Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Comments on war: 18 March 2003

by Jessica Perini

I can’t really bear the rage any longer. Everything and anything I hear about this war just sends me further into it, until I feel angular and consumed by black. The hypocrisy and injustice bites at my heels, makes its way up my legs, tightens my arms and lungs, and one day soon will threaten to suffocate me. I don’t want it to constrict my throat so that I can no longer speak. So, I write now, to vent some of the anger, watching it fizz like steam into a cold atmosphere. I need to see my sense of justice take shape, at least in the form of words, if nothing else.

As an Australian, I am spoken for by my Prime Minister, John Howard. I didn’t vote for him, nor do I know anybody who did. He claims he has a mandate to send troops in the name of Australia, to fight a war in a far away desert land. A land I have difficultly pinpointing on a map. He wants me to believe that we should send our soldiers to die for this crusade against “terrorism”; an enemy without features, no defined eye colour, round nor angular face. I don’t even know whether this terrorism person has brown or black hair. Do I even know if it’s a “he” or a “she”? Terrorism, I am told, looks like everyone, and at the same time, looks like no-one. I am told to be wary. To look for people looking suspicious. Lurking around corners. Leaving packages on supermarket benches. How will I know when this war is finished, not knowing what this enemy looks like? How will I know when our troops have killed terrorism? What faces will I no longer see in the crowd? Will supermarket benches be safe once more?

Who is this man, this Prime Minister, who is sending young men and women over the ocean? Is he our protector? If so, what is he protecting us from? He waves around documents from his friend Colin Powell, stating that terror spans from Afghanistan to Iraq. A simple search on the internet at the fingers of a teenager was enough to expose that ruse. When I was at university I was warned in my first lecture, “Plagiarism will not be tolerated. Any acts of such kind will be treated with an immediate Failing grade.” When it was discovered that Mr Powell’s documents were lifted from academic papers, why wasn’t he sent an automatic “F”, and told to leave the grounds?

Why are Australian troops, or indeed any troops going to war? A voice, American in accent, booms from our television sets, “For the good of democracy... to oust this horrendous dictator who has killed his own people.”

Not one person on this planet (or in my small social circle at least) debates the fact that Saddam Hussein has killed his own people. Back in 1991, he slaughtered thousands of Kurds. This has not been forgotten, nor should it ever be forgotten. Why has the USA, now, 12 years later, chosen to use this fact as ammunition to destroy this man? Why not use the International Criminal Court (ICC)? Serbia’s own former leader, Slobidan Milosovich is feeling the wrath of the international community now, as he sits before the ICC, trying to mount his own defence, desperately drawing out questions to witnesses and going over the same point time and again. Sure it’s taking ages. Sure they had to convict him on lesser charges in his own country in order to get him into the ICC. But they got him there. And justice is being served at this very moment. Milosovich, like Hussein, has the blood of thousands on his hands, and day by day, that red guilt obliterates any facade the man held of being a benevolent dictator, his own countrymen can see this. And this is an important point. Kill Saddam Hussein and you make him a martyr. Make him stand up in court and he can truly be exposed for his crimes.

If democracy is the true goal of the US government then why has it wilfully abandoned so many countries to dictatorships? When the US went into Afghanistan it claimed that democracy was one of its goals. The modern day Afghanistan is arguably no better, than the Afghanistan held hostage by the Taliban. It remains the domain of War Lords, which is where it was before the Taliban took power. If democracy was such an important aim in Afghanistan, why did the US leave the tattered country to the mercy of bandits? What of all the dictatorships previously supported by the US: Nicaragua, Iraq, Iran. How convenient that these are forgotten today. Troops in Iraq will one day soon be shocked when they find weapons with “Made in America” marked on their sides in the arsenal of Iraqi soldiers.

If democracy was such an important aim, why has the assassination of the democratically elected leader of Serbia gone by this week, without so much as a murmur? Madeline Albright spent much time and effort helping the Serbians put together a viable democratic campaign. It was such a popular campaign that Milosovich was blown out of the water; his own military, police and people no longer supported him. This goes to show that US diplomatic efforts have led to great achievements in the past. At what stage did these efforts lose their meaning? Many would argue that diplomacy died with the Bush administration.

As I met with a friend of mine over coffee just recently, I tapped my watch to indicate that he was half an hour late. He apologised and told me that he had a good excuse, that he had been delayed having lunch with an old friend. That friend had been a senior advisor to the Clinton administration, and was all but crying into his salad and croutons. So many years spent fostering good relations with other countries had come to this. Bush was blowing raspberries all over the carefully constructed Clinton foreign policy. All those years of work down the drain.

Commenting on the fear campaigns of the McCarthy era, playwright Arthur Miller wrote:

“It was the fact that a political, objective, knowledgeable campaign from the far Right was capable of creating not only terror, but a new subjective reality... It was as though the whole country had been born anew, without a memory even of certain elemental decencies which a year or two earlier no-one would have imagined could be altered, let alone forgotten.”

While these words were written about the national hysteria of the 1950s, they could equally apply today. What hysteria causes so many to forget that diplomacy was once the realm of the reasonable man? What hysteria makes people forget that America going into Iraq as an aggressor, is therefore in breach of international law?


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