Monthly Archives: March 2003

Enough already

Robin Cook continues to make the case for ending the war. “I have already had my fill of this bloody and unnecessary war,” he says according to a report in the Guardian. I remember feeling that way weeks before it had even started.


The ever-superb Robert Fisk has written a horrifying account of the aftermath of the bombing of a Baghdad market in broad daylight yesterday, where more than 20 civilians were blown to pieces. Fisk was close by at the time of the “outrage” and maintains the missiles came from a US fighter jet, but according to a story in the Times, the US is refusing to admit they were responsible, claiming the missiles could have been “a surface-to-air missile that missed its target fell back into the marketplace area.” Brigadier-General Vincent Brooks at US Central Command is quoted: “What meets the eye isn’t always true.” Well, the Americans would know all about that, wouldn’t they?

For somewhat lighter relief in these disturbing times, there is an excellent piece by Tim Dowling in today’s Guardian wondering whether the George W. Bush who addressed the US troops in Tampa yesterday was the real Dubya or a fake.

On an even lighter note, another story in the paper reports that Minister for E-commerce Stephen Timms is planning a clampdown on spam. While applauding this, Thoughtcat trusts Timms will not be too draconian, as spam can often be an unintentional source of entertainment, as highlighted on Spamcat.

What can you do?

The discussion I started on the Guardian yesterday has notched up 34 posts, thankfully some of which are somewhat more inspiring than the first few. The best one quotes several ideas from Michael Moore’s website. Even so, I have to say I’m disappointed with the feeling that there’s no one thing that any one person can do. It’s not as if this sort of situation lends itself to a Bob Geldof figure who can rise up and capture the public’s imagination: with a famine, all you basically need is enough money to buy the food and ensure it’s distributed in an effective way; with Band Aid and Live Aid, Geldof achieved that and much more. But with a war, you can’t just throw money at the situation.

Desperate measures

In a state of desperation I started a discussion on the Guardian’s “International” talkboard entitled “What could an ordinary UK citizen do to stop this war?” Suggestions so far include “nothing”, “top urself”, “mail Saddam a parcel bomb” and “join the Peace Pledge Union”…

Straw men

A Charles Kennedy interview in today’s Independent quotes him on his disappointing revision of his party’s stance on the war: “You have to give your moral support to the troops… I still believe diplomacy should have been given more time, but unfortunately that was defeated in Parliament and we have moved on,” he says. I can’t decide whether he’s just a woolly liberal or if it’s simply naive to think any major party could seriously take a more hardline position than that.

The article also mentions William Hague’s “joke” during the parliamentary debate on military action that if the Iraqi army collapsed with the same speed as the Liberal Democrats’ argument, “it will be a very short war”. Apparently Jack Straw called this “one of the greatest parliamentary put-downs of all time”. Nice to see our political representatives at ease and making humorous, intellectual capital of death and destruction.

Lighting the way

Further to Blair’s TV address about the war, we’ve now had televisual statements on the issue from Iain Duncan Smith and Charles Kennedy. Each has seen them addressing the camera exactly as Blair did from a pleasant living-room type background lit by a table lamp. The lighting in the Blair address was harsh, to drive home how tough this course of action is for him and the country; the other two went for a softer, more reassuring approach. Kennedy’s lamp looked a bit cheap, perhaps, but I preferred it to Duncan Smith’s posh affair, which matched perfectly the Tory leader’s patronising and unctuous delivery. Only in Britain could you have leaders of political parties fighting a war from the lighting section of Homebase.

Meanwhile, Mark Steel writes on ZNet today: “Peter Hain was one of several ministers who claimed the French made the war inevitable, by voting against the war. Similarly, I’m one of millions that should apologise for putting Margaret Thatcher into power by voting against her, and making the Cheeky Girls Number One by not buying their record. Hain went on to say, on Radio 5 on Tuesday, ‘The French have decided, by their veto, to not talk when the talk making war with their veto.’ John Prescott must have thought, ‘At last – someone who speaks my language.'”

Supporting the troops

I just had a frightening thought. Given that Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory of evolution must surely now lay in tatters with George W. Bush not only in the White House but now leading one of the most stupid wars ever conceived, could Dubya be proof of the existence of God?

More seriously, I deeply resent the assumption by people like Peter Hain and the Prime Minister himself in his TV address (as reported in “Blair addresses divided nation” in today’s Guardian) that even though the country is divided over the war, “the British people will now be united in sending our armed forces our thoughts and prayers”. The argument from these and other quarters that “the troops just have a job to do” and that we should “show unity for their sake” is naive, patronising and simplistic. This isn’t to say I don’t care about our soldiers’ lives and welfare; on the contrary, that is exactly what I do care about. What sickens me is that the people who put the soldiers on the front lines have done so less to disarm Saddam than to fight a political war against “old Europe” and shore up public opinion for this conflict in a far more horrifyingly vivid way than they have been able to achieve by debate and diplomacy alone. To recognise the country’s division, and then to say that we should support the military regardless, is both emotional blackmail and Orwellian doublespeak of the most repulsive kind.

Blair’s TV address incidentally was bizarre. Come ten o’clock, the Blair broadcast had been mysteriously replaced by a one-man performance of The Iceman Cometh. His haggard, exhausted appearance was as disingenuous as his words, coming across less as a reflection of how knackered and stressed he is than a conscious effort to drive home exactly how knackered and how stressed he is. This was borne out by the designer harsh lighting that did him no favours whatsoever – what a coincidence. And then there was the wobbly camera and dodgy slow close-up as he wound up his address, giving the suspicious impression the whole thing had been jumped on a surprised Blair at two in the morning by a couple of minor members of his clerical staff, who had filmed it themselves with a Woolworths camcorder. Who are these people trying to kid?

The reality of war

I happened to be indoors on the first morning of the war, tidying up the chaos of the flat after three days of redecoration. I sat down for a break and reluctantly turned the TV on, which I never do in the daytime, to be confronted with the reality of war – that there are huge chunks of time when nothing actually happens. Of course, these days, this doesn’t stop the main TV channels from continuing to broadcast nonetheless. Faced with this, Nicholas Owen found himself interviewing a ballistics expert on scud missiles. “We’ve heard a lot about the use of scud missiles,” said Owen to the expert, who, shot from behind, was revealed to be miked up so comprehensively that he looked like an android. “Can you tell us something about them? For example, what is a scud missile?” The robot-expert churned out a textbook definition of a scud missile, which seemed to be basically that it was a missile that exploded when you fired it at something. Owen then introduced a report from a journalist sitting in a tent in Kuwait wearing a gas mask. The despatch was also broadcast via the trendy new technology of videophone, which reproduces for the ordinary television viewer the exact experience of watching a movie downloaded off the internet on a 56k modem. “As you can see, I’m wearing my gas mask,” mumbled the flickering journalist. The rest of his report seemed to amount to little more than “not much has happened since last night”. Owen, keen to milk the despatch for as long as he could, said, “I see you’re in a tent. Can you pull the camera back a bit and show us what that tent is like?” I decided I didn’t really want to know what the tent was like, and turned off the TV.

I was sad and angry enough that the war had finally started without having to contemplate crap like this. The whole thing reminded me of something my Grandad once said: “War is ninety per cent total boredom and ten per cent total terror.”

Sliding into chaos

According to a story on the BBC’s website today, Ry Cooder, the brilliant US slide guitarist and musicologist who assembled the legendary Cuban musicians for the Buena Vista Social Club record a few years ago, has been fined $100,000 by the US government under the – wait for it – “Trading With the Enemy” act. There has of course long been an embargo on US citizens having dealings with the Cubans, but this was temporarily lifted in Cooder’s case by Bill Clinton, who if he did nothing else at least recognised good music when he heard it. How totally impoverished must the soul of the current US administration be to fine Cooder at all, let alone under this law, at a time like this?

Elsewhere, Ananova reports that the politicians of Pennsylvania are wrangling over the “official state biscuit”. “The state Senate favours the chocolate chip cookie, but the House of Representatives wants the Nazareth sugar cookie,” reads the report. As a long-standing biscuit lover I deplore this abuse of biscuits in the so-called name of democracy. Only in America, as they say.