The Arrogance of “Anti-War” Triumphalism

2003 London anti-war protests.

All this happiness on display is suspect. Everyone is thrilled to be together out on the streets—people are hugging themselves, it seems, as well as each other. If they think — and they could be right — that continued torture and summary executions, ethnic cleansing and occasional genocide are preferable to an invasion, they should be somber in their view.

Ian McEwan, Saturday (2005)

Everyday there seems to be yet another example of anti-Iraq posturing attempting to draw moral equivalence between Saddam and the Coalition. There’s never the slightest trace of humility. You either opposed the war, and have been vindicated by the “occupation”, or you are an imperialist stooge bloated in self-denial. Most commentators can’t comprehend that there might be principled people who happen to hold a different position to themselves.

McEwan’s novel was viewed by many as something of a pro-war pamphlet, trying to shame the protesters in their ignorance of the horrors of pre-invasion Iraq. Clearly anyone who has read the book – or even just the above quote – knows that this is crap; McEwan was at the march and that’s how he knows what most protesters were like – gleeful would-be hippies out to have a good time and do a little shopping on the London high streets. McEwan, like myself, has little respect for people for whom a decision the 2003 was an easy one, and I’ve virtually none for those who subsequently abandoned any attempt to help postwar Iraq, being more interested in spiting Blair than expressing solidarity. Promising, but sadly isolated, was the trade unionist support, especially those linked to Labour in Gary Kent or Iraqi exile Abdullah Muhsin; despite opposing the war they had no trouble in calling for aid to the Iraqi left-wingers in their struggle for secularism and economic security.

The sad truth is that “pacifism” no longer holds the integrity it once did. When I asked Tony Benn what he thought about the wars in Mali and Syria he said that all he cared about was that Britain did not get involved; the vast majority of “peace” protesters – virtually without exception those in the Socialist Workers’ Party, the Stop the War Coalition, Respect – are not opposed to war itself but Western involvement in it. The idea that the intervention of superior weaponry might end the war with less bloodshed seems either to elude them, or be an inconvenient truth to be pushed aside.


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