Column

WHY CIVILIZED PEOPLE KILL

Iraq’s liberators will be greeted with the same joy that met the Allies in 1945

BARBARA AMIEL March 17 2003
Column

WHY CIVILIZED PEOPLE KILL

Iraq’s liberators will be greeted with the same joy that met the Allies in 1945

BARBARA AMIEL March 17 2003

WHY CIVILIZED PEOPLE KILL

Iraq’s liberators will be greeted with the same joy that met the Allies in 1945

Column

BARBARA AMIEL

AN ESSAY written by George Orwell in 1940 begins with the line, “As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.” Every time the Western world contemplates a military incursion, whether in Kosovo, Somalia or Iraq, that line dances in my brain.

My very first memory as a small child in Britain during the Second World War was trying on my gas mask. War was my introduction to life. Like millions in Britain, I lay in my bed hearing sirens that announced planes overhead “trying to kill me.” Growing up in London during the ’40s was to see bomb sites everywhere and streets of maimed houses. Post-war life was shortages and blackouts and the shrapnel in my father’s chest. It tore my family apart in more ways than one.

So when I see anti-war marchers, no matter how foolish their signs or empty their reasoning, I can’t ever quite dismiss them. If democracies were full of people eager and excited about going to war, our civilization could not survive. We go to war soberly and with fear in our hearts only because the price for not doing so is too high to risk.

Still, of all the arguments that the anti-war protestors put forward, what irks me the most is their solicitude for the people of Iraq. Last month’s anti-war marches were full of them: people carrying signs accusing Tony Blair and George W. Bush of being murderers with the blood of the Iraqi people on their hands.

I think of the Iraqi people today as rather like the Jews in Europe under the Third Reich from 1939-1945. Allied planes over Europe were trying to defeat the Axis powers, but in the process could well kill their captive Jews. If you speak today to Jews who hid in Czechoslovakia, Hungary or Poland during that time, they tell you the same thing: their only hope was in an Allied victory, though the immediate danger to their well-being came from the Allies’ carpet bombing. Those waves of Russian, American and British planes with their deadly cargoes

of bombs were, paradoxically, their only chance to live again.

You don’t have to read the testimony of Saddam’s victims, those who have fled to the West and survived his torture and madness, to know what life must be like for so many people in Iraq. Use a bit of imagination. He has murdered 250,000 of his subjects including his sons-in-law—and that figure does not include those he sent to death in his war with Iran or adventures in Kuwait. Despite staged releases for the television cameras, his political prisons remain full. Any neighbour you cross or shopkeeper with whom you quarrel may denounce you with terrible consequences.

I have seen a lot of the atrocity literature all wars generate, but the accounts of Saddam’s unique methods of torture and ways of liquidating human beings (throwing live prisoners to be eaten by wild dogs while other prisoners watch) come near the top of the barbarity list, even given the 20th century’s Idi Amin standards. Almost anything must be better than living in that police state, particularly if you are not a member of one of his favoured tribes—the “Saddamites” as columnist Mark Steyn calls them when he refers to the privileged and fawning members of Iraq’s Baathist regime.

Needless to say, no matter how horrible life is, no one wants to be vaporized by their liberators’ bombing. No one wants family members to disappear—either in the prisons of Saddam or under the bombs of the Americans destroying those prisons. This is the merciless dichotomy the oppressed always face. If anyone can work out a way to depose a tyrant without risking grievous damage to

My first memory as a child in Britain during the Second World War was trying on my gas mask. War was was my introduction to life.

the surrounding environment, whether buildings, landscape or people, such a person would, unlike many recent recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, be worthy of the honour. All we can do is try to reduce damage. This time in Iraq, our hopes are that “smart” weapons with their “pinpoint accuracy” will minimize collateral civilian casualites.

Destroying Saddam’s regime will genuinely be a liberation for the people of Iraq, and when it happens the liberators will be greeted with the same extraordinary joy that met the Allies in 1945 in France, or 2001 in Afghanistan. The peace marchers may have persuasive and legitimate reasons for their protests, including genuine pacifism. But this newly discovered concern of theirs about the Iraqi people cannot be a motive. Where were their marches when Saddam gassed and murdered his people?

Having said this, one must point out once again that going to war in Iraq is not justified by the suffering of the Iraqi people. If that were to be our motive we would have a large remit indeed. There are suffering people all over the world, and we cannot launch wars to liberate all the oppressed. We didn’t launch the war in Afghanistan to bring equal status to its women. War is justified only when we are convinced that our own vital interests or those of our allies are threatened in such a way that unless you pay the price of war today you will be forced to pay a higher price tomorrow.

The situation we face with Saddam is not unlike 1935 when Italy’s Fascist leader Benito Mussolini marched into Abyssinia. Everyone was hesitant to act against a dangerous dictator. France and Britain equivocated. The League of Nations debated. Nothing was done. This display of impotence emboldened the Axis powers and the rest is history. When civil war came to Spain in 1936, Germany and Italy had no worries about jumping in— a dress rehearsal for world war. The world paid very dearly for having looked the other way in 1935.

As we confront the rise of Islamic extremism, the peace marchers might do well to look at their history books and ponder the wisdom of letting Saddam continue to manufacture his weapons of mass destruction and subsidize terrorism. Otherwise they too may earn an infamous footnote in the history books of the future. flfl

Barbara AmiePs column appears monthly. bamiel@macleans.ca