach 131 per thousand children below the age of five years, meaning, as the report puts it, “that every second family runs the risk of losing a child”. Think about it – and that before the planned attack on Iraq. When these deaths are caused by shelling or bombing or shooting, the loss is even more traumatic and will lead to lifelong mental suffering.

Is it really a surprise that the researchers found that the imminent threat of war was adding to this stress and preoccupied many of the children they interviewed. Even the preschoolers were afraid and “possessed concepts of the real physical threats of bombs and guns; destruction of houses, burning homes, killing of people, and in the end referring to their own family: ‘We will all die’.” One five year old boy said of the threatened U.S. attack, “They have the guns and bombs and the air will be cold and hot and we will burn very much.”

Older children, also fearful, were found to be in a state of fatigue, resignation and sadness, many experiencing sleeping problems and nightmares, severe concentration problems at school and, in some cases, feelings of extreme detachment. Nine year old Hana said, “Often I feel nothing. Nothing at all.” This same feeling was starkly revealed in the finding that almost 40% of the teenagers interviewed thought that most of the time life is not worth living.

It seems that Bush and Blair and Howard are about to confirm their fears and grant them their implied wish. Many of them will surely be killed.

Spiders spread in all directions

Has the internet influenced world public opinion on the war? Webdiarist Peter Funnell thinks so.

It has extended the range and sophistication of communications exponentially. People are not just getting information about the war on Iraq, they are developing communities of interest around the globe to explore their knowledge and feelings, form opinions, support each other, and provide courage and understanding. The www has absolutely rubbished Bush, Blair and Howard over Iraq. It has neutralised spin. It can’t be controlled and people are finding ways to become very well informed. Every person can have a voice and as you say, “self select”, and that is incredibly democratic and inclusive.

Its impact on our political scene, when taken in conjunction with the marches will be severe. Consider this: The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have some things in common over war in Iraq. They are unable to convince all their Parliamentary members to go to war over Iraq. Not even UN approval can bring unanimous support by either party for their leaders.

Both now appear isolated from the majority of the Australian people. As a consequence, polling measures such as preference as leader and likelihood of winning an election are rendered useless. We have clearly crossed a new threshold in Australian politics. The marches were not like the Vietnam demonstrations, they were far more inclusive of our citizens. Only one conclusion is possible: Australians do not want to go to war in Iraq. Not at all.

Both leaders are dangerously exposed and vulnerable. Neither have an exit strategy from their poor judgement and inability to read the Australian people or their Parliamentary colleagues. Not even UN approval for war is important anymore for they have both advocated war on certain conditions.

I conclude that the www has matured as means of education and communication and community. Good thing too.

Today, your reactions to the musings of Webdiarists and me this week. It’s one of those weeks – far too many war emails (an unprecedented number) to even read them all. If you’ve written a corker and haven’t got a run, please resend – I’m about to draw a line under my emails and start afresh next week. I’ve just published Carmen Lawrence’s latest column, Why are Australians being sent to kill Iraqis? and Noel Hadjimichael’s ‘westie view’ of Hanson’s comeback The Perils of Pauline. My take on her comeback is in tomorrow’s Herald.


To begin, Webdiary’s emerging poet Michael Chong wrote a poem in response to this quote in the extract from ‘The Arrogance of Power’ by former US Senator Fulbright in The people’s instinct on the war“We Americans [are] severely, if not uniquely, afflicted with a habit of policy making by analogy: North Vietnam’s involvement in South Vietnam, for example, is equated with Hitler’s invasion of Poland and a parley with the Viet Cong would represent ‘another Munich’.”

The Good, The Bad and the Hitlerite

by Michael Chong

“You, sir, are worse than Hitler” (The Simpsons)

Curious that the name Hitler still compels

The Aggressor’s moral arguments,

To polarise and to repel

The virtue of action from that of temperance.


Perhaps it’s the spectacle of evil’s great heights

To which the famous dictator had attained,

That can make the aggression’s transgressions look trite

And belittle its adversary’s complaint.


Further, villainy that is contrived

From analogies of deeds and names

Cannot be investigated, or be tried

Against facts or any contrary claims.


So those that prophesise

The doom of Hitler’s reincarnation

Also tend to emphasise

Swift and immediate retaliation.


But the name Hitler is meant to exemplify

Oppression’s grotesque aspiration,

Not some well known battle cry

For power’s latest ambition.


Black humour watch

Linda Ellington recommends bbspot for “State Department Warns Americans Not To Act Like Americans”


Margaret Curtain recommends Three mystery ships tracked over suspected Iraqi ‘weapons’ cargoThe Independent has followed it up today at independent.

Jozef Imrich recommends The War correspondent, on reporting war.

Mark White recommends A Rose By Another Other Name: The Bush Administration’s Dual Loyalties, by Kathleen and Bill Christison, former CIA political analysts. It begins: “Since the long-forgotten days when the State Department’s Middle East policy was run by a group of so-called Arabists, U.S. policy on Israel and the Arab world has increasingly become the purview of officials well known for tilting toward Israel.”


MURDOCH’S WAR (See Murdoch: Cheap oil the prize and Murdoch’s war: 175 generals on song)

Rod Sewell in Munich

It’s no surprise that Rupert is supporting the US line on Iraq: He’s negotiating to buy the DirecTV satellite TV. No need to upset Congress or the Government just because of a few dead Iraqis. Here as with everything else in this sorry little tale, nothing is as it appears.


Vivian van Gelder in New York, NY

Now that you’ve raised the Murdoch issue, can I put my two cents worth in? It’s something I’ve been looking into, and it’s something that makes my blood pressure sail through the stratosphere.

Since your readers picked up on Murdoch’s parrot-like newspaper editors, they might be interested to know that:

(1) vast numbers of Americans get all their news from his U.S. TV channel,

(2) unlike in most other countries this news channel has no counterweight – its popularity is such that all American media have to sing Rupert’s tune just to stay afloat, and

(3) so Rupert’s line is all the news Americans get …

I’m from Sydney and now live in New York. (I’ve been in the States for more than three years). If you’re here for more than five minutes it becomes obvious that objective journalism no longer exists in the American mainstream media. It all skews heavily to the ultraconservative right, while purporting to be “fair and balanced”. It addresses only one side of any argument (thanks in part to Ronald Reagan’s repeal in 1987 of an FCC rule that required equal time be given to each viewpoint on an issue). It’s always the right-wing side. (And still they scream here about the “liberal media”!)

According to what I’ve read on the subject, Murdoch’s Fox News (cable) channel is largely responsible for this state of affairs. Fox is notorious among the media-savvy as the mouthpiece of the Administration (and of the national Republican Party generally) and has been vocally and uniformly hysterical in its baying for war. It runs 24/7 panegyrics on Administration officials and its talking heads mercilessly rip apart any guest who dares to come on and oppose them. (See thismodernworld and scroll down to “Bully Bill” for just one example.)

Fox recently achieved its goal of grabbing the largest audience share of any news channel. This is significant, because most Americans do not get their news from newspapers. Most Americans have cable, too, since in most places you can’t get any TV reception without it. Which means that a substantial proportion of the American public gets its news from an ultra-right-wing propaganda machine. It also means that other channels follow suit to attract ratings and advertisers. And bingo, you’ve got wall-to-wall right-wing news.

Fox’s dishonest reporting has led huge numbers of Americans to mistakenly believe that there is a connection between Saddam Hussein and the attacks of 11 September 2001. (Even the Administration hasn’t tried this one.) Its relentless pro-war propaganda has without a doubt had a significant impact on steering American public opinion in favour of war. Your average American, while certainly not an idiot, is definitely not media-savvy: American education is atrocious. (Come to that, how media savvy is your average Aussie these days?) If they are told something is “fair and balanced”, they will believe it. And they have, and this is largely why you have relatively high American support for war.

And for what? So Rupert Murdoch can make even more money. He may have done more than any other man on earth in getting the Administration as far as it has gotten with its ludicrous war-of-aggression plans, by ensuring it national support through unchallenged strategic misinformation. And it was our nation that produced this man, and unleashed him on the world. It’s like Rob Sitch’s Frontline, only it’s not funny.

PS: I went to the NYC peace rally last Saturday. It was huge, despite subzero temps. Most popular sentiment: “Regime change begins at home”.


John Nicolay (nom de plume)

Margo, you’re at it again! Take your opening sentence: “Rupert Murdoch is pro-war, and thinks a lower price for oil after Iraq is conquered will be better than a tax cut.”

What is the relationship between the first clause and the second clause, which you have joined with a neutral “and”? Obviously, you can’t *assert* that Mr. Murdoch has confessed to being pro-war because it will lower the price of oil, because that would be easily disprovable. You know well that in the piece you’re referring to he is quoted as saying that he is pro-war because he thinks that Bush is acting “very morally”.

So, you use the juxtaposition to insinuate a connection for which you have not the slightest evidence: Murdoch is pro-war *because* it will lower the price of oil. I believe the trade name for that technique is a “slur”.

It should go without saying, but probably can’t, that Mr. Murdoch’s observation is what any objective observer is likely to conclude: If war is successfully waged, the price of oil will drop, which has an economic benefit similar to a tax cut. What in god’s name is controversial about that? Would he be more virtuous if he *couldn’t* work out that 2 + 2 = 4?

Really, Margo, if you cut out the emotive hyperbole and seething prejudices from your writing on Iraq . . . what would be left?

THE PEOPLE’S INSTINCT (See The people’s instinct on the war)

Andrew O’Connell in Edinburgh

Growing up in country NSW I once saw a huge funnelweb which scared the life out of me. Instinctively, I picked up a rock, took aim and threw. I hit my target, but the rock also ripped open the spider’s nest. To a 10 year old it looked like I’d unleashed a swarm of hundreds of spiders spreading out in all directions. For years after I had nightmares where the spiders spewing out enveloped me, my family and everyone I knew. Ever since it’s become clear that Bush, Cheney and the charming Rumsfield have decided to invade Iraq regardless of the consequences, the same horrible dreams have come back to haunt my nights again.


Rean du Toit in Sydney

The whole building shakes, windows rattle. The loud roar of aircraft engines vibrate and howl under stress. Terrified children jump out of their beds and rush to the windows; an eerie, ghostly mist hangs low. There it is, a huge aeroplane, almost touching the treetops, swooping in low on its approach. The terrifying truth hits home, the day has arrived!

This is the first of the bombardment of 800 a day promised to hail all might and misery on us. I am sure I can see the white of the pilots eyes, maybe it is an Australian, no, he can’t be because he doesn’t look at all like David Boon or Paul Hogan. Not an American either because he doesn’t resemble John Travolta or Tom Cruise. It is more like the Angel of Death, angry eyes, hawkish nose and a little black beard, a fanatic! No, it can’t be, but gawd he looks just like Dizzy Gillespie at the end of his bowling approach, screaming in, ready to open the hatches and deliver a screeching, howling, and destructive dirty bomb.

Why this war? There is no oil in West Pymble. We aren’t hiding a smoking gun. When the weatherman last night promised a few showers it was as if George Bush declared that Saddam was not fair dinkum, we were the axis of terror and we were going to pay the full price, a zillion planes were going to howl down on us at dawn. The Sydney flight path had been decided, it was our destiny, doomsday!

I had immediately thought of phoning my mate Hajeeb, who had helped me with the concrete underpinning, and ask him if he maybe had a mobile number for Osama. Perhaps I could offer them shelter in my wine cellar and they could nuke that first flight when it roared overhead? (I wonder if terrorists drink Penfolds?) Perhaps the shed is a better place for them to hold up. It is certainly more comfortable than a cave at Tora Bora.

Ok, I give up, I should have attended the peace march, I hoist the white flag! I’ll make the coffee. I should have voted for that Danny Dingo bloke who leads the other mob, none of this would have happened, I should have trusted him; after all he is a cartoon character.


John Augustus

Disclosure: . I’m a Sydney medico and it was my first anti-war protest except for selfish draft avoidance during the Vietnam war.

You certainly well summarised the sorts of feelings in the crowd on Sunday. There was a lot of personal stuff like “Not in my name” – a response to dishonest Governments (well-proven with Tampa, SievX etc and the USA – where to begin!) who can’t be trusted to make moral decisions of behalf of citizens. That we are the aggressors here made this all the more important – nothing eases conscience about violence more than the belief that it is self-defence.

On a softer note, it was also important to let Government know that we are paying attention, that there is a limit to how much we will silently accept, and while war may even be inevitable, brakes need to be applied to the hawks in their planning and execution – doves keeping the hawks flight-path in check. The European response, as complicated and multi-layered as it is, seems to reflect this.

As to the BIG PICTURE, well, how difficult is it to think about war as being our natural state.

Thomas Merton’s book “Love and Living” includes a short essay on War. He cites the bombing of Dresden by the English and Americans to illustrate his points, noting that this bombing killed more than in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, that it was not a military target, and was bombed for purely political reasons, a calculated atrocity, perpetrated for the effect that it might have on the Russian ally. It was rationalized as an inescapable necessity (Shock and awe).

The most obvious fact about war today is that while everyone claims to hate it, and all are unanimously agreed that it is our single greatest evil, there is little significant resistance to it except on the part of small minorities who, by the very fact of their protest, are dismissed as eccentric.

The awful fact is that though mankind fears war and seeks to avoid it, the fear is irrational and inefficacious. It can do nothing against a profound unconscious proclivity to violence which seems, in fact, to be one of the most mysterious characteristics of man, not only in his individuality, but in his collective and social life. War represents a vice that mankind would like to get rid of but which it cannot do without.

And the best, most obvious, most incontrovertible reason for war is of course “peace”. The motive for which men are led to fight today is that war is necessary to destroy those who threaten our peace! It should be clear from this that war is, in fact, totally irrational, and that it proceeds to its violent ritual with the chanting of perfect nonsense. Yet men not only accept this, they even go so far as to sacrifice their lives and their human dignity and to commit the most hideous atrocities, convinced that in doing so they are being noble, honest, self-sacrificing, and just.

Though sustaining itself by the massive pseudologic of its own, war is, in fact, a complete suspension of reason. This is at once its danger and the source of its immense attraction. War is by its nature supposed to be the “last resort” when , all reasoning having failed, men must turn to force to settle their differences.

The moral problem of war does not begin when men have finally resorted to force. The root problem of war is the occult determination to resort to force in any case, and the more or less conscious self-frustration of any show of “reason” in settling the problem that will eventually be decided by the ordeal of force. The awful danger of war is, then, not so much that force is used when reason has broken down but that reason unconsciously inhibits itself beforehand ( in all the trivialities of political and military gamesmanship) in order that it may break down, and in order that resort to force may become “inevitable’.

This demonic psychological mechanism behind war is at once the fault of everybody and of nobody. The individuals who make the actual decisions are convinced that they are acting seriously and responsibly, and indeed they can convincingly display the anguish they feel in their awful situation. The public applaud their sacrifice and clamor for guns and ammunition. And yet: when examined dispassionately by the historian, it may often be seen how “inevitable” wars could fairly easily have been avoided.

The real problem of war is, then, not to be found in this or that special way in which force is grossly abused, but in the instinct for violence and for resort to force which has become inveterate in the human race.

Is this something that man can learn to change? If so, how does he go about it? What should he do? Where can the study of this dreadful problem begin? Who can say?

Perhaps our first problem is to get rid of the illusion that we know the answer.


Roland Killick in Sydney

You ask “What is the instinct at the core of the world’s largest demonstrations against war on Iraq?” How about fear.

And what a comfortable way to assuage that fear by herding together with a whole bunch of warm human bodies to reaffirm a sentiment with which nobody will disagree – that peace is better than war which is bad, bad, bad. Not only that, but we had a nice outing and it didn’t cost much. It also allowed us to demonstrate our moral superiority as members of democratic, Western civilisation. We don’t agree with one nation invading another, so we are allowed to go walk about to vent our feelings.

It’s a pity people don’t turn out before events get beyond the point of no return. Not many marches about the starving North Koreans, or the Tibetans, or the innocents in the Cote d’Ivoire, or the pygmies being eaten in the Congo, or the atrocities and approaching famine in Zimbabwe, or the Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda, Pakistan, Burma and so on and so on.

Still, it’s not us white westerners (who ought to know better) with our superior civilisation doing it to them. It’s black on black, Arab against Arab, or oriental on oriental. Luckily, its not ethical for us to intervene in someone else’s problem, is it? Anyway what can you expect from people like that? (Oops, how dare I suggest that the teeniest bit of racial superiority motivates us.)

You write tellingly of “the complicity of western governments and companies in the rise of the monster they now seek to destroy”. How come you’ve suddenly left the people and journalists out of it? In fact, how dare you leave us out. How many lines did you write about the rise? How many people marched over the harbour bridge to protest the monster’s birth?

One thing I can’t understand is why everyone wants to cloud the current issue with layers of intellectual analysis. It seems pretty clear cut to me. Osama says that the Western economic system, unified by adherence to the United Nations System of National Accounts, is destroying the world and needs purging, presumably intending it to be replaced by an Islamic system not based on usury. He chooses America being the largest member, targeting the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon as potent symbols of all that he abhors. He encourages his followers to similar acts of destruction.

The US reacts more vehemently than history suggested they might and vows to stop this movement even if it takes years. In essence this means being a credible force in the Middle East and effectively controlling information flows. A good strategic start is to occupy the centre: following which the Wahabis, for they seem to pop up at the end of every terrorist data trail, can be dealt with.

That Saddam is not very nice is something which can be used to tactical advantage. The French and Russians can be bought off at the last minute by allowing their previous contracts with Iraq to stand. The Germans can be quietened down by arrangement with Krupps similar to those at the end of WW11. The 2 or 3 year occupation can be funded by selling oil. Controlling the price of oil will also help stabilise and expand the Western economic system, which will then pay for the military cost of war.

In this way, Osama will be defeated, his followers will be discouraged and controlled, and the superiority of “The Chicago School” reaffirmed.

Clearly, one fear is that those horrible foreigners will blow us up when we visit their towns or even worse, here on our own remote island. But I suspect there is a deeper fear whose expression is now forming. That is the fear that Osama may have a point.

We see governments running away from responsibility – by “outsourcing” (eg road building,) by changing statistics (eg unemployment), by marginalising issues, (eg dryland salinity.) Some of the most basic freedoms which we have taken for granted, such as habeas corpus, are removed overnight and our politicians have no compunction about lying to us.

Almost daily now we see people in positions of power taking sums of money home which are way beyond the aspirations of most people. We see companies being run for the benefits of a very few. There is no longer any correlation between the thing which we value and wealth. Globalisation based on currency exchange is now seen as a source of inequality rather than a living standards improver.

We feel the pressure of market forces give people a lower cost alternative for nothing (say EFTPOS,) then when everybody is hooked, whack a hefty great charge on it.

These things are not due to the venality of human beings. They are the result of human designed systems being worked to the limit. Just as the idealistic young journalist discovers the limitations of the newspaper business, (time limits, space limits, house style, editing etc) and the need to sell, (capture passing attention with those things which evolution has taught us to concentrating on – mangled bodies and sexual reproduction,) so too business is limited by the demands of the system: Make more money, make it faster, reduce short term costs. And the system which governs that has at its heart the USA. Which OBL wants to destroy.

Another fear we have is that our cherished human rights may just turn out to be just a nice philosophical idea with no basis in reality. Sure, democracy gives us a voice but not the right to be listened to. In the accelerated run of things, the government can do what it likes and gamble that by the next election we will have discounted our feelings about it.

To the postulate that human rights exist independently of human agreement, we have not articulated a satisfactory alternative, say a concord between a state and its citizens, to counter that fear. Indeed given the track record of politicians, it seems unlikely that we will get any – unless it helps them consolidate power.

One nauseating aspect of last weekend’s marches was the sight of our politicians clinging to the bandwagon with righteous indignation completely bereft of ideas either to ameliorate the present situation or to deter its repetition.

My own fear now is that I am beginning not to care any more. The US will enter Iraq whatever I think so why should I think? Hey, there might even be a job in it for me! And if it’s not Iraq its Korea. Or Afghanistan. I don’t care about Israel any more: they’ve had 50 years to make friends with their neighbours and if they haven’t learned the lessons of their past then bugger them. And the women of Islam: If you don’t like the rules, change them with your knives. As for Africa, I’ve been told often enough that it is a basket case and maybe I should side with the majority. I don’t care, let them slaughter each other. The people who sold them guns can answer to heaven – if there is a heaven. If I can convince some pension fund managers to give me a few million for my company before I scarper I will. It’s not like I’ll be getting any super when the time comes anyway.

But tell me Margo, just before I close down altogether, is there any point making an effort to vote in March? Is there anyone at all whose policies are worth spending any time examining? Even a little bit?


Uri Bushey in Denver, CO

As an American citizen, I am inclined to mirror many of the views expressed in your article – like many others, I am just not convinced that war is the correct and just option at this point in time.

As a citizen, I am offended by your corollary between the Israeli/Palestinian situation and the American/Iraqi situation. As an author of an editorial, your first responsibility is nonetheless to accuracy. There has been no confirmation – and only limited proof – that Israel has a nuclear bomb. If it did, the notion that it would use a nuclear attack in a disputed area in Israel is ludicrous – Israel itself (roughly 8000 square miles), including all disputed territory, is only two and a half times the size of Rhode Island.

Worse yet, you appear to justify the terrorist acts of the PA, the PLO, the Hezbollah, and their likes by stating: “Palestine is reduced to nothing but the willingness of its fighters to die in the cause”. Terrorists as freedom fighters? How can you justify the indiscriminate violence that causes “daily fear of death in the shops or on the bus”?

I may be against a war in Iraq, but I know the difference between terrorism and a plight for freedom from oppression. Please consider using a different metaphor in the future.


Hamish Tweedy

I just got through Jack Robertson’s piece What the third millennium doesn’t need: Yet more dinosaurs in power and thought it was fantastic. However my understanding of the oil industry is minuscule, so I need further explanation.

To precis what Jack said; increased energy consumption in the US means the US needs greater amounts of oil, Iraq has oil and a brutal dictator no one likes so the US have engineered a war with him, under the guise of disarmament, to depose him and secure their access to oil supplies (as opposed to French, German, Russian and Chinese access, because they already have access to Iraqs oil reserves).

I understand that OPEC (of which Iraq is a member) operates essentially as a cartel – members sit down around a table, look at demand and determine production and what price they can afford to charge. As Jack pointed out this is the money end of the oil business; production.

What I want Jack to explain is what constitutes control of or access to oil. Is it Jack’s assertion that the US will invade Iraq knock Saddam off (along with countless hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians) install a clean and friendly dictator and have their new ally either pull out of OPEC or exert sufficient influence on it to have it raise production in excess of demand and therefore depress the price?

This whole oil question has really given me the shits. I support a war on Iraq sanctioned by the UN, and the thought that my support will be used by the US to gain control of Iraqi oil makes me sick.

Margo: Hi Hamish. I’ve asked Jack to respond to your questions. Webdiarist Peter Kelly recommends The coming energy crisis?, which argues: “All warning signs that existed prior to the energy crises of 1973 and 1979 exist today. Various energy security measures indicate that the potential for an energy shortage is high.”

Anand Vishwanathan in Castle Hill, NSW recommends The scramble for oil, which argues that “the U.S.-led war on Iraq is an attempt to gain access to the country’s oil reserves, the second largest in the world, in the context of fast-depleting global oil resources”. Anand: “The appeared in “Frontline” magazine, published by “The Hindu” group of newspapers based in India. “The Hindu” group is known for thorough analysis and adherence to facts.”

Murdoch’s war: 175 generals on song

Rupert Murdoch is pro-war, and thinks a lower price for oil after Iraq is conquered will be better than a tax cut. After those comments (see Murdoch: Cheap oil the prize), a reader sent me Their master’s voice by Roy Greenslade in The Guardian, which reports that all 175 Murdoch editors around the world just happen to agree with their boss. It begins:

What a guy! You have got to admit that Rupert Murdoch is one canny press tycoon because he has an unerring ability to choose editors across the world who think just like him. How else can we explain the extraordinary unity of thought in his newspaper empire about the need to make war on Iraq? After an exhaustive survey of the highest-selling and most influential papers across the world owned by Murdoch’s News Corporation, it is clear that all are singing from the same hymn sheet. Some are bellicose baritone soloists who relish the fight. Some prefer a less strident, if more subtle, role in the chorus. But none, whether fortissimo or pianissimo, has dared to croon the anti-war tune. Their master’s voice has never been questioned.

The reader wrote: “It is unrealistic to think that media owners do not influence media content and this article attests to an agenda beyond – and unfortunately more sinister than – objective news reporting (if there is still such a thing these days). You only have to pick up a copy of the Daily Telegraph to know that Murdoch’s papers are pushing for a war. On one hand, it astounds me that Murdoch is so unabashedly blatant about his pro-war stance as it relates to cheaper oil if the coalition of the willing is successful, and yet I find his honesty a breath of fresh air amid the pretences and lies of Bush, Blair, Howard.”

Jack Robertson was so incensed by yesterday’s Daily Telegraph that he penned a Meeja Watch on Murdoch’s war. Sue Stock in Nimbin, NSW recommends medialens for “critical reporting on the media’s role on the Iraq situation, particularly in the UK”. Veteran journalist Phillip Knightley’s speech to an Evatt foundation seminar I attended on Sunday on the death of investigative journalism and what to expect of the impending war coverage is at evatt.

After Jack, expat Kerryn Higgs reports on the rallies in New York and Barcelona. To end, Phil Clarke’s choice of Wilfred Owen’s WWI poems, which “might bring home the reality of war which seems to be missing from the debates”.

“Owen was killed in action 1918,and it is frightening to think that his poems are now nearly 100 years old and still so applicable”.

I’ve just published Harry Heidelberg’s column on Chirac’s untimely outbreak of French arrogance, Chirac blows it. Me, I remember a comment by the Herald’s then foreign affairs correspondent in Canberra, David Lague, when I asked if he was boycotting French goods in protest at its nuclear testing in the Pacific. “Think big picture, Margo. France is the only western nation prepared to take on the United States.”

The war is so dominant in people’s minds that the NSW election can’t get off the ground, but we’ll launch the election webpage next week regardless. I’ve just published the fourth article by our planning and development commentator Kevin RozzoliCommunity consultation: A plan of action, and commentator Noel Hadjimichael’s column on questions voters might like to ask before they vote, Labor’s lost years. He begins:

Given the informal acknowledgement by both sides of NSW politics that we facing a short three week campaign – during which time the caretaker Carr administration will do its utmost to play by the rules – voters should look back over the past four years and ask themselves three questions:

1. What has Bob Carr done to improve our lifestyle, job prospects or environment since 1999?

2. Who has performed best in their roles as Ministers over this period?

3. What does the next four years offer?


Jack Robertson

I recommend In bin Laden’s Mind, a Good Start on Goals by James Pinkerton in Newsday, especially given some of the headlines coming out of the peace marches, such as the pathetic ‘Iraq Gloats’ in yesterday’sDaily Telegraph. And this from editor Campbell Reid’s editorial (my bold):

“Yet another fundamental truth also confronts us. Saddam Hussein heads a murderous regime and according to the most reliable evidence, he has an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. In addition, he is strongly suspected of sponsoring Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation. He has murdered hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of his own citizens and he remains in “material breach”, as the Americans say, of United Nations Resolution 1441.”

Campbell Reid is a a Goebbelian media processor. That statement (in my bold), is simply untrue. Saddam Hussein is NOT ‘strongly suspected of sponsoring Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation’, not even by Reid himself, I’ll bet (unless he has started to swallow his own tabloid propaganda). Every Muslim expert, every reputable scholar, every Middle Eastern historian and every terrorist-hunter would reject both that ‘strongly’ assessment itself, and also the piss-weak ‘passive voice’ way it is presented, even after all the fumbled attempts at such linkage. (They would ask straight off: ‘It is suspected strongly? By WHOM exactly, mate?”)

The truth is, even the most hawkish Pentagon, White House and pro-invasion representatives have only made such link attempts half-heartedly. In addition, the recent tape by bin Laden confirming that he still regards Saddam Hussein as an ‘infidel’ also exposes Reid’s line as the purest propaganda. Terrorism expert Clive Williams, for example, writing in Reid’s stablemate The Australian last week, said just that – that the tape rather strongly suggested, if not confirmed, a LACK of past link, not any bloody ‘sponsorship’ nonsense. He is only an Al-Qaeda expert, of course; Campbell Reid is a newspaper editor.

Today, of course, the PM has in fact been downplaying any future causal link between an Iraq invasion and Al-Qaeda terrorism. Although we must at the same time stop ‘terrorism-sponsoring’ rogue states, too. Lies, lies, lies and opportunistic twisting and turning; our leaders looking for any pro-war excuse when it suits, backing off from them when it doesn’t. This is NO way to justify an invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The Murdoch Press has of course been doing this stuff in the US for a long time; It’s no wonder that so many Americans now believe there were Iraqis among the S11 terrorists. I wonder how long before Australians start thinking the same way?

And you simply have to ask this critical question, more urgently every day: If the case to invade and occupy Iraq is so compelling, why do pro-invasion propagandists need to lie while making it? Doesn’t the truth matter anymore? Is that what you think our soldiers are going to be fighting for, Campbell?

Read Pinkerton’s ‘Osama’s memo on progress’ carefully, and ask yourself if it rings true or not. If those of us who oppose the invasion and occupation of Iraq to ‘disarm’ Saddam are ‘Saddam appeasers’, then those likeDaily Telegraph editor Campbell Reid who would lie to have us do what I think is Al-Qaeda’s most fervent hope – the West invading and occupying Iraq – are surely ‘Osama appeasers’.

Or maybe neither group are in fact ‘appeasers’ at all. Maybe there’s a smarter middle path to follow. Maybe it doesn’t have to be War, or No War. I’ve said what my middle path is (Looking for John Curtin). So have the French and the Germans. I wonder what Campbell’s might be. Or Rupert Murdoch’s, I should say, since that’s doubtless where Reid goes to do his independent editorial thinking.


Kerryn Higgs in New York

First, many thanks for Webdiary. I live in Syracuse, NY State for several months a year, so I read it every day and consider it a lifeline to Aussie debate and politics. I’ve never written to Webdiary before, but thought you might like to hear a bit about peaceniks in New York City and Barcelona on Saturday. (For Webdiary readers who like a good laugh, black comedy at its best is Bush’s “real” State of the Union address(http://downloads.warprecords.com/bushwhacked2.mp3) The mp3 file should automatically download from this link and play on Real Player.)

It was a great day in New York City, even if we weren’t allowed to march the way people nearly everywhere else could. It was a day of very cool conditions for standing around, about -4C when we got to our spot, -6C by 3pm, and with the “wind chill factor” (a crucial part of weather-speak here) it was the equivalent of -14C. At least 300,000 – and maybe a million or more – stood out in the freezing air for three or four hours, keeping their blood circulating by waving placards (of which my favourite said: “Empty Warhead Found in White House”, and pictured Bush’s hollowed-out head lying on its side, with the top sawn off.)

The official rally was supposed to take place in 1st Avenue north from 49th Street, just around the corner from the UN. My companions and I actually made it onto 1st Avenue and found a good spot near 64th Street. The stage was maybe a kilometre away, though we could see a screen on an overpass from there – sort of – and there was a sound system broadcasting the speeches at that corner, which was better value than the tranny we brought with us.

I think it was Desmond Tutu who suggested that the reasonably clement weather we got was a sign that god was on our side. The snow which had been forecast for Saturday didn’t come – and lucky it wasn’t a day or two later, when the biggest blizzard for 6 or 7 years is howling through the region. I read that people demonstrated in Augusta, Maine, on Saturday in “below-zero” (Fahrenheit) conditions, ie below -16C.

Out on these frigid streets, with hundreds of thousands of US people, it complicates a foreigner’s sense of what it means to be “anti-American”. More than 200 demonstrations took place, from New York to the dozens of smaller gatherings in towns and cities across the US, and culminating in the 250,000-strong march in San Francisco on Sunday. It cheers me to see that there is such a strong minority here which is deeply opposed to the war on Iraq.

Why New Yorkers got arrested

The reason it’s so hard to estimate the numbers at our rally in New York is that many thousands of people simply didn’t make it onto 1st Avenue. The march past the UN building (original plan of the coalition, United for Peace and Justice) was banned by Mayor Bloomberg for alleged security reasons. I couldn’t help thinking the “Code Orange” terror alert last week was especially convenient for anyone wanting to impede the protest in NYC. (It was revealed, on Friday morning here, that the alert had been based, at least partly, on information discovered to have been fabricated.)

This is a city that gets the jitters these days, understandably – duct tape and plastic sheeting sold out after the alert went orange and the government recommended them to citizens – and before more sensible voices pointed out the limited utility of a sealed room, when a chemical attack was more likely to occur in a subway or ventilation system and would tend to disperse fairly rapidly if launched in open streets. (Duct tape was a popular accessory at the rally, plastered on jackets and hats and, on posters, across the mouths of Bush, Powell and Rumsfeld.) But, whatever the real chances of imminent attack, it certainly seemed unlikely to me that Osama, even had he decided al Qaeda should target the UN, would choose the Feb 15 peace march as a cover or vehicle for attack. And, why hit the UN anyway, when it still stands in Bush’s way?

What was ultimately permitted by the court was a stationary rally in 1st Avenue, stretching north from a stage at the corner of 51st Street. The Avenue is fairly wide, maybe a bit wider than, say, Flinders Street – though the NYPD had the footpaths and intersections barricaded off. Those who made it onto 1st Avenue were directed into “pens” made of portable steel railings, which were helpfully provided for us so that cross streets could remain clear. A series of these enclosures extended over more than twenty-five city blocks. There were various attitudes to the “pens”. Many young anarchist types saw them as tools of police repression, though one of my companions, a radical in his mid-forties, confessed that – at his age – he appreciated a bit of order.

The court had allowed the organisers to set up dozens of feeder marches into 1st Avenue. Most of the designated assembly points for these were across Manhattan, to the south and west of the stage area, which meant that vast crowds converged from the south on the footpaths of 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Like us, they were herded further and further north before being allowed to get across to the rally in 1st Avenue. Conflict arose from a combination of people losing patience with being ushered so far north, a mile or more from the stage, and of the sheer numbers who were trying to reach 1st Avenue. People eventually spilled off the designated footpaths, turned round and began marching south looking for a shorter route to the action, with police ultimately resorting to riot gear and horses in an attempt to push them back.

Overall, it seems to me that the denial of the right to march lies at the root of the violence and 300-odd arrests here. In a march, you simply take your place, everyone goes the whole route and you end up wherever you end up, even if you are a mile or two from the rally stage. In the non-march situation, there were hundreds of thousands of people trying to break into the fixed rally and no unifying march to keep them together.

The feeling in Barcelona

When I got back to Syracuse late Sunday night, the water pipes had frozen and there was an email from American friends in Barcelona, where – on my reading – the biggest demonstration of all occurred, rated officially at 1.3 million. Here are their impressions:

Jacquie: We just walked in the door from the demo in Barcelona. I have never seen anything like this, over a million people. I really feel like people are saying that we want things done differently from now on. We don’t want to continue with the same rules as before, we want to find alternative peaceful ways to solve problems. It seemed like everyone in Barcelona came to this demonstration. It must have been nearly half the population! All of the streets of the centre of the city were closed. All of the streets were packed with people. The demo took hours because it was impossible to move along the route. We took a side street with the other throngs in order to arrive at the final point to see what was happening there. After a few talks and chanting and acting out in unison the role of victims of war rising up from its destruction, we were asked to leave in order to make room for the others to continue arriving at this point, in order for the demo. to even move. So then we walked back to where we had been before. This took about two hours. And we saw the group we had been with – they were just starting to be able to move down the wide avenue along the route. We stood there on benches watching as everyone passed. I felt like crying from joy at seeing this entire society saying we want something else. This war will not be in our name.

Jed: The demonstration here was amazing. Over a million people! Possibly twenty percent of the population of Catalunya was out in the street yesterday demonstrating. In Madrid there were over a million people, in Sevilla over 200,000, in other smaller cities tens of thousands also. Now we just have to wait to see what kind of phoney crisis or situation the US cooks up to justify a war that at the moment seems to be impossible for them to wage.

Margo: Associated Press reported, regarding the Orange Alert:

WASHINGTON (Feb. 14) – A senior government official said Friday the administration now believes some of the information which led to upgrading the nation’s terror threat level last week to orange, or high, was likely fabricated. Authorities drew that conclusion based on polygraphs given to terrorist suspects interviewed by the government, said this official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The apparent fabrication came from terrorists with ties to the duct tape and plastic wrap industry.



Move him into the sun–

Gently its touch awoke him once,

At home, whispering of fields unsown.

Always it woke him, even in France,

Until this morning and this snow.

If anything might rouse him now

The kind old sun will know.


Think how it wakes the seeds,–

Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.

Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,

Full-nerved– still warm,– too hard to stir?

Was it for this the clay grew tall?

— O what made fatuous sunbeams toil

To break earth’s sleep at all?


At a Calvary Near The Ancre

One ever hangs where shelled roads part.

In this war He too lost a limb,

But His disciples hide apart;

And now the Soldiers bear with Him.


Near Golgotha strolls many a priest,

And in their faces there is pride

That they were flesh-marked by the Beast

By whom the gentle Christ’s denied.


The scribes on all the people shove

And bawl allegiance to the state,

But they who love the greater love

Lay down their life; they do not hate.


The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,

And took the fire with him, and a knife.

And as they sojourned both of them together,

Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,

Behold the preparations, fire and iron,

But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?

Then Abram bound the youth with belts and strops,

And builded parapets and trenches there,

And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.

When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,

Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,

Neither do anything to him. Behold,

A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;

Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.


But the old man would not so, but slew his son,

And half the seed of Europe, one by one.


Strange Meeting

It seemed that out of battle I escaped

Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped

Through granites which titanic wars had groined.


Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,

Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.

Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared

With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,

Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.

And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall, –

By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.


With a thousand pains that vision’s face was grained;

Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,

And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.

‘Strange friend,’ I said, ‘here is no cause to mourn.’

‘None,’ said that other, ‘save the undone years,

The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,

Was my life also; I went hunting wild

After the wildest beauty in the world,

Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,

But mocks the steady running of the hour,

And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.

For by my glee might many men have laughed,

And of my weeping something had been left,

Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,

The pity of war, the pity war distilled.

Now men will go content with what we spoiled,

Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.

They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.

None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.

Courage was mine, and I had mystery,

Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:

To miss the march of this retreating world

Into vain citadels that are not walled.

Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot- wheels,

I would go up and wash them from sweet wells

Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.

I would have poured my spirit without stint

But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.

Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.


‘I am the enemy you killed, my friend.

I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned

Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.

I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.

Let us sleep now…’

The people’s instinct on the war


Photo by web diarist Fiona Haines
- Fiona Haines peace rally photos

What is the instinct at the core of the world’s largest demonstrations against war on Iraq? Why did so many protest for the first time? And what does this augur for the future?

It’s partly because many people – conservative, radical, right and left – believe war on Iraq will escalate terrorism and instability, not lessen them, and have become frustrated by the pro-war nations’ failure to address or engage with this belief and deeply fearful about what that failure means. They’ve become convinced that they’re being lied to to get their support for the deaths of their soldiers, and civilians, in their name, while war is being waged for quite another purpose. They are worried that right is not on their side – not on either side – and they’re deeply uncomfortable at the lack of moral certainty that the war is a just one.

It’s partly a profound lack of trust in the judgement and motivations of the US administration, fed by its assertion of the supremacy of its values in its national security strategy and its determination to break away from the constraints of the UN, the body set up after WW11 to try to prevent another world war. (For a critique of the strategy, see A Citizen’s Response to the National Security Strategy of the United States of America, which is being used in the US anti-war campaign).

The complicity of western governments and companies in the rise of the monster they now seek to destroy because, they say, he has weapons – which they supplied; the exposure of their lies and secrets in previous wars; and their refusal to admit past mistakes in arguing their cause is destroying their credibility. Big change is in the air. People all over the world are learning about the UN, middle-east history, WMDs and their makers and distributors – stuff most hadn’t given a second thought to before now. A collapse of trust in our political and economic leaders means more and more people are getting the facts to make up their own minds, asking their own questions, finding their own answers, and, increasingly, taking their own action. They’re asking what values their respective nations really stand for. The energy, dynamism, and passion of this debate is unprecedented, all around the world. The peoples of the world sense that we’re on the verge of something momentous which could destroy our lives and those of our children if we get it wrong now.

When I heard about Osama’s latest tape my first reaction was that it should have been suppressed. World-wide publicity means terrorist cells across the world get the message to strike after the invasion of Iraq. This is the biggest downside of the American’s failure to find Osama. And that failure is the biggest weakness in the American case for war. We’ve been told over and over that war will be different from now on – that the world needs to unite to weaken the stateless enemy. Yet the Americans are doing the same old thing – attacking a nation state – without evidence that he’s in cahoots with Osama, an act which empowers Osama’s plan for a clash of civilisations. The West strikes first.

Last night I had a nightmare vision of the world becoming the Israel/Palestine war writ large. Israel has overwhelming force and the nuclear bomb on its side, and uses it’s military advantage without mercy, just as the Yanks will. Palestine is reduced to nothing but the willingness of its fighters to die in the cause. Is might winning? Perhaps, but the the price is endless insecurity and daily fear of death in the shops or on the bus. Freedoms and liberties disappear as the State swings becomes a police state to prevent terrorism. We lose our freedom, we lose our sense of safety, we fear our neighbour. More and more resources are thrown into protecting our water supply, our airports, our key infrastructure, so our standard of living goes down. If the terrorists really get going they could threaten our trade supply lines. Maybe the decision of the Europeans and the Japanese to subsidise their local agriculture will prove correct – that in the dark times ahead self-sufficiency will be vital to get food on the table and to ensure as far as possible that it’s not contaminated.

Most think the war, phase one, will be quick and pretty easy – what happens after that is the worry. This is what all the questions about ‘Why now?’, and the Americans failure to prove a link between S11, Osama’s terrorist network and Suddam are really about. To many, invading Iraq means the West could begin World War 111. Yet none of the three advocates for war ever really address this fear – let alone spell out what they plan for Iraq post-Saddam. We have been given no risk assessment of whether the war will make us safer or more vulnerable to terrorism in the short or medium term – Howard’s most contemptuous failure in the debate. No wonder more and more people think it’s really about something else altogether – oil, and in Australia’s case – about trade for blood and yet another downpayment on our hope for help if we’re threatened, while the very decision to go to war with Iraq makes the odds of needing that help higher.

There’s an even more corrosive factor in play. The culmination of the cynical governance of the major parties in western democracies is that they are just not believed. When Tony Blair recently called out the troops to London airports in response, he said, to a specific terrorist threat, many people thought he was lying – that his announcement was a tactic to increase support for the war. We can’t underestimate the Vietnam legacy here – million of people around the world know the US lied about that war from beginning to end.

So now we see an extraordinary and extremely dangerous new phenomenon – governments of democracies prepared to send troops to war in the face of sometimes overwhelming public opinion against it. This brings the very legitimacy of those governments into question, and the very meaning of democracy. As I’ve argued before, this is not a question of populism – I fully support the right of elected governments to make decisions they believe to be in the public interest in spite of public opinion. War is special. It is blood sacrifice. It requires at least the appearance of the sacrifice of citizens on behalf of fellow citizens, not on behalf of the government of the day. Democratic governments must make the case to their people. If they don’t, the social compact at the foundation of democracy is in tatters. Politicians may have squandered the precious gift of trust from the people for so long that it’s not there any more – and they are then in no position to say “WE will decide whether we go to war and how many troops we commit”. If people come to believe that the state, as well as the enemy, is their enemy, we could be in for tumultuous change in the system under which we live.

What does this impending war on Iraq symbolise? What’s made the world split asunder over it? What’s the really big picture here? What’s at the bottom of the intensity of feelings about it? Any ideas?

Today Mr Mecurious explores the difference between nation state’s rights and human rights, Alex Pollard argues that pacifists are the least naive of all when it comes to war, and Kingsley Thomas uses Jungian analysis to suggest a psychological reason why Australian’s aren’t buying Howard’s war. To end, more Webdiarist reports on the protest marches last weekend, and reactions to them.

To begin, Matthew Roberts writes that he’s been reading The Arrogance of Power by former US Senator J. William Fulbright, once Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, published in 1966. “It is astonishingly relevant to issues surrounding US Foreign Policy today, and given the many reflex references to the appeasement of Nazi Germany the following quote is of particular interest.”

The second great advantage of free discussion to democratic policy-makers is its bringing to light of new ideas and the supplanting of old myths with new realities. We Americans are much in need of this benefit because we are severely, if not uniquely, afflicted with a habit of policy making by analogy: North Vietnam’s involvement in South Vietnam, for example, is equated with Hitler’s invasion of Poland and a parley with the Viet Cong would represent ‘another Munich’. The treatment of slight and superficial resemblances as if they were full-blooded analogies – as instances, as it were, of history ‘repeating itself’ – is a substitute for thinking and a misuse of history.

The value of history is not what it seems to prohibit or prescribe but its general indications as to the kinds of policies that are likely to succeed and the kinds that are likely to fail, or, as one historian has suggested, its hints as to what is not likely to happen. Mark Twain offered guidance on the uses of history: ‘We should be careful,’ he wrote, ‘to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it – and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again – and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.’

There is a kind of voodoo about American foreign policy. Certain drums have to be beaten regularly to ward off evil spirits – for example, the maledictions regularly uttered against North Vietnamese aggression, the ‘wild men’ in Peking, communism in general, and President de Gaulle. Certain pledges must be repeated every day lest the whole free world go to rack and ruin – for example, we will never go back on a commitment no matter how unwise; we regard this alliance or that as absolutely ‘vital’ to the free world; and of course we will stand stalwart in Berlin from now until Judgement Day. Certain words must never be uttered except in derision – the word ‘appeasement’, for example, comes as near as any word can to summarizing everything that is regarded by American policy-makers as stupid, wicked, and disastrous.

I do not suggest that we should heap praise on the Chinese Communists, dismantle Nato, abandon Berlin, and seize every opportunity that comes along to appease our enemies. I do suggest the desirability of an atmosphere in which unorthodox ideas would arouse interest rather than anger, reflection rather than emotion. As likely as not, new proposals carefully examined would be found wanting and old policies judged sound; what is wanted is not change itself but the capacity for change. Consider the idea of ‘appeasement’: in a free and healthy political atmosphere it would elicit neither horror nor enthusiasm but only interest in precisely what its proponent had in mind. As Winston Churchill once said: ‘Appeasement in itself may be good or bad according to the circumstances. … Appeasement from strength is magnanimous and noble and might be the surest and perhaps the only path to world peace.’


On Sovereignty

by Mr Mercurius Summer Hill

This piece is intended to open a Webdiary discussion on the concept of state sovereignty and how this idea is used in contemporary international politics and rhetoric. The question is not an abstract nicety. All governments from time to time justify their policies to their citizens and the world using the idea of sovereignty. It has serious and immediate applications, and we would all be served by a fuller comprehension of this term.

I seek to show that sovereignty, or state rights, is divorced from citizen/human rights, that state leaders themselves understand this, and that they invoke the term to help carry out their political will.

I begin by disavowing any specialist technical knowledge of the topic – what I will do is observe some uses of sovereignty in recent times and invite consideration and response. There will not be verbatim quotes or citations – rather this piece conveys a general impression from which we can steadily become more forensic if this serves our aim.

Historically, sovereignty finds its origin in the imposition of a monarch’s powers across their kingdom. Although monarchism has declined, the idea of sovereignty has remained – distilled now into the powers of a states body politic. Depending on the nation in question, the body politic may consist of a single individual, or may extend amorphously across government and opposition parties, lobby groups, commercial interests, the judiciary and even, intermittently at the margins, the general populace.

Sovereignty has also retained at its core a key property of the old monarchic powers – that of a disjunction with the rights of the citizenry. Although sovereignty need not be in conflict with citizens rights, it equally need not represent them. Thus a dictator and an elected leader alike can employ the idea of sovereignty when they wish to assert their state power over their limited domain.

To me then, sovereignty and state rights appear to be interchangeable terms, at least in modern usage. The term state rights may also be more precise because it makes it clear that we are talking about something other than citizen’s rights or human rights when we discuss sovereignty. I will thus use these terms interchangeably – employing state rights when this helps to illustrate the disjunction. (If you think this is begging the question, please finish reading first and then tell me why.)

I now invoke the UN into this question, as it brings us closer to immediate affairs, and by observing UN declarations and resolutions we can learn more about how states view their own sovereignty.

Sovereignty appears to be a paradox at the heart of the UN that brings with it a dynamic tension capable of simultaneously galvanising and crippling the effectiveness of that organisation.

The UN was in part established with the hope that wars of conquest and expansion can never again occur, as member states territorial borders are in some sense inviolable. This is also a recognition of reality in this, for what state would sign up for membership unless the promise of inviolability was afforded to all members? No body politic, from a tin-pot dictator to the leader of the free world would agree to surrender an atom of their sovereignty to a larger organisation.

And yet there is also the recognition in many fine UN declarations that this sovereignty, which stops at each nation’s border, is not the same thing as human rights, which are said to be universal.

I seek neither to endorse nor criticise the resolutions/actions taken by the UN over the years, but rather to point out their functional outcome in which state rights have at times been subverted in favour of other rights. Nor do I deny that there are vested interests behind many UN actions – I would not dare to suggest that human rights are the sole, or even major motivation behind many resolutions – nevertheless they are a factor in many.

We should be mindful also that the UN is comprised wholly and solely of its member states. So what we see is that states themselves are sometimes willing to subvert the sovereignty of other states, through the forum of the UN, when they believe other rights take priority.

What is really going here? Why are member states willing to subvert the sovereignty of other states when this raises the possibility that their sovereignty may some day be infringed through the same forum? Perhaps by resolving publicly before the world forum to the temporary subversion of another states sovereignty, they seek to attain a legitimacy that they do not believe is present in unilateral action.

And yet there are limits. We observe frequently that states object to certain UN treaties or resolutions on the grounds that it would infringe their state rights. Except they don’t say state rights of course; in their rhetoric they say sovereignty. But should we buy this argument? Should we believe that when our leaders tell us they wish to protect our sovereignty, that they are doing this for our benefit?

They certainly wish to portray themselves as doing so. Yet we know that our leaders have a functional understanding that sovereignty is disconnected from our rights as citizens. So how can they credibly stand before us and claim to be protecting us when they act to protect our sovereignty? I think they rely on our ignorance of the interchangeable term state rights.

I invite you to consider these points the next time you hear North Korea or Iraq reject UN resolutions or demands from other nations to disarm on the basis of their sovereignty (or some similar term/motive/idea). Whose rights are they trying to protect? Their citizens? Hardly. It is easy to see in a totalitarian state that they seek only to protect their body politic and their absolute power.

I also invite you to consider these points the next time you hear our government refuse to sign the Kyoto protocol, or let any boat people in, on the basis of our sovereignty. Whose rights are they trying to protect? It is less easy to see in a formal democracy, because state power is not absolute. It would be comforting to believe that these are the times when state rights happen to align with citizen and human rights, but somehow I doubt it. I have nothing to substantiate the assertion except that if states themselves understand sovereignty to be different from citizen/human rights, then it leaves me little hope that they have my interests at heart when they talk about our sovereignty.

To further illustrate this point, our government appears to have little trouble negotiating on all sorts of things when it looks for free trade with the US. They are happy to allow GM crop imports for example, and they would only do this if they did not believe it to be an issue of sovereignty – other rights may be negotiable, but not state rights.

Please don’t tar me with any particular political brush. I am agnostic on Kyoto and GM crop imports – merely observing the bi-polar attitude our government has about how these two issues relate to state rights. They believe that one infringes sovereignty while the other does not. What’s the difference?

As for boat people, our government has held up its Tampa laws (and the mandatory detention policy inherited from Labor) as an assertion of Australias sovereignty. It follows that the government believes the current asylum seeker regime must be vital to protect state rights. I speculate that this is because the asylum seeker policy controls the movement of people, something any state wants to do.

But what does this tell us about the citizen/human rights involved? I think very little. Do we on one side of a border have more rights that those on the other side? Clearly not, if the term universal human rights is to have any meaning. Our government recognises universal human rights – but in practice they have shown that when it comes to asylum seekers, state rights will take priority.

So do you still think that defending the sovereignty of Australia affords your human rights any kind of special protection? It seems to me to be utterly disconnected with human rights concerns – like a fish without a bicycle, to borrow the phrase.


Alex Pollard

There is often an argument around pacifism; that That some wars ARE just, because circumstances make them unavoidable. But a survey of history shows that wars usually start with a lie.

The Spanish-American war started with an explosion on board the USS Maine. An apparent coal explosion, it was nonetheless blamed on the Spanish (historynavy).

Hitler started his invasion of Poland, and World War II, by claiming the Polish had attacked first. Hitler took half of Poland, and quite conveniently, the USSR invaded the other half (thehaus).

In the Gulf of Tonkin, an American vessel was reportedly attacked by North Vietnamese boats. When the US Congress finally figured out this was all made up they rescinded the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, but that couldn’t bring back the millions of dead Vietnamese and Americans (militaryhistory).

To get the Saudis on side for their last Gulf War, Powell, Cheney and Bush Sr. produced fake satellite images of Iraqi forces supposedly massing on the border (guardian).

The world knows that the Bush gang has basically been lying flat-out for the last year about Iraq. So what alternative do these war mongers have apart from a humiliating climb-down? Throughout the last century, US Governments have sacrificed the lives and health of many American soldiers for some pretty flimsy reasons. So why should we assume that they consider the lives

of civilians any more worthy? Does this latest terror alert herald an event which will salvage the now hopeless case for war?

Pacifists are sometimes accused of naivety. But history shows that pacifists are the least naive of all.


Kingsley Jones

I wanted to bring attention to the writings of Carl Gustav Jung in The Undiscovered Self and Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The observations of these persons (both now dead) are germane to our time, and of special relevance to Australia as we ponder our own destiny at this time.

The nutshell view of both is that the development of the individual and society at large are generally ruled by matters of mythological story. They can be easily understood in such terms when the guiding myths of a society are recognised and understood.

This is not an assertion about historical truth or fatalistic destiny. It is rather more positive than that, being an assertion of what is common to both individuals and crowds when they rise above challenges of resident evil. The eternal human truth is to see in a simple story (a vision) how it is that intuitive understanding can lead one beyond limited logic to practical solutions of real and lasting transformative value.

Let us take this metaphysical statement and make it very concrete. In my view, Australia is, as yet, not a fully formed nation in its psychological self-knowledge.

However, it does definitely appear to favour subvert heroism to overt heroism. I mean that Australians would prefer to act heroically without being seen to, and do not favour the pomp and circumstance of the hero who would claim to be heroic. This is why our first popular heroes were sportspeople who were seen to succeed without really trying.

I suspect this very tradition is why the ANZAC mythology is now so powerfully invoked by John Howard. However, I suspect our Prime Minister truly does not understand the force and depth of that mythology.

Let us recall that the Dardanelles was a grave strategic error committed by Churchill on a whim, and without very good military foundation. An expeditionary force was committed and placed under the command of the British. The tale is really one about how Australians survived psychically in spite of a stupid military campaign that was poorly executed, and poorlycommanded, against an enemy (The Turk) who turned out to earn the respect of our soldiers.

This may not be the official history. However, it is as recounted by my departed grandfather. He was not a soft man, having eliminated by his own trigger finger upwards of eighty of the enemy as a sniper. He was decorated and managed to survive the Great War by the good fortune of being shot just before every major battle (including the Somme).

He never (in my memory) regarded this campaign as holding any individual glory bar survival for he and his mates.

I fear that our Prime Minister has now committed precisely analogous historic errors through invoking what he doubtless perceives to be the popular force of the ANZAC myth to dress up an unpopular military adventure.

He has committed our troops to an open ended campaign in a foreign war of dubious strategic merit, with no clear military objective, under the command of a foreign military whose troops operate somewhat differently. They are more in the Roman tradition – it really does not matter what horror is visited on the enemy, as the end justifies any and all means of securing victory (witness the US rhetoric that will not die regarding possible use of nuclear weapons).

I anticipate that the story of this war is likely true to the letter of the Australian ANZAC myth. If our troops are called on to fight, they will do so bravely, probably be killed primarily be our alleged friends through either poor command of military strategy or “friendly fire” incidents of honest but tragic confusion.

At the end of the whole sorry tale our troops will probably come to admire that “the enemy”, despite their poor standing and equipment, for the simple reason that they fought for their homeland (and not their leader) against invasion.

Of course, Australia could dispense with revisting this mythological past and embrace a rather more noble mythological future of realising that we are most probably more anti-heroic than heroic by nature.

I am saying it is more naturally Australian to break the rules and say: “Actually, this is an exceptionally silly war. We can ennoble ourselves and our region by breaking with the US.”

In taking that stand, we would likely succeed in elevating our political influence very considerably, in extending our relevance to our own region, and in exhibiting some signs of an emerging individuated national character.

This land is blessed with many able people whom I feel have always been wise enough not to blindly follow ideology or need to agree with one another about every little thing. Difference is accepted and tolerated if not encouraged.

However, about one thing I think we should all be agreed. Australia must be a nation that stands for the future and not the past. We must be a nation that leads the way rather than being a blind follower.

So much of the world is sunk into foolish rationalism and hair splitting over the finer points of agreement or disagreement about this or that obviously limited imported platitude, management fad or social fashion.

Why should we, safely isolated from the roots of such social pressure, seek to slavishly copy and imitate it? Can this nation not feel mature enough to step forward and make our own High Renaissance of cultural progress?

Why actively seek to be as vanishingly small in human perspective and aspiration as it seems possible to be? Does the nation not realise that by merely being ourselves and moving forward to celebrate difference and grow and nourish the creativity within all of our citizens that we can easily be far more than we ever thought possible?

I may perhaps have massively misjudged my fellow Australians, but I do not believe we were destined to be a tiny people, nor an arrogant people. I think we are best being a fluid people who easily intuit the wise middle path.

In terms of military history, I thought that was where Australians always excelled.

We favour some of the East and some of the West in matters of politics and strategy. It is not necessary for us to slavishly follow the order of battle: in real war or politics.

This is always much the best course of action for a people who have limited human and material resources.It is better to be like water and flow around rocks. Obstacles are only so to those who feel they must crush them.

Leave the grand strategic errors to the USA. They have already most ably forfeited their claims to world power.


Damian Shaw-Williams in London

I took part in the largest ever demonstration in London and it was a breathtaking experience in the midst of well over a million and a half people. The diversity of the crowd was amazing, from the ‘Old Fogies For Peace’ to the Socialist Workers Party to the Conservatives for peace. It was young, old, black, white, muslim, jew – a seething colourful solid wall of humanity.

It received far more sympathetic coverage than the previous march, and had the immediate immediate effect of Blair buying more time by waiting for yet another report. However I think the greatest evidence of its significance was the lengths to which the government here were trying to downplay the significance of the march and emphasise the divisions within it. These efforts were treated with the derision they deserved by nearly all media outlets as they (even the pro-war Murdoch ones) had to for a day at least acknowledge the will of the people, who will not be ignored on this matter.


Fiona Haines

I went to the rally in Sydney and it was overwhelming to see so many people embracing peace and showing support for the citizens of Iraq. The obvious focus now is to prevent war but the issue of how to deal with Saddam and his monstrous treatment of his own people also needs to be addressed. It’s a shame that is has taken so long to put his human rights violations onto the political agenda. (Margo: Today’s rally photos are by Fiona.)

Polly Bush in Melbourne

Mate, where is the Melbourne voice in all this protest coverage? I thought you were a Queenslander, for chrissake, what’s all this about “Sydney rarely matches the activism of Melbourne on the really big issues, let alone beats it hands down”? C’mon, we weren’t exactly a no-show. As you mentioned, the conservative guesstimates put it at 150,000. The organisers added on another 100,000 – the same as Sydney’s conservative guesstimates, and standing outside the State Library amongst the sea of infectious smiles on Friday evening it was entirely impossible to tell. A leg up on a TV car provided an extraordinary view – Swanston jam packed down the blocks, spilling over the Yarra towards the war memorial shrine. On Feb 14, many Melburnians ditched the intimate candlelit dinner options in favour of one mass inner city love-in. Bewdiful. Shame on you for reducing this to a sly dig at inter-city rivalry!


Sarah Moles in Allora, Queensland

I drove 3 hours to suburban Brisbane on Sunday with my teenage son. We took a train from Toowomg. It was like getting onto a Tokyo bullet train – absolutely stuffed with people. It was hot and humid, but not even the children (noses in dangerous proximity to adult armpits) complained. It was a sea of happy smiling faces. At Roma St there were thousands more – all ages, all races, from all walks of life, impeccably behaved, united in protest. It was impossible to get close enough to hear the speakers – only the applause and cheers could be heard. It was inspiring and emotional and restored my faith in my country.


Thomas Price

Wow ,some middle class hypocrites went on a Sunday walk for 3-4 hours. Big deal – after it they all went home to their comfortable houses with their oil driven cars to live off the fat of the west. The west that they claim is nothing less than Satanic! Now call me old fashioned but I was brought up to believe that if you were against something you didn’t use it. Until these protesters get real and stop living of what they claim we have obtained by ill gotten gains they will be exposed as nothing more than the slimy hypocrites that they are. Talk [ and walk ] is cheap. If you are for real give up your car, your HealthCare and your freedom. The marchers will never do it – hey that’s like a real sacrifice!! Stuff that.


Diann Rodgers-Healey

I hear the drums of war beating


I hear the voices of people pleading



They say we have a democracy

And yes, we are the lucky country

So don’t ask why, unheard they remain

Our rights-filled fearful shrills for peace


We fear the loss of blood, so young

We fear the swell of death, so near

The loss of peace, the strength of rage

A future of divide, inequality more alive


But yet we teach our children

Peace. Don’t war.

Compromise negotiate mediate, never hate

Compassion understanding, never retaliate


So which path are we to create?

Armed with lessons from our past

Filled with respect and intellect

With relentlessness we must find

A bridge of peace to overcome war

A respect for humanity

An understanding of inequality

And the will power to change the roots of hatred


Constance Chew in Perth, Western Australia

“I don’t think the mob, to use that vernacular, has quite made up its mind on this issue and it can’t really make up its mind until we know what all the alternatives are.” John Howard.

I think John Howard should make up HIS mind. If those who disagree with this government’s stand on refugees are members of “the elite”, how can we now also be part of a “mob” when we oppose war against Iraq?

How does he know people “haven’t made up” their minds? How many people does he need to see on his plasma telly before he believes that a great many people strongly disagree with his kowtowing to Dubya? Maybe he should *ask* “the Mob”! NOT IMPRESSED!


John Douglas in Zhanjiang

What is wrong with these people? we have had the world trade centre then Bali as wall as many other terrorist acts around the world and now they want to allow a man like this to make his weapons of mass destruction. I wonder how many will stand up and say I supported Iraq after they use one of these weapons.


Simon Probets in Cromer, NSW

I protest the fools that marched in Sydney and around the world on Sunday. You do not represent me or the majority of Australians. Allow the rest of us to support our Aussie troops and thank God such brave men and women exist to provide our freedoms so that we can enjoy the simple pleasures of life such as sleeping at night without fear of being ripped from our beds and executed in front of our families. Evil exists in the world and it has to be dealt with.


Peter Dyce

I will be interested to see how Howard manages to worm out of this situation. Howard has no room to move. He can’t back out, and he has no ability to influence events. He can’t play down this weekend’s message. He can’t pretend to be listening to the electorate and take us into a war. Has he told the electors one too many?

A mighty lot of city people are not happy. I think the bush is still squarely behind him. But the drought will have a part to play in this too. Basically NSW over the range is totally rooted…. if they don’t have rain by March farmers will be shooting themselves on their own verandahs. So maybe they just won’t care who is office as long as they can get a hand out.

Wars are bloody expensive. Is he finally going to come unstuck? Somehow I don’t think he will because right now we have no other option, Crean? I don’t think so….maybe Costello stages a coup? What would his line be? Maybe a back bench revolt?

Maggie Thatcher got shafted by her own people and and the Tories ended up with a compromise politician in Major who lead them into the wilderness and years of righter than right Beau Blair…

Is this the seachange the Left is looking for? Stuffed if I know, Margo.

The D’hage report: View from Istanbul

Brigadier Adrian D’hage debuted in Webdiary in the lead-up to the war on Afghanistan. Adrian served in the Australian Defence Forces for 37 years, and was awarded the Military Cross for Service in VietNam and was Head of Defence Security for the Sydney 2000 Olympics. He quickly became a mainstay of commentary about the war in the mainstream press, including the Herald.

He is in Turkey at the moment, and emailed this report. I’ve also republished Adrian’s first two emails to Webdiary – now eerily resonant with the atmosphere as we enter the next war. And remember, the war in Afghanistan has only just begun. Kabul is barely under the control of the new administration. the rest of the country is lawless, ‘ruled’ by warlords. Taliban training camps have set up again, and the fighting with American troops goes on. Now, another front.

Australia and the war on Iraq: A view from Istanbul

by Adrian D’hage

“But why would Australia want to join the war on Iraq?” Umran asks. Umran is an attractive young graduate of the famed Istanbul University and she is genuinely puzzled at Australia’s involvement. “For us, the war against Iraq is very close. Iraq is on our border. But you Australians are a long way away.”

Why indeed? For an Australian overseas the question is not an easy one to answer.

I have fallen amongst modern-day Ottoman thieves. “Young Ataturks”. We are drinking in the James Joyce Irish Pub off Istanbul’s pedestrian ‘Istiklal Caddesi’. Umran, Ekrem, and Kaan. Young, sophisticated, and educated. They are the hope of the future and more than prepared to question their own Turkish and other Governments’ decisions to join the US in a war against Iraq. Outside the only vehicles are the bright red Turkish equivalent of San Francisco’s trolley cars. Three kilometres of crowded pedestrian mall, although by Istanbul standards it is still early. The band in the Irish Pub will not start until midnight.

“What do you think of George Bush?” Ekrem asks. Ekrem is a student of politics, also at Istanbul University. That is easier. “I am reminded of Peter Ustinov’s answer to the same question,” I reply. “If the American people are really happy with George Bush, Clinton was a man of unnecessary brilliance.”

In Europe, perhaps far more than in Australia, the voices against war are growing more strident. Here they want justification and they don’t agree with the rush. Tens of thousands are marching against premature attack. After all, Europeans have seen a bit more of it over the years.

Istanbul and war. One of the world’s great cities, she has been attacked and conquered nearly as often as Jerusalem. In 513 BC Byzantium, as it was then known, was sacked by the Persians. Then in 408 BC by the Athenians, and in 339 BC by the Macedonians. Six hundred years later as the old Roman Empire faded and crumbled, Emperor Constantine renamed the city and Constantinople was established as the new Roman capital. It was then variously sacked by the Arabs, the Bulgarians and the Armies of the Fourth Christian Crusaders and then in 1453 by Mehmet, the first of the city’s long line of Ottoman Sultans. The past citizens of Istanbul could tell the world’s politicians a thing or two about the art of killing. And as it has so many times over the centuries, again in Istanbul the talk now turns to war.

The young Turks are afraid of their Government’s involvement and the real motives of the United States. “I wonder if Iraq did not have any oil whether we wouldn’t find another way?” Kaan asks. And as I listen to them question our determination to join the US I can’t help thinking about the rise and fall of empire. Throughout history all empires have over-reached themselves and fallen. The Greek. The Roman. The Ottoman. And now Pax Americana is exhibiting the same symptoms. Hubris, greed, control of other nations’ oil and a less than judicious use of power to the point where those who are oppressed revolt.

“But you’re a soldier. Why don’t you support the war?” Umran asks as she orders another bottle of raki.

“The inspectors must be given a chance to do their job,” I reply, “and if that takes a year, then so be it – Iraq poses no threat to anyone while they are there”.

And I am not alone. Far more distinguished soldiers than I don’t agree with this war unless it is an absolute last resort. The ex-British Chief of the Defence Force, Field Marshal Lord Bramall; the Falklands Commander General Thompson; the Gulf War Commander General Cordingley and General Sir Michael Rose; to name but a few who have expressed similar views in recent weeks.

Unlike our bellicose politicians, those who have seen the odd angry shot know that war is an ugly business. Lots of innocent people get killed. On current estimates, about a quarter of a million mums, dads, sons and daughters who have absolutely no say in the drums of war being beaten in the US and Australia. You need strong justification for killing on that scale.

And if Australian troops are committed without the clear sanction of the United Nations, and it appears they already have been, public opinion will be decidedly against their involvement. As it did in VietNam, this has the potential to adversely affect morale and any protest therefore must be against the Government and not the young men and women who are simply doing their duty.

And here the Government has a very difficult task because it has already politicised the Defence Force to a degree never before seen in this country. It is hard to imagine Tony Blair shouting across the House of Commons at the Leader of the Opposition that ‘my Admiral’s torpedo beats your Air Marshal’s exocet,’ but that is precisely what happened during the ‘children overboard’ fiasco. Given that situation, the next question from Umran was not without irony.

“You still have not answered why Australia is so keen on war in Iraq,” she says, but it is without malice. Australians, unlike Americans, are still welcome in this city. “Because as I see it you Australians are swimming against the tide. The French and the Germans are not going to give Bush a blank cheque. They don’t trust him. Do you trust your Prime Minister?”

I am immediately reminded of our leader’s penchant for cricket. The question is like a ball from Dennis Lillee at his best. Almost unplayable. “He is a very successful politician but unfortunately his Government has lied to the public too many times.” There is a loud ‘snick’ and the slips cordon goes up as one. I shake my head. “Trust? No.” The umpire’s finger is up in agreement.

It is time, Umran announces, to find a Turkish nightclub. Not the touristic ‘belly-dancing’ variety, but one with genuine Turkish music. We disappear down an alley where even the cats look ferocious.

“You see,” Kaan continues as the band gets into full swing and more raki appears, “Syria was paid $US 1 Billion for Gulf War I, but will be the next target in Bush’s axis of evil so she is not interested in Gulf War II. Here in Turkey we got $US3 billion but we have a big trade with Iraq and that and our tourist industry will disappear.”

“And I don’t think Iran’s hardliners are too keen on a US puppet next door that will take over the oilfields for US companies,’ Ekrem adds.

As I can only agree, I announce my intention to inspect the inside of my eyelids. Umran gives me a passionate farewell on either cheek. I put it down to Turkish friendliness and hospitality. With multiple ‘rakis’ on board and the cats seemingly less ferocious I wend my way back to my hotel.

The Pera Pelas. Like the Roman Empire and Pax Americana, it is in a state of decline. Like sleeping in an elegant museum. A bygone haunt of spies and the famous, the Mata Hari and Sarah Bernhardt stayed here. As did Agatha Christie in Room 411 where she wrote “Murder on the Orient Express”.

I decide to have a nightcap in the “Orient Express Bar” and reflect on the achievements of another famous guest, Ernest Hemingway. And the foolishness of Bush and Howard. And the fall of the American Empire.


September 20, 2001, in Bush’s rhetoric gets more disturbing each day

“WANTED – DEAD or ALIVE !?? Whilst our heartfelt sympathies are with those whose lives have been shattered by this truly criminal act, the rhetoric from the US President gets more disturbing each day. Already, US citizens have been promised a decisive victory – and decisive victories against unseen enemies can never be delivered.

The Australian Government has signed a blank cheque – without the foggiest notion of what might be planned. Whatever happens, history will question the wisdom of that course. And whatever we do, we will have to do it without the Army Engineers who are exhausted on Nauru.

It is time to take a very deep breath.”

Just how blank the cheque is became clear yesterday, when John Howard announced on ABC radio: “We leave open the option of any kind of military involvement which we are capable of and would be appropriate. And yes, that includes troops.”

That brings the reality home, as do comments by Afghan-American writer Tamim Ansary: “Maybe the bombs would get some of those disabled orphans, they don’t move too fast, they don’t even have wheelchairs. But flying over Kabul and dropping bombs wouldn’t really be a strike against the criminals who did this horrific thing. Actually it would only be making common cause with the Taliban – by raping once again the people they’ve been raping all this time.

“What can be done, then? Let me now speak with true fear and trembling. The only way to get Bin Laden is to go in there with ground troops.”

“We’re flirting with a world war between Islam and the West. And guess what: that’s Bin Laden’s program.”

“Read his speeches and statements. It’s all right there. He really believes Islam would beat the west. It might seem ridiculous, but he figures if he can polarize the world into Islam and the West, he’s got a billion soldiers. If the west wreaks a holocaust in those lands, that’s a billion people with nothing left to lose, that’s even better from Bin Laden’s point of view. He’s probably wrong, in the end the west would win, whatever that would mean, but the war would last for years and millions would die, not just theirs but ours.

Who has the belly for that? Bin Laden does. Anyone else?”

Maybe we do, maybe we don’t. But our leaders better start preparing us for it instead of filling us with puffed-up, emotional indignation.

And maybe we’d better realise that we’re already fighting our own war. Our fleet is patrolling the high seas boarding and repelling leaky boats. We have our own prisoners of war on the Manoora., We’re building our own prisoner of war camps in Nauru and Christmas Island. It’s costing us millions a day. War time powers are invoked as civil liberties and the rule of law disappear in the cause of, according to John Howard, “our national sovereignty”.

Labor has just agreed to the first case of mandatory sentencing in federal law. It will apply to only to Indonesians – the poor sods at the bottom of the people smuggling chain who bring the boats over. They’ll spend a minimum of three years in jail for a first offence. Labor has also agreed to exclude our Courts from any role in the fate of our prisoners.

Most strangely, our war is against the people fleeing the terror of today’s equivalent of Nazi Germany, the Taliban. As we back the USA in bombing the bejesus out of Afghanistan, as Australian citizens face execution for carrying the bible in Afghanistan, we wage our own war against Afghan refugees. And as in any war, we demonise “the enemy” by pretending they are really Taliban terrorists sent to infiltrate our detention camps.

Our defence force exhausts itself on a war against Afghan refugees before the war begins against their oppressors.

This is bipartisan policy. There is no mainstream political debate on the merits of this crazy farce. In the vacuum, prejudice, hatred and ignorance flourish. There is no space for reason.

September 21, 2001, from More on war fever

America has declared War, and ‘it is my melancholy duty to inform you, that as a result, Australia is also at War.’ With scarcely any Parliamentary Debate, we have pledged not ‘in-principle’ support but support ‘up to the limit of our capability’.

Normally such a declaration of war would result in an address to the Nation with an explanation of what this means – and it means we now support US policy in the Middle East. As part of that policy the New York casualty list occu rs every month in Iraq alone, except there it is mainly women and children.

Australians need to understand this because we are now at war and a much bigger target. It is behind the ‘why’ of this and any future bombings and other criminal acts. We might still have given an overwhelming yes – whatever you’ve planned – we’re in! But I’m not sure we all understand US policy, let alone support it.

In a democracy, it is sometimes useful to have that debate first.

Sydney walks in numbers too big to ignore


Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies www.daviesart.com

It’s awesome. The front of Sydney’s march for peace arrived back at Hyde Park while tens of thousands of people were still waiting to join the march. We’re talking twelve city blocks here. As I write, people are still leaving Hyde Park on the walk half an hour into the speeches at the march end!

A colleague who marched in Sydney in the 1985 Palm Sunday march (170,000 people) and the Sydney Harbour bridge walk for reconciliation (200,000 people) said it was even bigger. Some are saying 250,000, the biggest protest in Sydney’s history. Some are saying it could be closer to 500,000! City shoppers were dumbstruck, hundreds lining the march route eyes wide, mouths open.

At the head of the protest marched three old, battle scarred men of Australian politics – Laurie Brereton, NSW Labor right hard-man and an opponent of any Australian ground troops if the UN gives the US the tick, Green icon Bob Brown and Peter Baume, Fraser Government minister, all shouting “No war”. The trio summed up the incredible diversity of people there in the stinking, sweating heat – North Shore matrons rubbing shoulders with skinheads, young families with strollers, groovy trendoids angsting over which anti-war T shirt to buy.

A friend of said on Friday she knew it would be big because friends kept calling to say, “What do you wear to a protest?” How Sydney.

It’s easy to get carried away at the sight of the people of Sydney reclaiming the city to make their point, but something this big has to have an effect. As does a turnout of 5,000 in the country town of Armidale – a quarter of its population.

It’s now hard to see Labor finding a way to support the war if the UN doesn’t endorse George Bush’s war – even if only one country exercises its veto. Simon Crean wasn’t scheduled to speak at any march this weekend, but it looks like the 150,000 people marching in Melbourne on Friday night changed his mind. This weekend could be one of those “turning points”, where suddenly the earth moves, the mood shifts, and politics is transformed in an instant.

This morning on the Sunday program, Laurie Oakes said to foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd: “Carmen Lawrence is out there giving fiery speeches to these demonstrations. Why aren’t you and Simon Crean addressing rallies as well?”

“Well, Simon will be speaking to the rally here in Brisbane today, Laurie. I’ll be attending that rally as well,” Rudd replied. Labor is getting locked in. It can’t afford not to, unless it wants to throw votes to the Greens.

Rudd also added another refinement to Labor’s policy. Before, it would consider agreeing to a unilateral US strike if one country vetoed a UN resolution for force. Now it will also require the very thing the United States has been unable to deliver so far. “If it gets to the stage where the United States was seeking to advance a case outside the framework of the United Nations Security Council that case would have to rest on establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq and the events of September eleven,” Rudd said. “Or secondly, that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capability and threat represent a real and present danger not just a theoretical danger to our security today. As of today, no such case has been made.”

That’s very close to a no. Very close. The stage is set for a rip roaring political battle in Australia where the NSW election could become a defacto referendum on the war. Howard’s very legitimacy could be at stake if he defies public opinion to join a unilateral strike. Soldiers do not die for the Prime Minister, of for the Australian government. They agree to risk their lives for the Australian people. If the Australian people say no, there will be calls for the Senate to bring down a government which wishes to defy the people’s will on war.

Sydney rarely matches the activism of Melbourne on the really big issues, let alone beats it hands down. Right at the front of the march, behind Laurie Brereton, walked two of his factional opponents, Labor left shadow ministers Daryl Melham and John Faulkner. If the people’s voice isn’t enough, the threat of a split in the Labor Party is. Labor will now take on this cause. John Howard’s work will have just begun when he gets home from his “peace mission”.

Laurie Brereton’s speech to parliament on the war, where he argues against any Australian ground troops even in a UN sanctioned war, is at webdiary