A blow against fairytales

Wednesday, September 18, 1991

Phil Shannon

The Gulf Between Us: The Gulf War And Beyond
Edited by Victoria Brittain
London: Virago. 1991. 186 pp., $17.95 (pb)
Reviewed by Phil Shannon

The English Guardian is the voice of liberal politics, that blend of "responsible" dissent and "respectable" protest. The Gulf Between Us, edited by the Guardian's Victoria Brittain, confronts the liberal thinker with the slaughterhouse of the Iraq War and reveals the contradictory weaknesses and strengths of the liberal — a moral sincerity hamstrung by political timidity.

Brittain herself is clear that an "immoral" war was waged against Iraq as a lesson to other potentially "renegade regimes" (in Bush's words) which cease to be compliant to the Western stockbroker belt. The "triumphalist Western media", she says, were crucial in covering this up by showing "a war without bodies, a war without suffering".

Edward Pearce, too, is inflamed about the media which gave a "moral gloss" to a "colonial expedition" with "no sense of wrong" about the "great killings" of January and February. He writes with a sharp sense of disgust at "just how low a temperature cold blood may run at" in the veins of war-whooping media bosses and politicians.

Alexander Cockburn and Andrew Cohen (in the best article in the book) write with a Chomsky-like mixture of the scholarly and the hopping mad about the opportunism of the US, which wanted "a military showdown all along".

They also take to task veteran leftists like Norman Geras and Fred Halliday, who supported the war, for failing to apply (what Chomsky called) the "sincerity test" to US statements of high moral purpose. US imperialism had experienced no conversion to beneficence on its road to Damascus, which turned out to be an old-fashioned B-52 flight path to Baghdad.

John Vidal writes with equal passion and clarity on the environmental destruction of the war — warnings of which were "wilfully ignored" and the results of which were laid totally at the door of Saddam Hussein. In truth, he says, the war was one that "simply went for everything that could nourish life".

Abbas Shiblak writes that the PLO's defiance of US intervention does not equate to "support for Saddam Hussein or complacency about the fate of Kuwait" as the simplistic and

dishonest slandering of all antiwar activists tried to make out.

The book's down side is represented by Admirals Carroll and La Rocque, who are impressed by the "increased accuracy of precision-guide munitions" (which were, however, only 7% of the 88,500 tons of bombs used), and who say that "we can feel proud" about the performance of the ground troops and the limited loss of allied lives. They are not Norman Schwarzkopfs, but their position tends towards the patriotic one of the military elite.

The book's biggest disappointment is Barbara Rogers' Sisyphian effort to shoulder the discredited UN back to its supposed pinnacle of moral and political eminence.

She laments the US treating the UN as its "own private property", unaware that bodies like the UN are creatures of the real world where the US is the biggest bandit and, with its clients like Israel, can ignore forests of paper UN resolutions when it suits their material interests.

She calls for "internationalists" to busy themselves in the "diplomatic marketplace", but what the war showed was the futility of pursuing bandit control in a body — the UN — which is a part of the problem and which is supported by the world's bandits only because it occupies the hopes and efforts of many well-intentioned people for elite regulation of international conflict when what is needed is a more political internationalism directly with the world's have-nots.

This is the heart of the problem with most of the book's contributors. For all their useful information and scepticism towards official propaganda, the Gulf War did not make them question why the US repeatedly goes to war and whose interests are threatened whenever a "rogue regime" or a popular revolution moves to cease being an imperial doormat.

Liberals are not socialists. They support a system of free enterprise which periodically has to up the ante of competition into bloodbaths to guarantee the access to wealth and power of the few.

Nevertheless, The Gulf Between Us does a service by raising necessary, if unanswered, questions — a part of the process of preventing the Gulf War and other imperialist horrors becoming a fairytale of victorious virtue and defeated evil.

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