Hear Ye! Since 1998.
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Feb 03

Armchair Opinion: War Against War

Today in Sydney, a peaceful ‘Walk Against War‘ protest took place, involving a quarter of a million people marching through the city CBD. A few days earlier, Melbourne staged a similar event which attracted 150,000 walkers. To put this number into perspective, Greater Sydney has a population of about 4 million, with the inner city holding around 1 million people. A friend who attended told me that by the time he started the walk route, the earliest walkers had already finished walking. Shopkeepers gawked at the incredible throng of people as they ambled along – young children, adults, whites, blacks, atheists, Christians, Muslims and everything in between. For over 6% of a city’s population, all belonging to no particular demographic other than holding a common aversion to war, to turn up to what was, in effect, Sydney’s largest rally ever, is an incredible statement against the increasing warmongering of the current Liberal government. (Update: Apparently around 1 million protesters were present in London, amongst the other millions around the world.)

One has to start wondering then about the catchcry of the US and its allies in this War on Terror – that this war is necessary to protect the citizens, their way of life and the democratic principles by which the West has flourished under. They seem to have neglected to mention how much capitalism, instead of democracy, has aided the economic growth of the West, but we will treat that as an oversight. Democracy, though, just what is that? One of America’s very own former Presidents once defined democracy as the “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” I am no political scientist, but I did learn in primary school that a democracy theoretically allows everyone to have a say. Because it is impractical for everyone in a country of 20 million, let alone 280 million, to have a say in every decision regarding a country, we elect a government. This government represents us, and we elect them according to whoever has opinions that best align with ours about how the country should be run. However, with regards to giving everyone a say, democracy does not just provide the electoral mechanism and leave it at that. Democracy is, again theoretically, meant to ensure that the government will carry out the wishes of the majority of the nation. Granted, only the naive could believe that this could ever be always the case, or indeed, that it would even be necessarily beneficial – sometimes controversial social and economic reform moves a country along better than sticking to the status quo – but nonetheless, the idea is always there, lurking as a root principle for democratic nations.

That’s why we have referendums on major issues that affect the country, such as whether Australia should become a Republic, or if the constitution’s preamble should be altered. Since Federation, Australia has tended to not carry the changes proposed in a referendum. However, even with the Republic movement only losing by a few percentage points, people accept that this is a fair result and don’t go to war over it. It is a proper procedure for implementing certain changes of national impact.

I am about to make an assumption here. I don’t think anyone would disagree with me, though. The overwhelming majority of Australians do not want war. Even without the turnout in Sydney’s march today, it is not hard to observe how many people have an anti-war sentiment. Look at the media – it is rare to find an opinion article that is pro-war. Look at the common Aussie – they find it hard to understand just why John Howard is so eager to launch pre-emptive strikes on a country half a world away. This reaction by the Australian public is hardly surprising though. Rallies everywhere around the world show nations concurring with the notion of avoiding war. Polls in Time Magazine of public opinion in many European countries show similar results.

The decision to go to war is not a light one. Not only is it a matter of considering the lives of our troops who will risk their lives for us on a distant battlefield, but our actions reflect on our nation in the global community. Reputations linger long after the dust has settled. The Australian people do not want war, but John Howard is not listening. Whatever happened to the Western ideal of upholding the democratic principles? There is no doubt that Howard fervently believes that assassinating Saddam will make the world a safer place. And it may, but it is also his duty to carry out the will of the Australian public. His title of Prime Minister makes him a leader, but the concept of primus inter pares (first among equals) grounds such a role. “This concept defines not only the prime minister’s relationship with Cabinet, but also, in a sense, his or her relationship with the public in our modern democratic society.” (Nat. Lib of Canada)

Of course, this is the man who handled the Tampa situation the way he did, and the man that announced such ‘initiatives’ as trying to assert Australia’s right and authority to take pre-emptive action against suspected terrorists in foreign countries, resulting in much annoyance from our neighbouring Muslim country which is 200 million strong not known for its socio-political stability. This man, by his actions, seems to think that Australia’s future still lies in the aging trade ties between America and Britain, not Asia. Not Asia, despite our proximity. He says we are a Western nation in the Eastern world, so we must retain our links with the West. This man, seems to think that the situation in the Middle-east, which has an insubstantial bearing upon our island continent, deserves more attention than North Korea. North Korea, a country which needed no UN inspectors to prove it had nuclear weapons because it simply announced to the world it had. A country which has thumbed its nose at the UN and US, even having the gall to use the US’ own words of ‘pre-emptive strike’ back against them, which has threatened the UN with war in the event of sanctions and which has not ruled out the use of nuclear weapons if it had to come to that in the end. North Korea simply isn’t on Howard’s agenda. North Korea isn’t the primary concern of the US, therefore it is not ours either. Never mind North Korea can directly affect our region of the world, we have to maintain our links to the West, and that means supporting Bush and Blair.

Why has Howard been so bent on invading Iraq? One cannot believe it is simply because he believes it will make the world a safer place. Declaring war cannot make the world a safer place. Our ties with the US have instead lit us up as another target for Muslim extremists (as evidenced by the statement given by the Bali bomber). His eagerness and urgency to declare war, an action generally espoused and shown in history to be something to be avoided at all costs, even though all other avenues have not yet been exhausted can only be, to me, shows he is merely following the US’ lead. To ‘strengthen our ties’ with America, to phrase it with a little more civility than Mark Latham (although I suspect that Latham’s assertions have more than just a touch of truth to them).

Australia cannot be a significant and large player in the world. Not in Howard’s lifetime, not in my lifetime, not with a population of 20 million. Even within the Commonwealth, where Australia is one of the major players, Howard’s opinions of Zimbabwe did not carry a huge amount of weight in CHOGM (opinions which I agree with, incidentally). However, Australia can be a major player in our own region: Asia. Keating saw it, Howard doesn’t.

No doubt, the US ambassador would have something to say about my opinions. He would say that I was very anti-American, as if that were a thought crime. He would say that despite me not being American. A democracy though, allows for freedom of speech. It is enshrined in the very first amendment of the US’ own treasured constitution. The US ambassador’s chastisement of Simon Crean stands in stark contrast to the principle behind that amendment. If only they stood by their first amendment as firmly as their second.

If the US’ actions and words do not align with the main principles to which they claim to seek to preserve through the vehicle of war, death and destruction, can we really readily believe any of their other claims, such as the tenuous “clear link” between Saddam and Osama? I believe for most of you, the question will be purely rhetorical.

Unfortunately, our opposition leader, Simon Crean, has only stood in weak defiance of Howard’s stance. His objections do not come with the passion of Howard’s statements. Admittedly, he realises that if he takes an abject anti-US stance, if he gets elected that may make future dealings with the US difficult. However, that only emphasises the importance of not dirtying Australia’s name within Asia. Furthermore, US has shown that it does not need to like a country to have ties with it – look at China. The so-called “old European” powers of Germany and France don’t seem to care about the US even though it is a superpower. They have been called recalcitrant, but they didn’t raise embargoes against the US at the drop of a hat like what has happened to us in the past. Instead, they are seeking alternative, peaceful solutions, which have all been categorically turned down by the US with seemingly no serious consideration. That is what our country needs, a Prime Minister and governing party that stands up for what the majority of Australians believe and want. We want what we have all been taught at school – no war, because war is always bad, especially when there are other options still existing. Bush has his own agenda, and despite protests in NY and LA, the American public seem to be behind him. He may be acting against the views of the UN, but at least he is acting with the wishes of the American public (however media influenced they may be), which is one better than Howard. What we need is a leader, not a sycophant. And certainly not the only Australian leader in the last 100 years who has had a no-confidence motion successfully passed against him for committing troops behind parliament’s, and the public’s, back.

(This is Hear Ye’s 3000th post.)


I had
lunch with friends yesterday and everyone was very hawkish at the table.
Comments like the French and the Germans are ingrates because they refuse to
support the US unconditionally illustrate the level of hawkishness at least
in this microcosm of US public opinion. I suspect that same sentiment is
fairly pervasive among many Texans at least because they are staunch
supporters of Bush & Co. When I countered that the French and the Germans
could be doing so because they want to matter in this new political world
instead of being US vassals, my opinions made no impression.

While I agree that war is never good, I can only think back to early 1940’s
when Britain tried to appease Hitler and that ended up in World War II.
Whether or not Bush goes to war to finish what his father started or whether
he’s doing it to secure the US’ future oil supplies, whatever the reason,
only time will tell what happens. If Saddam Hussein was a despotic leader
in 1991 and deserved to be “removed” then, things haven’t changed 12 years