BY JOHN PILGER
[The following speech was delivered at the anti-war rally in Sydney on February 16, which was attended by 500,000 people.]
On this historic day, we should be very clear about one thing: George Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard are not planning a war. They are planning an unprovoked attack on a nation of people with whom we have no quarrel and offer us no threat.
In 1946, the judges at Nuremberg, who tried the Nazis for war crimes, said that an attack on another country was the most serious crime in international law. I don't use the analogy of the Nazis lightly — I am aware that Bush and Blair use it incessantly to inflate the reputation of a regional dictator whom they helped to create.
But it's vital that we understand the gravity of the crime of attack and conquest. It's that potential crime that has been censored from our parliament, newspapers, television and radio.
The other day, a correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald assured us that the American military were doing everything to guarantee that their so-called "smart weapons" — their missiles and cluster bombs and bunker-buster bombs — would hit their targets. "Collateral damage", he wrote, would be at a minimum. A commentator described the attack and the conquest of Iraq as "the easy bit".
Let's think about "the easy bit".
The "easy bit" will be an onslaught of hundreds of missiles on a defenceless and stricken population, of whom 42% are children. The "easy bit" will be many times the firepower of the 1991 Gulf War, when 92% of US missiles and "smart" bombs missed their targets.
That's the "easy bit".
The "easy bit" in the 1991 "war" was the horrific spectacle of three US brigades using snow plows and bulldozers, mostly at night, to bury terrified Iraqi conscripts — boy soldiers, many of them wounded and trying to surrender. "For all I know, we could have killed thousands that way. It just wasn't policy to count the Iraqi dead", said one soldier.
Almost none of this was reported at the time. Neither was the fact that most of the British who died were killed by Americans. "Friendly fire" they called it.
And it was not until a year later that we learned that up to a quarter of a million men, women and children were slaughtered in this one-sided bloodfest, and at least half of them were civilians.
A pro-war commentator, David Aaronovitch wrote in the British Guardian: "For many of us supporting the war, this has been the most difficult and painful judgement to make."
Painful? What pain will he feel in his air-conditioned office in Sydney, London or Washington? Pain is what the victims feel.
I have seen those who feel the pain. I have seen children who have been hit by the kind of cluster bombs that will be used. I have seen them writhe in agony, their small bodies displaying hundreds of open wounds from tiny pieces of shrapnel that move through their vitals. I have watched them die in pain described as the equivalent of swallowing acid.
I have seen the results of high explosive bombs: the limbs of children blown into trees, the blackened flesh of whole families in the debris of their homes.
How many of the witness-nothing windbags — the Miranda Devines, the Gerard Hendersons, the Paul Kellys — have seen anything like this? In every word they write in support of the crime of killing innocent people, they are accessories and there is blood on their hands. I am fed up with being lectured to by those little men and women whose experience of war is Hollywood movies and television.
How many of Murdoch's editors have sat with dying Iraqi children, because vaccines and painkillers are among the US$5 billion worth of humanitarian supplies blocked by the United States — supplies approved by the Security Council?
How many times in the Australian, the Daily Telegraph, the Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC are you told that fact? Why has not even the ABC's bold program, Four Corners, reported this fact? What are they afraid of? Why is the human cost of this adventure always couched in the demonology of Saddam Hussein?
Why is it wrong to kill innocent people if you are Hussein and right to kill them if you are Bush, Blair or Howard — or Murdoch, who this week gave his personal seal of approval to the killing?
It is this contortion of intellect and morality that so contaminates so-called mainstream politics and journalism. Behind the plastic patriotism propagated by the mainstream media is cowardice.
My fellow Australian journalists and broadcasters have told me often — privately — how censorship works in the most tightly controlled media in the "democratic" world.
Now, with thousands of lives at stake, it is time for journalists who care about this (and many do) to stand up and speak up.
And what of those elected who represent us? I am grateful to the ALP's Laurie Brereton and the Greens' Bob Brown for coming to this platform today, and for speaking out. They are honourable exceptions. Where does the Labor Party stand? Where is the leader of the federal opposition? Where is the Labor premier of New South Wales? Why aren't they up here today? It was Martin Luther King who said, "The time, my friends, has come when silence is betrayal. That time is now."
Australia may only be a small player in this American travesty. But it has never been more important to stop the repetition of our melancholy history — of craven politicians and their media hangers-on demeaning this country by involving its young people in yet another cynical adventure of a great power.
They shower us with their plastic patriotism that equates the killing of people with national honour. The SAS are given medals for shooting at tribespeople in Afghanistan — where 20,000 innocent people have died as the price of an American attack. Do the troops and sailors and air force personnel know these facts? Do they know about the stricken children of Iraq, who comprise almost half the population? Do they know that five years ago, Iraq was, according to the senior UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, "90-95% disarmed" and is probably the most disarmed country in the world?
Do they know that British and US intelligence agencies have told Bush, Blair — and presumably Howard — that there is no link between al Qaeda and Iraq? Do they know that Washington has already planned in great detail the theft of Iraq's oil? If they don't know, we should tell them today.
I would like to pay tribute to all of you who have come to the centre of Sydney today. You are the true patriots. You are the democratic opposition. You are the voice of true humanity and sanity.
What is wonderful is that the plastic patriots and their propagandists have demonstrably failed. This weekend, more than 10 million people all over the world are doing what you're doing. They are your comrades.
My 18-year-old daughter marched with the 2 million in London. She described it as "a fantastic atmosphere". Millions more marched on the continent of Europe, across the terrain that has been scarred by so many wars and unnecessary deaths. Forty-two US cities have sent resolutions to Bush saying: no attack. Never has there been such massive opposition to a war before it began. Never has there been such a worldwide resistance to the terrorism of state power.
Let me assure you. Our movement is too great, too imaginative, too resilient to be defeated. That is not to say that the Bush gang can be stopped immediately. But the power of public opinion, the moral and political power, your power, is far greater than perhaps many of you realise.
Howard fears public opinion. Blair fears it. Bush fears it. They fear the best of Australia. They fear the best of Britain. They fear the best of America. That's why their propaganda is so virulent and their apologists so shrill. They prefer the old lie that people are apathetic.
Looking at you all here today, I can only say: some apathy!
Let us reassure Howard, Bush, Blair and their hangers-on that they have every reason to be afraid, for they, not the Iraqi people, are the enemy and we are the majority.
From Green Left Weekly, February 26, 2003.
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