In the present heated debate about Iraq there appear to be three broad schools of opinion. Firstly, there are those who support the war, "regardless". Secondly, there is a school that gives its assent to war, only grudgingly. A third body of opinion opposes all war "regardless". In the massive peace marches of 15 February around the world, the latter two groups were present.
As a pacifist, I belong to the third group. I do not subscribe to the notion that "We all are against war,of course, but it is sometimes necessary or sometimes inevitable". I confess to having a passionate detestation of war. I believe that war is pure and unadulterated evil. And such an evil cannot be deemed "necessary" or "inevitable" - ever.
The reasons given will be "defence in case of an enemy strike", "loyalty to an ally", or "fear of some dictator who seeks world domination". These reasons are seldom explained in depth to the new recruits - they are only thrown out as asides in the barrack square while the more important work of the army goes ahead. That important work is the thorough indoctrination of the recruit. Society, believing that somehow armies are necessary, allows them to work and train in secret, to demand blind obedience from recruits, to acquire whatever weapons of mass destruction they may fancy, to produce professional killers who are able to kill robotically, to create and foster an ethos in which killing other humans is a reasonable and desirable end. No matter that society generally reviles those religious sects who similarly lure and brainwash young people for their own ends, although they may never train them to kill.
To accomplish this aim of getting the worst out of the human nature entrusted to them, and fostering the darkest emotions of the human spirit, armies have created their own Orwellian language where euphemisms abound. On its own side, trained killers are called "soldiers". Its own atrocities are called "operations". Its own mass killings are spoken of as the "infliction of heavy casualties". Its crass and careless murder of non-combatants is called "collateral damage". Killing of its own allies is "friendly fire".
Similar atrocities committed on the part of the enemy will be called by their rightful name. Other atrocities that the enemy have not committed will be invented and repeated as often as possible to make them more hateful.
So armies and the politicians who put them to work foster a great culture of lies and deceipt that begins even before the first shots are fired.
The indoctrination has become complete - no longer a human being but "a product" castrated of all human emotions except those allowed and nurtured by Big Brother. The more blind and unthinking this "product" the more useful he or she will be as a soldier. "The first duty of a soldier is to obey" - de Gaulle's words have echoed in many a barrack square. Disobedient soldiers, after all, may not be inclined to rip the guts out of a fellow human while roaring in a mad rage (as soldiers are trained to do) or to open their bomb hatches over a densely populated city of sleeping families. In a war situation, a refusal on either score would be regarded as an act of the highest treason demanding a courtmartial and -what else could you expect in this culture of death - execution by a firing squad of more obedient soldiers.
So the soldier becomes the first casualty of war. Carried along on the tide, attributing responsibility to superiors - who in turn attribute it to their heads of State - soldiers carry out heinous acts that are wholly contrary to their better nature. Often too late, and when the damage has been done, they rebel against their indoctrination, throw back their medals of honour, and tell the world that war is wrong. So, recently four veterans of the last Gulf War had this to say to the soldiers who have been passing through Shannon, Ireland:
"We are veterans of the United States armed forces. We stand with the majority of humanity, including millions in our own country, in opposition to the United States' all-out war on Iraq. We span many wars and eras, have many political views, and we all agree that this war is wrong. Many of us believed serving in the military was our duty, and our job was to defend this country. Our experiences in the military caused us to question much of what we were taught. Now we see our REAL duty is to encourage you as members of the U.S. armed forces to find out what you are being sent to fight and die for and what the consequences of your actions will be for humanity. We call upon you, the active duty and reservists, to follow your conscience and do the right thing.
In the last Gulf War, as troops, we were ordered to murder from a safe distance. We destroyed much of Iraq from the air, killing hundreds of thousands, including civilians. We remember the road to Basra - the Highway of Death - where we were ordered to kill fleeing Iraqis. We bulldozed trenches, burying people alive. The use of depleted uranium weapons left the battlefields radioactive. Massive use of pesticides, experimental drugs, burning chemical weapons depots, and oil fires combined to create a toxic cocktail affecting both the Iraqi people and Gulf War veterans. Today, one in four Gulf War veterans is disabled."
In each and every one of these cases, it was soldiers,indoctrinated with the twin mental poisons of hate and robotic killing-ability, who carried out the atrocity. And, as Che Guevarra reminded us in his Diaries, the art and tactics of the "legitimate" army differ not a whit from the art and tactics of the terrorist.
Would any of those who are in favour of the war against Iraq, however "reluctantly", be willing to place their own baby over a fire and roast the baby alive? Yet, this is what will happen to Iraqi babies if war goes ahead. In the Amariya shelter in Iraq, over 400 women and children were incinerated by what the US military called a "smart bomb". The US suffered its own incineration on Sept 11. John Pilger described what he saw had happened to children in Vietnam ater a bombing raid during the war there: "The children's skin had folded back, like parchment,revealing veins and burnt flesh that seeped blood, while the eyes, intact, stared straight ahead. A small leg had been so contorted by the blast that the foot seemed to be growing from a shoulder. I vomited."
In the certain knowledge that the same will happen again, repeated over and over, in the present war against Iraq or any other country, how can we give our own or our country's assent to such barbaric evil?
If we want to attain what we believe to be a just cause, war is never the answer.
Just causes are as plentiful as blackberries in August, but how can any honourably just cause seriously embark on redressing an injustice by an evil means, war, that is itself unjust?
Of those who point to "successes" as a result of war, I would ask: "Have you condoned the roasting of women and children and other humans to achieve your success?"
Because of the short-term and long-term results that war brings with it, all its "successes" are hollow, and all its "victories" are Pyrrhic.