As one who took part in demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, I could hardly believe it when the US “war machine” resurrected itself and began its march on Iraq.
Appalled by what appeared to be happening, I was delighted to discover, following a rally in November 2002, that a local peace group had been created. I joined that group and began actively campaigning for peace which I continue to this day.
On February 15, 2003, I was blown away by the sheer scale of the protest. As soon as I got to the station to get on the train, it was clear that there was “something in the air”. I have never been in such a vast crowd. I have never since felt so overwhelmed by the power of large numbers gathered in unity.
There was a wonderful, shared sense of joy in taking part. Never mind the fact that we couldn't even reach the road in order to march. It was utterly memorable. I came away thinking: “how can Howard ignore that?”
I thought — naively, in retrospect — that the warmongers would have to concede that we had demonstrated where power lay.
On reflection and very sadly, the war machine simply grinds on. For a little while, after the debacle of defeat in Vietnam, it lay down to lick its wounds. But it was never down and out, it was just lurking in the shadows. Now it behaves again as if it is alive and kicking.
I have been active in the peace movement for 10 years now. In that time I have seen a constant, creeping resurgence in militarism in this country and internationally. There are many examples of this, the most recent being the absurd decision to invite US Marines to be stationed in Darwin.
I look back on 2003 as a turning point. Before then I thought there was a chance we might solve global problems, such as resource depletion, through argument and negotiation. Now I can see that the old, colonial way of doing things still prevails. Might is right, evidently. The invasion of Iraq made that clear.
So, for me, 2003 marked the start of a new phase in the political peace movement that has its original roots in World War I, the war in which killing people first became an industrialised process. It achieved great strength during the Vietnam War.
Since 2003 it has declined, in disillusionment over the effectiveness of street demonstrations, perhaps. I am sure that, like the US war machine that was quiescent for a while, the movement will re-assert itself.
In the long run, it is we who profess and pursue peace who will prevail. We are on the side of life. We can still aim and expect, eventually, to quietly dismantle the war machine — the institution that feeds on life's destruction — but we still have a very long way to go.