Socialist Worker

University of the streets

by Mike Rosen
Issue No. 1771

IF YOU were a president trying to run a war, what would most scare you? Because Afghanistan is desperately poor, let's leave aside here the possibility that your enemy has bigger weapons than you. Mind you, some of the briefings and reports would have us believe that £1 billion jets flying at supersonic speed over Kabul are facing terrible risks. Apart from a pilot choking on his chewing gum, it's difficult to see any danger awaiting the US air force.

No, the scary thing for our leaders must be any idea that folks at home want the killing to stop. The problem is that any number of things might encourage us to think this way. Take civilian deaths. Bit by bit, after a century of mega death-counts, there really does seem to be a general feeling that killing unarmed people sleeping in their beds is wrong.

Tragically, centuries of racism has infected many minds with the idea that though it's wrong, it doesn't matter quite so much if the dead are dark skinned. But whereas in the past this was a card that could be played quite openly, our governments are stymied with the fact that our own populations are, in part, also dark skinned.

No, the card they play here is that our weapons, brilliantly honed after decades of technological genius, destroy with the accuracy of a surgeon's scalpel. As the map of war unfolds, we see more and more clearly that this is a terrible lie. Next, take the idea of an alliance.

Someone in the US and UK governments has twigged that on the morning after you've massacred thousands of starving people in the name of democracy, whoever's left wakes up.

What's more, as the Romans discovered, if you want to rule the world you can't enslave, imprison and kill all the people all the time. You need friends. These should be corrupt megalomaniacs who can be relied on to keep the raw materials flowing at a cheap rate, and to secure the population as willing consumers.

So our governments talk big coalition-speak. Lethal to the lie that this is a delightful club of freedom-loving gentlemen is any suggestion that some of the members might be tyrants. It's democracy we're saving here. Also worrying is that these despots might have to appease their poverty-stricken subjects with a little anti-American rhetoric. The coalition must be seen to be strong and virtuous.

Even scarier is that people at home don't want the war. Last Saturday was great. Instead of sitting at home, waiting for a breath of sanity from John Pilger, Tariq Ali or Rana Kabbani, instead of drowning under the weight of objective newscasters talking about how 'we' are getting on in Afghanistan, we could come out in our thousands and shout, 'They say drop the bombs-we say drop the debt!' 'They say warfare-we say welfare!' And it's great for the debate.

Everywhere around me I could see people talking and reading about Palestine, oil, world poverty-everything. I think of demos as universities of the street. But even more important than this is that as anti-war demos get big, they scare our leaders.

If you don't believe me, then ask yourself the question-why did the 1960s Labour governments not send troops to Vietnam? Because, as the recently released papers reveal, they were terrified of the kind of protest they might unleash.

What a powerful reason to have in our heads, as we work to make each and every demo against this war bigger and louder.

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Sat 20 Oct 2001, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1771
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