And When This Is Over Will We Even Recognise Ourselves?

March 2003

We're told the polls show that people now support the war. Or that they like the telly coverage. According to the polls many viewers are expressing their preference for a war with with no dead people, no blood and no mothers holding bits of broken child in an Umm Qassr A and E Ward. The polls also show it's not hard for viewers to choose between good and evil. Not when on one side you have humans with families, names, a wry sense of humour and a recent snapshot; and on the other you've got shadowy, anonymous hoards with less realised personas than the baddies in "Tomb Raider".

Start Seeing Iraqi Children

In a debate about why the British public were not being shown images of Iraqi civilian casualties, unlike the viewers of Al-Jazeera (or, for that matter, every other news station in the world outside the "Coalition") Steve Anderson, controller of ITV News said:

"There seems to be an acceptance of images I don't think would be acceptable here."

Well, first off, we'll be the judge of that - if we coped with eight series of "Tarrant on TV" I reckon we'll survive.

But what does "acceptability" mean in this context? Al-Jazeera is not showing these images because they're acceptable. It's showing them precisely because they are not. In showing carnage and lamentation Al-Jazeera asks us whether they have any place in a civilized world.

Modern war, wrote Howard Zinn, is always a war against children. It is ITV News, not Al-Jazeera, which accepts these child deaths as an inevitable part of modern politics, by accepting for domestic consumption what is unacceptable to world opinion. It is ITV News which follows Tony Blair's disgusting dictum that "we have to accept that there will inevitably be civilian casualties." Why burden those whose taxes are paying for this slaughter by showing its human cost? The public might "wobble". Can't be helped. Since in Blair's realpolitik we have to accept his necessary evil for a higher purpose, best to look the other way.

Iraqi child

Well, should we look away? asks Al Jazeera. Or do we have a moral duty to know, to see, to hear the evil that's being done? Richard Sambrook, director of BBC News said images of Iraqi casualties "were not suitable for a British audience". Suitable! Yippee, let's have a tasteful war, jack! (These mutts are meant to be providing public service broadcasting. I'd say it was in the public interest to see the same carnage that the rest of the world outside here and the USA sees so that we can know the dragon's teeth we are sowing and the whirlwind we must reap.)

ITV/ BBC/ Sky news implicitly accept indiscriminate mass slaughter as a price worth paying. So they must turn our attention away from unsuitable suffering and give us the strategy maps and B52s while they lip-synch their porno voice-overs of "payload" and "delivery" and "pounding".

...Now it may be in poor taste to talk about the damage that's being done to us here in Britain at the same time as the last wisps of hair ignite on a bald Nasiriyah nine year old as a cluster bomb falls between her and the pharmacy (not that USUK's vicious sanctions regime had allowed her chemotherapy drugs in anyway). It may not be suitable, but here goes.

When we survey the debased, stunted entity to which a human can be reduced by lip-synching about "payloads" and "getting the job done", it might perhaps be suitable after all to think about what else has been lost to Britain as a nation. The Spirit of the Blitz folklore, for example, is not ours anymore. Tony Blair has taken that away forever. As part of the national identity or psyche it's now gone. Gone. Even from those lived through it. It's not our story any more. Not now that we're the ones blitzing other cities. We can't tell that old tale anymore, can we? The ration-book shortages Londoners endured don't really compare with the 10 years of sanctions which have forbidden the Iraqis asprins, ambulances and pencils. That shot of St Paul's cathedral dome surviving the smoke and fire isn't what it used to be.

Sometimes you don't need John Prescott to asphalt a six-lane, Asda-friendly motorway over ten sites of special historical interest to destroy your nation's heritage.

"History", said Dennis Halliday who resigned as UN's Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq, "will slaughter those responsible" for the 500,000 Iraqi children who have died because of of USUK's sanctions regime. With Goebellian shamelessness, Blair has been claiming this slaughter was not his/ our responsibility, but instead all down to how the Iraqi's "implemented the sanctions" (presumably how they failed to distribute the medicines they were denied.) Blair's porker is partly because he has an eye on History (and partly on the International Criminal Court). He's continually preening himself in History's mirror, always giving it: "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr Hobsbawm." Well, Tony Blair has also been reduced, just like the rest of us, but fittingly his blowback is just that bit worse. For he has been reduced to knowing that any good write-up he'll get from history will have to be written by the equivalent of some Holocaust-denier historian like David Irving. That's how Tony's story ends: his glorious dream of posterity locked like a smart bomb onto the trash-chute of history.

And our story..? At the end of WW2 after the liberation of one of the concentration camps, a furious British army captain made the local German villagers into the camp to see what was being done in their name. They shamefully claimed that they didn't know what had been going on at their village outskirts, that they had no idea what the thin column of continuous black smoke could have meant.

Where are we in this story now?