Sunday 16 February 2003

Against war?

Natsuko called this morning to ask if I’d reconsider my decision not to attend the anti-war march.

“You should come,” she said, “everybody should be against war. The more the merrier.”

“I’m not against war,” I replied. “I’m against unilateral military action, tyranny, and fundamentalism.”

“John Pilger will be speaking,” she added gratuitously.

I thought about telling Natsuko that Pilger’s reflexive anti-American stance is just a different kind of fundamentalism, no different—in essence—from Muslim, Christian, or Zionist fundamentalism. But instead I told her to be careful and to call me when she was safely home, so I’d know she hadn’t come to any harm or been arrested.

It’s not that I didn’t consider attending the anti-war rally in Sydney today. If it had been a No War on Iraq Without UN Sanction rally, I’d have been there in an instant; but that was not the rally that was planned and advertised nor the rally that was held. There was no space at the table for someone for whom being “against war” makes no more sense than to be “against salt water” or “against sexual attraction.”

I can understand someone’s being “against war except as a means of last resort” or “against a particular side in a specific war,” but to be against war per se is to deny that, under certain circumstances, there may be no alternative to war. I’ve written before about my objection to the “anti-war” argument in these terms:

The contradiction, as it appears to me, is that the surviving Jews in Buchenwald, Auschwitz, and the other death camps were not liberated by pacifists. Those few Jews left alive were set free by courageous men and women who had fought their way across Europe against determined German resistance—men and women who, whether they were motivated by moral outrage, a thirst for justice, the instinct for self-preservation, or a sense of loyalty to their comrades, took part in a sustained campaign of murderous and coercive violence that resulted in the defeat of the Nazis.

Were they wrong? Or mistaken? If so, what was the pacifist strategy for defeating Hitler, ending the occupation of Europe, and stopping the Holocaust? (And, by extension, for vanquishing the Japanese military forces and liberating the subjugated peoples of Asia.)

I’ve also stated in various posts my misgivings about the real motives of the US, British, and Australian governments in preparing an unsanctioned attack on Iraq. Today, after reading a long essay titled Real Reasons for the Upcoming War with Iraq (via a comment by Paul Hughes on Joi Ito’s post My position on warblogging), I’m even more skeptical about the Bush administration’s stated reasons for invading Iraq.

The essay argues that Saddam Hussein’s decision late 2000 to transact Iraq’s oil sales in Euros instead of dollars (and his subsequent conversion of Iraq’s $10 billion reserve fund at the UN to Euros) poses a substantial threat to the US economy—initially by establishing the Euro “as an alternative oil transaction currency” then subsequently by encouraging OPEC to follow suit.

<update>Stavros pointed out in a comment that the oil currency article, by W. Clark, originally appeared at, which also provides a link to a related article by Peter Dale Scott, Bush’s Deep Reasons For War on Iraq: Oil, Petrodollars, and the OPEC Euro Question.</update>

(Aside: anyone who believes that the French and German governments are motivated by altruism or a commitment to world peace must be drinking cocktails mixed from equal portions of naivety and idealism.)

So what’s my solution? To force the Americans and Europeans to thrash out a compromise that will neutralize the extremists in the Bush administration, discourage the legitimization of unilateral military action, and leave the “authority” of the UN intact. A UN-sanctioned campaign against Saddam Hussein offers the best chance of liberating the Iraqi people, constraining the US government’s Middle East ambitions, and establishing a balance of power between the US and Europe.

Tonight on the TV news I saw various anti-war figures speak out against any war on Iraq, stressing that it would result in the death and suffering of thousands of women, children, and soldiers. Yet not one of them had anything to say about the death and suffering that Saddam Hussein has inflicted on hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

Ten days ago, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Paul Sheehan quoted from a portrait of Iraq by Jon Lee Anderson in The New Yorker of November 25:

“Abu Ghraib is the biggest prison in the country [Iraq]. Until recently, it housed maybe 50,000 men, although to my knowledge there are no official figures on this… Over the years human rights organisations have reported that mass executions took place regularly… every Wednesday was execution day at the prison. An old-fashioned Indian hanging machine had been used for a while, but a problem arose with noise. There was a terrific banging sound every time the machine dropped and people living near the prison had been begun keeping track of the executions by counting the bangs,” the Iraqi exile said.

“The old gallows was replaced by a quiet modern device, but the locals still knew when executions were taking place because the condemned men ululated as they went to their deaths. In our culture, this is something that only women do, when they are happy. But the men in Abu Ghraib make the sound because they are so relieved that they are finally going to die.”

What, if you are “against war,” is the solution to this?

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And perhaps if you had gone to the anti-war rally you would have heard, as I heard yesterday, speaker after speaker say that they do believe Saddam is an evil man. You would have heard the speakers say, as I did yesterday, that what the majority are against is the US unilaterally invading a country without international sanction through the UN. You would have heard, as I heard yesterday, support from all but one minister (and you'll have to excuse him if he doesn't support dropping bombs as a way of solving problems) complete support for the UN regardless of the decisions it must make to resolve this.

But you didn't hear any of these things because you stayed away.

War is wrong. It should be an act of last resort. It is nothing less than complete failure on the part of every member of humanity. To say otherwise is to deny the costs of war. But if the international community as a whole feels there is no other recourse but to have this war, to remove this man because he must be removed for the good of his people and to remove him as a threat, then so be it. But we do so as a community, and with a realization that we've set a standard and a course we must then follow with all countries.

As for France or Germany, or Australia or Britain or the US, no government in all of this is without self-interest; however, I would like to believe that the French and the German and Australian and British and American _people_ who marched did so because they do believe, as I do, that war is not a solution. It's only a remedy for failure.

If we must have war with Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein, if nothing else will work (and note that the international community has primarily focused on his danger without rather than within in the last decade) then my only hope is we do so for the best of intentions, not the worst. And that's why I marched.

Posted by Burningbird on 16 February 2003 (Comment Permalink)

In less-than-verbose mode, knowing I don't have all of the answers, all I can say is that two wrongs do not make a right.

Posted by RKB on 17 February 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Jonathon, I'm confused by your argument. The demonstrations were made up of pacifists, of those like you who oppose unilateral action, and everything in between. Did you think your marching would support the pacifist view? If you were a pacifist would you be worried that you were supporting the view that a multilaterlist war was okay, because some demonstrating held that view, that a speaker might make that argument. Would it ever be possible to support a community demonstration? The focus of the demonstration, the one that all agreed on was no war now, a shared view. Is that not worth demonstrating for? You criticize those that spoke against war because thousands of innocents would die without acknowledging the thousands who have died or will die at Saddam's hand, but the absence of acknowledgment is not necessairly the absence of condemnation. Demonstrations have limited focus, a one important message, in this case no war. Perhaps it was possible to effectively make both arguments to say that without multilateral support we would further polarize the region creating the seeds for an even greater number of deaths, but is that sufficient reason not to demonstrate at all? Is your participation in a public demonstration ever possible when the goals of the demonstrators differ?

Posted by Norm Jenson on 17 February 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Sorry, I've heard this bromide my whole life: "Two wrongs don't make a right"... I think that this view is woefully naive.

Maybe you _hope_ that two wrongs don't make a right, but you must admit that two wrongs _can_ sometimes bring about a better situation for all concerned. IMHO, this is the situation we're looking at now.

Posted by Trevor Hill on 17 February 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Jonathon, like millions of others who are "anti-war" I have no solution to your confusing argument.

However, I would rather no war than innocent Iraqis getting flattened by US "smart bombs".

The solution to Saddam's cruelty in the end will come from within ? sooner rather than later, hopefully.

Bush's belligerent shotgun approach will not get Saddam, it will simply fuel more worldwide chaos and instability.

Posted by Allan Moult on 17 February 2003 (Comment Permalink)

"And perhaps if you had gone to the anti-war rally you would have heard, as I heard yesterday, speaker after speaker say that they do believe Saddam is an evil man. You would have heard the speakers say, as I did yesterday, that what the majority are against is the US unilaterally invading a country without international sanction through the UN."

Actually, Bb, I wouldn't have heard anything of the sort. You assume a correspondence between the participants in the rally you attended and the rally I did not attend. However, the political climate in Australia is radically different to that in the United States. It's long been clear to me -- from observing the US and speaking with many Americans over the years -- that a "left-wing liberal" in the US equates to a "left-wing conservative" in Australia. In other words, Australian politics is skewed significantly to the left compared with American politics.

The main effect of this skew is that the proportion of those at the Sydney rally who support UN-sanctioned intervention in Iraq was significantly smaller than those at a comparable rally in the US.

Suddenly, as a result of the rallies around Australia, the opposition Labor party -- which up until now has supported UN-sanctioned intervention -- is being manouvered into a position where the leader, Simon Crean, is in danger of being replaced unless he rejects *any* action against Iraq.

That will, in turn, further polarize the debate so that the middle position which I espouse is frozen out. Which is why, Norm, I refused to participate in this demonstration.

As Paul Sheehan wrote this morning:

"The only people who think this is simple are the ones using slogans, such as 'No blood for oil', as if the torrent of blood that has never stopped flowing since Saddam took power does not rest on a foundation of oil income and passivism by the West. As Saddam told an Egyptian magazine last November (picked up by Newsweek): 'Time is working for us. We have to buy some more time, and the American-British coalition will disintegrate because of internal reasons and because of the pressure of public opinion in the American and British street.'"

Posted by Jonathon on 17 February 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Imagine that. Austrailia's political climate is radically different from that in the U.S. and you expect an egocentric American to figure that out. Thanks for the explanation it works for me.

Posted by Norm Jenson on 17 February 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Without offense intended to either Norm or Jonathon, what Jonathon states doesn't necessarily work for me, issues of egocentric Americanism aside.

I have to ask: Jonathon, are you the only person who feels the way you do in Australia? Are there no others who share your viewpoint? Could you have not worked to get out a second message in this demonstration, one that supports your view, but still demonstrates that Australia's support of Bush is unacceptable? Would this not give needed support for Simon Crean, while still showing lack of support for Howard?

If there's only a few in Australia with your viewpoint, then you are frozen out as you say. If not, though, in some ways you have an even stronger need to march, because this third voice isn't being heard.

However, having said this with a zealot's ferver (and I can feel my mouth starting to froth) I have to also say that no one should feel that they have to do something they're not comfortable with because of what another person would do. American or not, that is egocentrical.

Posted by Burningbird on 17 February 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Jonathon didn't want to march because "there was no room for (his) argument at the table." On Sunday I saw a multiplicity of voices and arguments marching with only one thing in common. They'd all decided to put one foot forward.

Posted by liz on 17 February 2003 (Comment Permalink)

That piece about the euro originally appeared here - - I believe. I noted it a few days ago. It certainly is a persuasive argument.

Posted by stavrosthewonderchicken on 17 February 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Marches are not the place for arguments; that happens both earlier and later. They are there to put pressure on your government, to show people that you are not pleased by their war uber alles
attitude, to show others they're not alone.

I was speaking to my brother before the demos, who had a similar stance like you: against the war, but with reservations on how far he was opposed to this war and when a war with Iraq would be justified. Like you, he didn't want to go to a demo because of his doubts. I managed to convince him to go anyway.

I told him that there comes a time when for all your doubts and misgivings, you need to act. It doesn't matter if you're not wholly convinced a war against Iraq would always be unjust, or whether you disagree with others about when a war with Iraq is just. All that matters is: do you believe *this* war with Iraq is bad? If so, you should've set away your doubts and made your voice heard. No matter how thoughtful or well nuanced your opinions are, they don't matter if you don't act upon them.

Posted by Martin Wisse on 18 February 2003 (Comment Permalink)

"Marches are not the place for arguments; that happens both earlier and later." ironically, the same is true of wars. many soldiers are willing to risk their lives in wars with which they may not personally agree, in the interest of supporting the larger ideals of the country for which they fight.

the potential sacrifice involved in attending an anti-war (which typically means anti-this-war for most people involved) march is only the confusion of someone seeing you at the march and thinking you a pacifist. the potential sacrifice involved in not doing so is the lives of those soldiers and the greater causes they support. for me, the importance of the latter outweighs the likelihood of the former. but with a march of this size, whether or not you are there is really only important to you. no one's going to say "oh, there were only 499,999 people there; that's not important. now if there were 500,000..."

Posted by scott reynen on 26 February 2003 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour