I blame Gorge Bush. I got a bad dose
out protesting during his visit which has left me with a sore
throat and feeling tired on and off ever since. In the larger
scheme of things it doesn’t amount, to use a US Americanism,
to a hill of beans but to me? Well, it’s George Bush’s
fault for coming to have his war summit with Tony Blair in
Hillsborough. Anyway, on with the show. Cough, cough.
What did the war do for you?
Well, the opposition to the Iraq war put
up a good campaign and won many of the arguments but B&B
ignored world opinion (and UK opinion in the case of Blair)
and went to war anyway. This was at a cost much higher than
‘the West’ seems to know, in terms of loss of
life from all sorts of causes, in terms of the rift in world
opinion which should be focusing on AIDS, world hunger and
disease, and global warming, and even in terms of the loss
of some of Iraq’s priceless heritage (the USA cannot
say they were not warned on the outcome of any of these).
As the opposition to the war sits back
and reflects it has much to be proud of. There was the biggest
mobilisation against any war anywhere before it started. It
has put down a marker to world leaders. It has put parameters
on the kind of war that the Axis (‘Coalition’)
could fight. It has shown up the hollow nature of the USA’s
claims to all sorts of things, since the lies told were quite
blatant. Clearest of all was that ‘regime change’
was the aim and not ‘disarmament of weapons of mass
destruction/‘WMD)’, and that war was a clear course
of action, and not simply an option, from early on. The idea
of a meaningful threat from Iraq to the USA or UK, compared
to all the other possible threats in the world, was so ludicrous
that it conscientised many around the world about the USA’s
imperialist relationship (and the UK’s post-imperialist
relationship) to the world community.
It is also good to know that President
Blair didn’t get an electoral advantage from the war
– indeed the local election results in Britain indicate
that the Labour party suffered because of its stand. For George
Bush in a country as nationalistic and xenophobic as the USA,
the war was not a public opinion disadvantage, and indeed
without ‘9/11’ he would still be a lame-duck president
rather than the popular-ist figure he is. But the superpower
has problems at home and abroad which are ignored, and are
not going to go away, while he goes for glory.
There is undoubtedly a role for the peace
movement in pushing for the US-UK promises before the war
to be fulfilled. Occupation, after the initial euphoria of
casting off the yoke of Saddam Hussein, is already on rocky
ground. And the mobilisation of Shi’ite religious forces
may augur badly for the kind of regime, in its own image,
which the USA wished to install in Iraq. But fools rush in
where angels fear to tread. Russia and France are no angels
but they, along with the bulk of world opinion, were not so
foolish as to think a short, sharp war would miraculously
solve Iraq’s problems.
What did you do in the war?
Well, are you campaigned out? I know I
am. It has been a hard slog since last autumn really and much
has gone by the wayside that should have been done on other
things. Having to keep up with new ideas for campaigning,
new ways of influencing public opinion, well, it was hard
work but also often great craic. Pretending to be drunk, dressed
up with a ‘drinking’ hard-hat with ‘oil
barrels’ to drink out of, plus a large bottle of ‘Best
Iraqi crude’, and a placard saying ‘Getting well
oiled in Iraq’, well, it satisfied the exhibitionist
in me. Plus of course the reaction to my acting ability also
swelled the old head – many people really thought I
was drunk. [Ed – You didn’t need that, you
already had a swelled head before.]
And it was special to be able to protest
when George Bush was in town (well, the town of Hillsborough),
though the ‘security arrangements’ in Hillsborough
being a closed town might have permitted it to look like there
was little or no opposition to him – except for the
demo ‘outside’ the security zone on the Monday
night plus a few of us did get into the security zone, both
on the Monday evening and the Tuesday. Unfortunately the Stars
and Stripes I was flying to welcome him on Tuesday beside
the gates of Hillsborough ‘Castle’ (well, it did
have some words on it as well, in fact the US flag is just
made for writing on with those lovely white lines) was grabbed
by the police within a minute and a half – so much for
democracy, so much for free speech, it doesn’t exist
when the PUS (I prefer that to POTUS) is in town.
Did you know there is a whole industry
selling Stars and Stripes flags which have been ‘flown
at the White House’? ‘Flown at the White House’
means instantaneously raised to the top of a flag pole, and
immediately lowered, on the roof of the White House, out of
sight of anyone. So they have been ‘flown at the White
House’ – out of sight of anyone except the people
raising and lowering them. I have here now a flag which has
been flown in public within a couple of hundred metres of
the US President, right at the gates of the place he was visiting
in Northern Ireland. What am I offered? [Ed – What a
woeful idea to flag up.] [Billy – I thought you might
tear Stripes out of me for that, and I’d end up seeing
However, I wanted to reflect for a minute
on the overall campaign I was involved in (with the Justice
Not Terror Coalition which had been formed after ‘9/11’).
In fact I though I would throw in some reflections on the
stages things went through [Ed – Oh no! Not more stages!
You’re giving me stage fright again] [Billy –
Didn’t you now that all the world’s a stage and
we are merely players?].
Back last autumn when we started the campaign
against the Iraqi war it felt a bit like pissing in the wind.
It was still a long way off, not too many people were concerned.
Setting out our stall, literally and metaphorically, we felt
we were doing a slightly lonely but necessary action. The
war clouds were looming. With hindsight, George Bush had probably
already made up his mind, or had his mind made up for him,
that there would be a war on Iraq to effect regime change
come hell or high water. Not that many people stopped to sign
the petition against war but we received good support from
some people who stopped and were aware what was on the horizon.
As the New Year 2003 came, things picked
up. There was much more awareness of what was no longer on
the horizon but just around the corner. There was the feeling
that perhaps the UK might be stopped and shamed if not the
USA. Of course the UK did end up acting as the USA’s
fig leaf – without Britain the description of ‘Coalition’
(I prefer ‘Axis’) would have been even more meaningless.
Our Thursday munch-time stall in Belfast City Centre sometimes
had a queue of people to sign, despite two or three petition
boards being on the go. My voice calling out our wares had
a much more assertive, confident tone.
As we built up to 15th February there was
a tremendous popular outpouring against the war, locally,
nationally (however you interpret that term!) and internationally.
There was a spring in our steps (at the right time of year)
and the mood was more upbeat. 15th February itself was a tremendous
popular outpouring. It was a real downer when we discovered
that Bush, Blair and Ahern (on Shannon) were totally unmoved.
Bush and Blair were so unmoved, in fact, that they didn’t
even consider postponement of ‘their’ war until
the autumn. As an editorial in this issue states, democracy
is about much more than party and parliamentary politics;
these leaders – including Ahern – treated this
great outpouring of democratic opinion with disdain. That
does not augur well for democracy in the West, or certainly
in the USA, UK, Spain, Ireland, and other countries where
governments backed the war against massive popular opposition.
And so the mood changed again. Popular
opinion remained against the war but it was clear that the
US administration would not be deflected, even could not be
deflected because it had made up its mind a long time ago
and, in the final analysis, no one else mattered. The start
of the war, amazingly, brought the stereotypical ‘back
our boys’ swing in the UK. If it was an illegal, immoral
war before it started then surely it was doubly illegal and
immoral after it started. But no, British public opinion did
what it almost always does in wartime – swing around
in support of the war and British forces. Presumably this
was a machiavellian factor that Tony Blair relied on. The
early Axis successes in the war made it look like resistance
would crumble like a dry sand castle.
A week into the military campaign the atmosphere
changed again. The Iraqis were putting up opposition despite
fighting the mightiest army the world has ever seen with weapons
so sophisticated (but not always accurate) that the Iraqis
might nearly have been as well served by bows and arrows.
Tony Blair was seen to be a worried man. Was the military
campaign going badly awry? Clearly the Axis had expected it
to be all over in a week, bar the shouting, and the fact that
it went on for three or four weeks was not what they expected.
And any Iraqi military resistance was remarkable given the
fact that they knew the might of their enemy.
And so we moved on to the current stage,
US-UK occupied Iraq. This has also been different to what
the Axis powers surmised, and indeed what the world expected.
The lack of control exerted by the invading forces showed
a woeful lack of preparation or concern for ordinary Iraqis
and their future (how can an installation, factory or even
shop get back up and running when its hardware, software and
every other ware has been looted?). The extent of Shi’ite
organisation in a country where 60% of the population is of
that persuasion may bode a different future for Iraq than
that which the USA wanted, if the different factions get their
But for me there is the supreme irony of
the US and UK proposing the end of sanctions of Iraq now that
they have had their military way with Iraq. But there is more
than one Butcher of Baghdad. One was undoubtedly Saddam Hussein.
The other is that group of countries, including both the USA
and UK, who continued to support economic sanctions on Iraq
when it was known that they resulted in the death of hundreds
of thousands of ordinary and vulnerable Iraqis. The people
suffered for the sins of their unelected leader. There is
more than one kind of atrocity. Sanctions against Iraq were
The future? Doubtless there will be more
twists and turns. And doubtless as time goes on the US and
UK occupation of Iraq will be increasingly seen as just that,
an unjustified military occupation. The anti-war movement
can be proud of the campaign it exercised and hold its head
high. Maybe its work will mean that ‘the next time’
is just that bit further away and more unlikely. Well done,
Well, SARS has shown how globalised we
are, and Ireland as the top of the pops in terms of globalisation
got its case of SARS too [Ed – It’s not SARS you
have with that cough that you were talking about at the beginning
of your Colm?] [Billy – Don’t be so SARScastic!].
But a sense of perspective is needed. Unless it becomes endemic
in the Chinese countryside where health care, and possible
control of the virus, would be very difficult, it looks like
it is being brought under control. And malaria and other diseases,
even lack of clean drinking water, kill far more people than
SARS is likely to.
But it is the global nature of the disease,
and the lack of a cure, which has scared people. One man,
one lift in one hotel in Hong Kong and half a dozen countries
become infected, including the one case that turned up in
If SARS is brought under control it will
be a good illustration of both international cooperation,
and the realities of a globalised world. We sink or swim together.
And if global warming hots up then it may be a case of having
to swim together, literally, against a massive tide. Let’s
hope that it is not already too late. Thinking locally and
acting globally sounds good as well as vice versa.
Well, that’s the quota of words for
this month. Maybe now I can start to think of all those things
which got ignored while we campaigned against the Iraq war.
It’s a long list awaits. Still, the lilac is a-blooming,
the summer is a-coming, and, the rain is a-raining, having
returned after the longest dry period in March/April just
about ever. Back to abnormal. Hope everything is abnormal
for you too,
is Billy King? A long, long time ago, in a more
innocent age (just talking about myself you understand),
there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train'
and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor
has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write
a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able
to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor
around with you).
Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman
pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little
about horses even if someone with a similar name is
found astride them on gable ends around certain parts
of Norn Iron).