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The story of an unjust war

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Does one of the first books published about the war against Iraq tell the true story?
Issue 1853

THE GUARDIAN has called its new book on the war against Iraq The War We Could Not Stop. The title reflects the desire of millions of people to stop the war and their anger when the mightiest military power in the world unleashed its devastation on a poor and oppressed people.

The book is a blow by blow account, drawing on articles and eyewitness reports mainly from the Guardian, of the three weeks of the US/British war. It brings together many of the Guardian’s best eyewitness accounts of the carnage inflicted by the US and Britain, such as the powerful descriptions by Suzanne Goldenburg.

It reminds you not only of the horror, but also of the depth of the crisis that the book says could have toppled Blair and his government. It confirms what the anti-war movement argued from the start: that this war wreaked havoc and suffering on the people of Iraq.

The book includes a chapter detailing the rise of the ultra right wingers like Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Richard Perle who were grouped around the Project for the New American Century.

As the book puts it, ‘This is the story of how a small group of politicians, policy makers and intellectuals, who came to be known as the neo-conservatives or ‘neo-cons’ came to get their way. It is the story of how they evolved a theory of America’s place in the world that had as its first great objective the ousting of Saddam by American military might.’

This account ends at the point that Bush and Blair declared a ‘victory’, with the warning that ‘American actions may also breed hate and contempt for Pax Americana, for that is the epoch we are about to enter’.

Many in the anti-war movement will seize on a book that attempts to tell the story of the war from a critical perspective. But the book can in places be as frustrating as it was to read the Guardian during the war. It tries to be ‘even handed’ and to ‘tell the story from as many perspectives as possible’.

It argues, ‘Central to the book is the idea that the war of Iraqi liberation was a vehicle for advancing American interests.’ Then it adds, ‘some of these are undeniably noble.’ Well, no. All the evidence in the book tells us otherwise. There is one thing that made me angry reading the book – the failure to understand the anti-war movement.

One chapter begins with a dismissive account of the huge demonstration which took place the Saturday after the war began. It argues that ‘the large coalition of a million that had taken to the streets before the war had melted away’.

The book acknowledges the power of the global anti-war movement, and in particular the spectacular demonstrations on 15 February. But it seriously underestimates the movement by arguing that the massive London demonstration was ‘broader than it was deep’.

It argues that there was only one group still prepared to take to the streets: ‘The children of the suburban middle classes’. The anti-war movement did not melt away. The book has to admit the first demonstration when the war began was ‘the largest wartime demonstration in Britain’.

The school students who protested cannot be dismissed as the children of the middle class. They involved working class students, male and female, white, black and Asian. The walkouts and lunchtime protests by significant groups of workers are not mentioned.

The large meetings, teach-ins and local protests which took place during the war and since are testament to the depth of the movement As the book admits, that movement was more than just against the war but also against the Blair government too.

There is a lot worth reading in this book. But the full ‘real story of the battle for Iraq’ and the opposition to it has yet to be written.
Hazel Croft

The War We Could Not Stop: the real story of the battle for Iraq, edited by Randeep Ramesh (£7.99).


A play with the spirit of today

‘HE SPOKE like Henry V.’ That is how some right wing papers described the speech to British troops by the British army officer Lt Col Tim Collins, who is now under investigation. The reference was to Shakespeare’s play Henry V. It was a product of the political tensions of a time in which the monarchy struggled to adapt itself to the transition from feudalism to capitalism.

The 1944 film version of the play, with Laurence Olivier, was a shamelessly patriotic wartime epic. Any scenes that undermined its propaganda value were ruthlessly cut.

It is that patriotic version that used to be drummed into students at school. And it is the way that New Labour would like the play to be taught now. In stark contrast Nicholas Hytner’s stunning new production gives a completely different interpretation.

Showing at the National Theatre in London, it is full of the spirit of the anti-war movement. Performed with contemporary dress, a young leader leads his country into a war of dubious legality to divert attention from problems at home. Dissident cabinet ministers are executed, political prisoners are shot and Henry struggles to win over the rank and file.

This is a brilliant antidote to the usual simplistic interpretations of imperialist adventures. Hytner has nailed his own colours to the anti-war movement. This production, with a multiethnic cast and a black Henry V, reflects the political spirit of our times.
Shaun Doherty


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