The Australian peace movement - moral queasiness

Issue 

By Ian Bolas

The day after Kuwait's "liberation", the Australian press ran lurid stories of alleged atrocities committed by Iraqi troops during the occupation. The same papers also ran photos of the aftermath of the slaughter of retreating civilians and the Iraqi army by allied air attack.

The irony was obviously lost on journalists and editors involved. Despite the well-known propensity for Australian journalists to "connect nothing with nothing", news presentation on these pages went right to the heart of the matter. On the one hand verbal reports of alleged tortures. On the other actual photos of mass slaughter.

Amazingly, the conclusion drawn was that the "demonic" Hussein should be tried for war crimes. No major paper took up US politician Ramsey Clarke's call for Bush to be put on trial, despite the overwhelming evidence of the crimes against the Iraqis.

Proven crimes were committed in this war. Overwhelmingly they were committed by the US, assisted by its British and European allies and a motley collection of bribed and browbeaten Arab states against the people of Iraq. The greatest crime of all was the war itself — and it was an entirely premeditated one.

There was never the possibility of a negotiated settlement because the US project was nothing less than the destruction of Iraq as a power in the region. This involved not only the neutralising of its military capability but also the wrecking of the social, economic and political infrastructure.

Iraq was to be reduced to barbarism.

By destroying Iraq, the US delivered a grim warning to other developing nations in the Third World. The Iraqi example shows the actual content of the "new world order". It is to be a period of rampant US imperialism, now unchecked by the constraint which used to be imposed by the threat of war with the Soviet Union. Any developing Third World state will have to toe the line or suffer the fate of Iraq.

US intervention in the Gulf is part of a continuing pattern. It is a piece with the atrocities committed against Japan in the Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Tokyo raids and in the devastation of Vietnam and Cambodia.

To understand what the US and its accomplices have done is to see the inadequacies of the Australian antiwar movement. From the outset, the movement was distracted from the main issue by moral queasiness about the Iraqi government.

Speaker after speaker, article after article , included a ritual denunciation of the "demon Hussein". This in effect supported the US by reinforcing its propaganda and confusing the issues.

Desperately they sought a middle ground between Iraq and its attackers which did not and could not exist. At times the argument was reduced to one of methods. The US position was held to be correct, ad the good taste to quietly starve the Iraqis to death with sanctions instead of bombing them and upsetting the consciences of liberals and pacifists.

This failure to develop a clear position arose from an unwillingness to face up to the realities of history.

Nationalism in the Third World can develop only according to historical laws and circumstances. The political forms and leaderships created in the process may not be ones we find it easy to support.

Nonetheless, they must be supported once they come under attack by imperialists. Failure to defend its enemies inevitably turns into tacit support for imperialism, as it did in the Gulf. It is not possible to "magic" into being fully fledged socialist democracy in Third World countries, irrespective of their levels of economic, political and cultural development. You cannot short-cut history by an act of moral will.

Pacifists cannot allow themselves the luxury of self-delusion about the possibility of a third position which stands above the conflicts and supports neither side. We must work with the world as it is.

The only correct position for a socialist in the antiwar movement to adopt was unequivocal support for Iraq. This meant support for its existing leaders, irrespective of their past activities. Deciding what was the right government for Iraq was no more our business than it was Hawke's and Bush's. Our business was to oppose and expose the imperialist intervention for what it was — a brutal imposition of the will of the US and its allies on the people of the Gulf region.

But the real bankruptcy and hypocrisy of the moralist pacifist position is clearly revealed by the subsequent destruction of Iraq. The Western media are now focussed upon the plight of the Kurds, whose suffering is of a piece with that of ordinary Iraqis who go without food and medical treatment, and Palestinians who are starved and imprisoned within Kuwait. But while the media and pacifist movement single out the Kurds as yet another example of "demon Hussein's" butchery, the crucial point that the Kurds' suffering is a direct result of the destruction of Iraq by the US is ignored.

All this was entirely predictable as long as one grasped the nature of the imperialist project and the methods it has historically adopted elsewhere in the world. If the antiwar movement is to become a genuinely effective force, it will need to make the leap from confused moralism to political analysis.

Failure to achieve this during the events in the Gulf left its spokespeople doing little more than reiterating the propaganda which was used to justify the destruction of Iraq.

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