Act now against war

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Posted by andreas from ( on Tuesday, January 07, 2003 at 7:20AM :


Act now against war

Those against an attack on Iraq must do more than
shake their heads at the television

George Monbiot

Tuesday January 7, 2003
The Guardian (London)

The rest of Europe must be wondering whether Britain
has gone into hibernation. At the end of this month
our prime minister is likely to announce the decision
he made months ago, that Britain will follow the US
into Iraq. If so, then two or three weeks later, the
war will begin. Unless the UN inspectors find
something before January 27, this will be a war
without even the flimsiest of pretexts: an unprovoked
attack whose purpose is to enhance the wealth and
power of an American kleptocracy. Far from promoting
peace, it could be the first in a series of imperial
wars. The gravest global crisis since the end of the
cold war is three weeks away, and most of us seem to
be asking why someone else doesn't do something about

It is not often that the people of these islands have
an opportunity to change the course of world events.
Bush knows that the Americans' approval of his war
depends, in part, upon its credibility overseas:
opinion polls have shown that many of those who would
support an international attack would withdraw that
support if they perceived that the US was acting
alone. An international attack, in this case, means an
attack supported by Britain. If Blair pulled out, Bush
could be forced to think again. Blair will pull out
only if he perceives that the political cost of
sticking with Bush is greater than the cost of
deserting him. Bush's war, in other words, depends
upon our indifference. As Gramsci remarked: "What
comes to pass does so not so much because a few people
want it to happen, as because the mass of citizens
abdicate their responsibility and let things be."

There are several reasons why most British people do
not seem prepared to act. New military technology has
removed the need for a draft, so the otherwise
unengaged young men who might have become the core of
the resistance movement are left to blast imaginary
enemies on their Gameboys. The economy is still
growing, so underlying resentment towards the
government is muted; yet we perceive our jobs and
prospects to be insecure, so we are reluctant to
expose ourselves to trouble.

It also seems that many people who might have
contested this war simply can't believe it's
happening. If, paradoxically, we were facing a real
threat from a real enemy, the debate would have seemed
more urgent. But if Blair had told us that we had to
go to war to stop Saruman of Isengard from sending his
orcs against the good people of Rohan, it would
scarcely seem less plausible than the threat of Saddam
of Iraq dropping bombs on America.

These factors may explain our feebleness. They don't
excuse it. It is true that our chances of stopping
this war are slight: both men appear determined to
proceed, with or without evidence or cause. But to
imagine that protest is useless if it doesn't lead to
an immediate cessation is to misunderstand its purpose
and power. Even if we cannot stop the attack upon
Iraq, we must ensure that it becomes so politically
costly that there will never be another like it. And
this means that the usual demos will no longer

There have, so far, been many well-organised and
determined protests, and several more are planned over
the next six weeks. On January 18, demonstrators will
seek to blockade the armed forces' joint headquarters
at Northwood, in north London. Three days later,
there'll be a mass lobby of parliament; at 6pm on the
day the war is announced, protesters will gather in
almost every town centre in Britain. On February 15,
there'll be a massive rally in London. These actions
are critically important, as they'll demonstrate the
level of public opposition. But they're unlikely, by
themselves, to provoke one of Blair's famous sweats.
We must raise the temperature.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has already tried
one bold and unprecedented measure: seeking to
persuade the courts to rule that attacking Iraq
without a new UN resolution would be illegal. But on
December 17, the judges decided that they not have the
power to interpret the existing resolution. It seems
that we now have few options but to launch a massive,
though non-violent, campaign of disruption.

CND and the Stop the War Coalition have suggested an
hour's stoppage on the day after the war begins. Many
activists are now talking about building on this, and
seeking to provoke wider strike action - even a
general strike.

This is, of course, difficult and dangerous. Some
general strikes have been effective, forcing the tsar
to agree to a constitution and a legislative assembly
in 1905, for example, reversing the Kapp Putsch in
Berlin in 1920, and overthrowing the Khuri regime in
Lebanon in 1952. Others have been counter-productive,
in some cases disastrous. When the French general
strike was broken in 1920, the labour movement all but
collapsed. Mussolini used the announcement of a
general strike in 1922 to represent himself as the
only man capable of restoring order; he seized power,
with the king's blessing, after the fascists had
routed the strikers and burnt down the Socialist party
headquarters. If we call for a strike and almost
everyone goes to work, Blair will see this as a sign
that he can do as he pleases.

But this is the scale on which we should be thinking.
If we cannot mobilise the workforce, there are still
plenty of means of concentrating politicians' minds.
We could, for example, consider blocking the roads
down which Blair and his key ministers must travel to
meet their appointments, disrupting the speeches they
make and blockading the most important public
buildings. Hundreds of us are likely to be arrested,
but that, as the Vietnam protesters found, serves only
to generate public interest. Non-violence, however, is
critical: nothing did more harm to the anti-war
movement in the late 1960s than the Days of Rage
organised in Chicago by the Weathermen.

But peaceful, well-focused and widespread nuisance,
even if it irritates other members of the public,
forces the issue to the front of people's minds, and
ensures that no one can contemplate the war without
also contemplating the opposition to the war. We must
oblige people to recognise that something
unprecedented in recent times is taking place, that
Bush, assisted by Blair's moral slipstreaming, is
seeking to summon a war from a largely peaceful world.
We will fail unless we stage a political drama
commensurate with the scale of the threat.

All this will, of course, be costly. But there comes a
point at which political commitment is meaningless
unless you are prepared to act on it. According to the
latest opinion poll, some 42% of British people - as
against the 38% who support it - want to stop this
war. But if our action is confined to shaking our
heads at the television set, Blair might as well have
a universal mandate. Are you out there? Or are you
waiting for someone else to act on your behalf?

-- andreas
-- signature .

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