Argus title : We need an outcry on Iraq so Mr Brown will react
Sussex’s peace groups have campaigned tirelessly against military action in Iraq. Last year they held demonstrations against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and Tony Blair’s refusal to condemn it. They have also been active in the campaign against the EDO armaments factory in Brighton.
They have been a thorn in the side of the Defence ‘establishment’ and as a consequence have been on the receiving end of many brickbats.
Despite the presence of many Jewish activists in its ranks, Sussex Action for Peace’s opposition to Israeli government military actions led to bizarre accusations of anti-semitism. And just over a month ago Michael Kelly a soldier from Worthing, who had returned from Iraq condemned local peace groups for failing to support British forces.
The Argus posed the question: “Is it a betrayal of our troops to protest against this war?” to Glen Williams of SAP and Major Tom Wye, a Worthing councillor and former soldier.
Tom Wye wrote “Whether it is a just war or not, they have been sent out there by a democratically elected Government….I’m on the record as saying that when the war had started, all the debates were done and dusted. The entire country should be behind the troops…. The troops are not leaving so we need to support them.”
He added “Of course it demoralises the troops when people are saying they are throwing their lives away…If you had just lost a friend how would that make you feel?”
Glen Williams pointed to the fact that the Blair government had misled parliament and that consequently the country had gone to war on the basis of a lie. He said: “Whether people protest or not, a huge majority in this country and certainly the rest of the world believe the war in Iraq is illegal, immoral and a huge mistake.”
“If it was wrong before the troops went in, it is wrong now they are there and to not continue to speak out against it would be dishonest and cowardly… do we support our troops by sending more and more out there to meet their deaths…?”
He added: “The fact many military families are at the forefront of the anti-war movement and military leaders such as General Sir Michael Jackson have been openly critical of the war and its progress shows the unprecedented situation the UK Government has placed itself, and us, in.”
It was a fascinating debate, but strangely unreal. A discussion such as that might have been expected in the early stages of the war, before the so-called ceasefire and Iraq’s slide into bloodbath and anarchy. At that time, despite the fact that 2 million people had marched to prevent war, public opinion was genuinely divided. Now, however, things are different.
Vast numbers of British people are now convinced the war was based upon a lie and that our troops are being slaughtered to no good purpose.
One of the reasons is that despite the high level of news management and use of journalists “embedded” with the army, there has been unprecedented leakage of information by soldiers. A large number of them, unlike Michael Kelly, have chosen to express their dissatisfaction with the war.
The journalist John Pilger recently said “What is different about Iraq is the willing ness of usually obedient British solders to speak their minds, from current military chief General Richard Dannatt, who said that the presence of his troops in Iraq “exacerbates the security problem”, to General Michael Rose, who has called for Tony Blair to be impeached for taking Britain to war “on false grounds” – remarks that are mild compared with the blogs of squaddies.”
Pilger has documented the ways in which the British media, including the BBC, have toed the official line in reporting the war, slavishly repeating the Blair’s discredited assertion that the aim of the invasion was to bring democracy and human rights to Iraq.
Pilger said “More often than not, censorship by omission is employed – for example by omitting the fact that, according to the Pentagon, almost 80% of attacks are directed against the occupation forces”. This allows them to “give the impression that the occupiers are doing their best to separate “warring tribes.””
Many bereaved British families left to mourn dead young soldiers are certain that their lives were wasted. It makes their grief all the more bitter. Military Families Against the War (MFAW), though loyal to the army and respectful of their loved ones’ chosen profession, are adamant that this war must end. The point out that British soldiers are now dying at a proportionately greater rate than US troops.
On the day Blair left Downing Street, MFAW organized a demonstration with huge portraits of their lost loved ones. They delivered a letter to Gordon Brown inviting him to meet with them “to discuss the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq”, noting that in three years Tony Blair had never done so.
Rose Gentle, from Pollock, whose son Gordon was killed in 2004, is leading MFAW’s legal challenge. She believes the invasion was illegal and is trying to force the Government to hold a public enquiry. She failed in an appeal last December, but has now been given leave to appeal to the House of Lords. Her son’s inquest has still not been held.
The comments on MFAW’s website should be read by all who say the peace movement should not question the war while our troops are in action.
AC, an anonymous British officer wrote as follows: “That the invasion was “illegal, immoral and unwinnable”, and the “greatest foreign policy blunder since Suez” is the overwhelming feeling of many of my peers…they speak of loathsome six-month tours during which they led patrols with dread and fear, reluctantly providing target practice for insurgents, senselessly haemorrhaging casualties, and squandering soldiers’ lives, as part of Bush’s vain attempt to delay the inevitable Anglo-US rout until after the next US election. Given a free chance most of us would never have invaded Iraq and certainly would have withdrawn long ago.”
A mother wrote: “I have just spent the day with my son celebrating his 21st birthday…..My son is now a stranger to me. He watched his friend get his head blown off in Iraq. My son’s eyes are dead, his spirit crushed, he had no celebration in him”
Some of the entries acknowledge the terrible price that civilians are paying in Britain’s military adventures, but there are none comparable to those reported by American troops in Iraq. It is these which give the strongest sense of the futile horror of this US-led war.
In the 30th July issue of “The Nation” Chris Hedges and Liala al-Arian published statements from several Iraq veterans.
Specialist Jeff Englehart (26) said “I guess while I was there, the general attitude was, ‘A dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi… You know, so what?’… [Only when we got home] in… meeting other veterans, it seems like the guilt really takes place, takes root, then.”
Sergeant Jesus Boccanegra (25) referred to raids: “It would always happen. We always got the wrong house….People would make jokes about it, even before we’d go into a raid, like, ‘Oh fuck, we’re gonna get the wrong house’. Cause it would always happen. We always got the wrong house.”
Specialist Philip Chrystal (23) said: “An IED [improvised explosive device] went off, the gun-happy soldiers just started shooting anywhere and the baby got hit. And this baby looked at me… like asking me why. You know, ‘Why do I have a bullet in my leg?'”
This is the reality of this bloody war. We are yoked to a US juggernaut we cannot control in a conflict mired in atrocity and injustice. It does not matter that Britain’s human rights record is marginally better than the USA’s or that many soldiers try not to abuse power. We are besmirched by pointless conflict which has created a breeding ground for the very terrorism we claim to oppose.
Tony Blair would not heed the 2 million people who marched against the war, but Gordon Brown knows it is in his interests to listen. Iraq is after all the issue which brought Blair down.
Brown will not risk a public breach with Bush, but he knows he needs to be seen to act independently of the White House. He needs a very public outcry to which he can respond.
Thus it makes no sense for Michael Kelly and Tom Wye to try to silence peace groups. This is a time to stand shoulder to shoulder with them and to cry outrage from every village, town and city in the land.
“No more killing in our name. Bring the troops back home.”