From Socialist Review, No.257, November 2001, pp.12-13.
Copyright © 2001 Socialist Review.
Downloaded with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
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Journalist of the decade Paul Foot argues why we should oppose this war – and what media workers can do about it
One of the many disadvantages of the present situation is that we have to endure endless television footage of President Bush. Bush has a look on his face that is usually interpreted as a sign of distress at what happened on 11 September. It’s only after you’ve seen him again and again that you realise that the look does not represent distress at all. What it represents is panic – panic that he will not be able to summon up a word which even remotely approximates to the message he wishes to convey.
So, for instance, in his first appearance after the atrocity in New York he referred to the ‘cowardly acts’ of the terrorists. Someone must have taken him on one side and said, ‘Well, you know, George, the people who hijacked the airliners are all dead by their own hand. You can call them lots of things, but you can’t really call them cowards.’ So ‘cowards’ came down to ‘folks’, and then, in one desperate moment, ‘evildoers’.
This same uncertainty and vacillation seemed to paralyse the reaction to the bombings in New York, so that for a moment it was possible to hope that somewhere in the bowels of the US government there might be some grain of sanity. All those hopes were a bit silly, really. Having an imbecile for a president is a little embarrassing for the military-industrial complex that governs the US.
So now we are at war, apparently, to root out the horror of New York. I would define that horror as reckless bombing without warning which leads to the mass murder of innocent people. As a result, every night on the television there are the familiar pictures of explosions in the night air, superannuated generals discussing tactics, endless talk about precision bombing, targeted terrorists, humanitarian missions, international law. And already we can see what it all means – reckless bombing without warning which leads to the mass murder of innocent people.
There is another feature of this war that is also familiar – the awful unanimity of people who call themselves our representatives. The day after the hot war broke out in Afghanistan, lots of speeches were made by MPs of all parties. Not a single voice was raised against the waging of war by Britain, the US and other western countries against the poorest country on earth. Tony Blair can go on saying until he is strangled in his own rhetoric that we are not waging war on the Afghan people, but all the brilliant brains among his advisers cannot explain how you drop bombs on Afghan cities without killing Afghan people. He can talk about humanitarian aid, but cannot explain how the dropping of food rations can feed 7 million starving people, many of them rushing desperately away from their homes to avoid the bombs. George Monbiot, one of the few journalists to keep his head, reckoned that, even if all the rations dropped by the bombers get to starving people, they will feed a quarter of them for half a day.
Not a single voice was raised in parliament against the declaration of war. There was only one rude noise, and it came from Paul Marsden, the Labour MP for Shrewsbury. Mr Marsden, asked on a point of order if perhaps there might be a vote. ‘There is’, he said, ‘growing disquiet that for the third time parliament has been recalled, yet honourable members have been denied a vote on this war. Can you confirm to me that there will be no vote?’
Here is the reply of Mr Speaker, the guardian of the cradle of British democracy: ‘It seems as though the honourable gentleman is getting advice already. Procedural advice is best given privately at the chair. If the honourable gentleman wishes to come to the chair I will give him some private advice.’ The Speaker’s answer was greeted with howls of mirth from the honourable members, delighted that a little known backbencher making such an impertinent suggestion should be so firmly put in his place. The result is that British forces have gone to a war in a far off country for which there is precious little justification, and their and our representatives are not even allowed a vote on the matter.
This unanimity does not reflect what is going on in the country at large. The opposition to these attacks goes very deep – far deeper than any of the government ministers imagine.
Some say, what is the alternative? The New York massacre was a terrible event and we are asked, well, what would you do? Would you appease the terrorists – leave the field open to them? Our reply is no, not at all. We can suggest to Bush, Blair and all the rest of them a whole series of policies that, we guarantee, would do immeasurably more to stop terrorists than bombing the countries in which they live. First, cut off your aid to the state of Israel and its merciless persecution of the Palestinian people. Stop grovelling to the war criminal Sharon. Stop shaking his bloodstained hand. Do all in your power to stop Mr Putin and his KGB in Russia from slaughtering and torturing the people of Chechnya. For that matter, stop propping up dictatorships in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and south Asia. Above all, instead of talking yet again about a New World Order, set about dismantling economic and social priorities which divide the world – yes, even our own world here in Britain and in the US – into classes: grossly rich minorities in power selling each other the weapons of mass destruction so that they can more ruthlessly control and punish the landless, unarmed masses of the dispossessed. These are policies that hold out some hope of subverting terrorism. They are the exact opposite of the policies pursued by our government. There is a most vital and urgent need to turn the hearts and minds of the British people against individual terrorism of the type that bombed New York and state terrorism of the type that is bombing Afghanistan.
Ten years ago, as the bombs started to rain down on Baghdad, John Pilger and I wrote a letter to the Guardian asking anyone who worked in the media and shared our disgust at the war to come and talk to us in Conway Hall. Some 500 people turned up that night, and there and then we formed Media Workers Against the War. Our aims were simple – in general to oppose the war by every means at our disposal, and in particular to do so in the media. That war only lasted a few weeks, but in that time we set up groups in many newspaper and television offices – groups which met, discussed and challenged the gung-ho bombast of the proprietors. We got an office. We published a bulletin, and engaged the enthusiastic help of hundreds of journalists up and down the country.
The situation today is far more intense than it was ten years ago. People are at once far more anxious and far more angry. Anti-war groups are forming all over the country. Media Workers Against the War will be part of a grand alliance of everyone against this war. It needs to be more effective, more powerful than before. Everyone here with even the remotest connection with the media should sign up here and now. We can and must challenge the proprietors and the government ministers for mass support, and force them by the sheer weight of public pressure to get their bombs and missiles out of Afghanistan, and concentrate on economic and social policies that will lead to a world free from capitalist exploitation and free from the racialism, barbarism and terrorism on which it feeds.
This article is based on Paul Foot’s speech at the huge Media Workers Against the War meeting in London last month.
Last updated on 27.11.2004