Tuesday, May 13, 2003

True victims of a war on Iraq

12 May 2003

Approximately 2500 people died as a result of two planes flying into the Twin Towers in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001. That morning I was awoken by a call from my mother, who happened to be in America at the time. She knew I would be waking up and turning on the news, only to see the devastation on TV and a scrolling bar across the bottom of the page which read “Attack on America”. She knew that I would not immediately know which city, or what exactly had happened. She knew that I might panic and think her and the rest of our family dead; relatives from around the globe having flown in that week for my cousin’s wedding. In the blink of an eye I could have imagined all of them wiped out. But thankfully she called before that happened.

Over the next few days most people had their eyes surgically attached to CNN. In the western world we became very sensitive. Whenever planes passed over the sky above our houses we ducked. We had imagined that at this time planes were taking off all around the world with terrorists in them, grasping their pen knives and lighters, waiting for the opportunity to pounce on unsuspecting pilots. And this was fair enough. Something that was unprecedented in the lives of most western families had happened. At the time we didn’t know when it would stop happening. So now we know what it feels like...

Over 2500 civilians have died in the months of April to May, 2003 as a result of the war with Iraq. These people did not cloak themselves in green garb and tote the guns and knives of battle. They were ordinary. They lived with the sounds of bombs battering their neighbourhoods, and tanks thundering through their streets. They lost food and water for a time and medical supplies. This they were used to as they had been living under western sanctions for a good part of ten years already. For five weeks they lost the sound of silence over their skies. They lived what we lived after September 11th, but a thousand times worse. They’d seen this all before, but this probably doesn’t make a difference when bullets are peppering your home.

So, can we conclude from this that justice has been done? An eye has been taken for an eye. Supposedly that’s not what this is about, if you believe our politicians. Exacting justice was not the main goal. Saddam appears to be gone, but we have lost far more than Saddam in this battle.

What have we gained from this process, and what have we lost?

People dead. That’s the first reality. There’s no point dressing this up with fancy words or shocking images. They’re gone.

A complete and unashamed breach of international law. When France voted against the US in the United Nations, US politicians and press were quick to label the French “the enemy within”. This was despite the fact that 13 of the 17 member states of the UN also agreed with France. That failed to get much of a mention, at least in the popular press. France was then cast by the US media and politicians as the villain with ulterior motives, the party which had vested interests in Iraq, with massive contracts for oil and the like. The problem with accusing one country of having vested interests is that you immediately invoke the ancient adage “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Now that the war is over it is clear what US interests are at stake: 100% share in oil, 100% US corporations awarded contracts to rebuild Iraq. Corporations all intricately linked with politicians currently in power in the United States. No questions asked. To the victor go the spoils. All contracts with the former Iraq obliterated. Yes, the French had a lot to lose, but America’s corporations and politicians had everything to gain. There is no moral high ground here, it has been obliterated by corporate landmines.

President Bush last week, stood on the bow of a US vessel in international waters and thanked his troops for their excellent work. Sure it was a great photo op for the papers, and a proud moment for those who had willingly fought for their country. But it was a great deal more than that. It was yet another opportunity for the President to stand in contempt of international law. Declaring victory on a carrier in international waters means that the US is not bound by the rules of international law. When you declare victory on your own soil you are effectively bound to release all your prisoners of war. By doing it on a carrier that is out to sea you can get around that. The prisoners remain prisoners and God knows when they will see real justice. In recent history the US’s record when it comes to prisoners of war is tarnished to the point of being black. Twenty months after September 11th the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay have not yet seen their day in court. They have not even been given the privilege of being called “prisoners of war” which would effectively grant them some rights under international law. Instead the US have come up with a new term, “enemy combatants”, which is of course, not defined under international law, so these people do not, in fact, exist. They are not within the jurisdiction of the US courts. So far, they can’t be tried in other courts either.

True democracy is another victim of this war, or at least on the surface it appears to be.

If you look a bit closer, you’ll see that there has been one winner in this war. The rage I felt earlier has turned to a lighter shade of grey. Millions of people in Spain, France, Canada, the United States, Britain, Turkey to name but a few, have donned coats, taken off clothing, sung songs, draped themselves in red food colouring and generally walked many kilometres, for peace. I was one of those people. We could not stand the hypocrisy, the one sided media reporting, the constant images of a technologically superior force wiping out all question of morality and right and wrong. Collectively we were the largest group of protesters to ever take to the streets before a battle took place.

The ongoing waves of protests were a constant reminder that people were not to be fooled. Our opposition claimed that all was in vain, that the war was won quickly, that we may as well have stayed at home, put our feet up and watched the footy.

But we didn’t. Speaking for myself I am proud. I am proud that we didn’t unite behind our Australian flag and support the war effort. I am glad that we stood up and were counted. I know that the world is a lesser place now that all these people are dead, but at least we fought for them, we fought for the truth. It does not console me that Saddam may have died in the process.

I believe war causes only anger and shame and that other dictators will rise as a result of the hatred brought on by this war. As protesters we fought against hypocrisy. And if the message is only that our Prime Minister better think long and hard before he tries a political stunt like that again, then that is enough. I’m not sure that has happened. But if another political party in this nation wants even a sniff of power at the next election then they know what they must do. At least have the appearance of not being a corporate lackey, at least have the appearance that you care about what your population believes is right. At least don’t fight a war based on an amount of money most of us would never dream of. Listen to, and hear our anger. Listen to the mourning in all our hearts: our mourning for the people who have died, and the sadness we feel for those cynical politicians who have tried to fool us, and tell us it was all for our good and for the good of the Iraqi people. We’re not fooled, not for one second.


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