On War

It’s hard to write about what I’m feeling about the war. This is partly because so many other writers elsewhere are putting it more clearly than I feel I can. It is also partly because I get very upset when I even think about the war.

It is a shameful thing that we are doing. It is a cliché to say that one feels ill because of the political direction we have taken, but for me it really is true. Reading and watching the news is making me feel sick. It makes me feel embarrassed and it makes me feel ashamed.

The easy thing to do, of course, is to tune out. I can watch non-stop music videos on TV, or see hippopotamuses frolic on Discovery Animal Planet. I can go out to a pub, or a restaurant, and have something nice to eat. I can go see a film that makes me laugh. In fact, if I want to, I can completely ignore the fact that Britain is at war. At war.

The weather in Scotland is beautiful right now. Spring has come. Daffodils are in bloom. The sun is out, and people are wandering through Princes St. Gardens wearing T-shirts. Life goes on as if nothing is the matter. War? What war? It’s safely contained within the pages of the newspapers, or in the flashing box in the corner of our living rooms. We are completely removed from it.

In Iraq, people are living in fear of their lives. There are children who will never see their parents again, and parents who will never again have their children rush into their open arms. And I’m not talking about just Iraqi people: I’m talking about British and American soldiers, too. We have sent our armed forced to Iraq to do a job. This job is killing people, and dying. That’s what armies do. Whatever their ultimate goal is, they are trained to achieve that goal by killing people, and by dying.

I’m not a pacifist in principle. I don’t believe that no war is just. I do believe strongly that this war is not just. No single argument for the war stands up to prolonged scrutiny. Our elected leaders have had to use many different arguments to try and knock down people’s objections to it. Somewhere in the shopping list of rhetoric there may be a reason we can live with. Just something that makes us think that the war is justified, or reasonable, or a good thing. Something that allows us to put down the newspaper, change the channel, and sleep at night with a less troubled conscience.

The humanitarian argument is a particularly insidious one. In the long term, it’s possible that we may be saving more lives by going to war against Iraq than would have been lost if we didn’t. Saddam Hussein is a cruel dictator. He has made it easy for this argument to work. It’s tempting to take hold of it, and to ignore the means by which the end of a “liberated” Iraq is achieved.

I really want to have a clear conscience. It would be nice to think that the Iraqi people are crying out to be liberated, and that we are the forces of good, with absolute right on our side. But the world doesn’t work like that. Painting the world in black and white is great for building clean consciences. All you have to do is find a way that leaves you on the side of good, and you’re sorted. But if it’s all grey, then you have to accept that some of the blood shed is on your own hands. You can ignore it for a while, but it doesn’t go away.

By ignoring Saddam Hussein’s human rights abuses and the murder of his own people for so long, there is blood on our hands. The same goes for every dictator on the planet. We should demand more active intervention on the part of our politicians and our institutions to do something about it. But we don’t, because that would mean having to think about the blood on our hands.

War is not the way to clean up a mess. It is how you create even greater messes. It lays the foundations for future tragedies, oppression, and misery. By going to war with Iraq now, for the reasons our leaders have stated, we are lowering the bar for entering into all future wars. I hope that the opposition to this war, and the political fall-out from it will serve as to discourage future leaders from citing it as a precedent. But I’m not confident that this will be the case. So long as we can all go about our daily business, and so long as the images of parents crying over the bodies of their children are confined to the TV, and can be turned off at the push of a button, people will turn off. If we ignore what’s happening now, it will happen again, and again, and again.

We must stop the Saddam Husseins of this world. But we must also stop this war.