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For the New Year's Eve fireplace
of Bush and Blair
A sermon against war




Jonathan Power

December 27, 2002

LONDON - War in February now looks very likely. The die is almost cast. It will be a bitter, hard fought war, baring little comparison to the easy run of ten years ago. With his back to the wall Saddam Hussein will fight in the toughest, cruellest way imaginable, luring the American and British invaders into the Iraqi cities where they will be butchered one by one and they in turn will wreck vengeance, intended or not, on the innocent, the trapped city dwellers.

"And there is this earth, this mud where the flesh rots, where eyes decompose. These arms, these legs that crunch in the jaws of the boars. The souls ulcerated and foul from killing, the bodies so starved for tenderness they haunt stables in search of pleasure. There is this gangrene that eats at the heart…." President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, two men who in their own personal life have avoided war, should read Duong Thu Huong's searing novel set in Vietnam where she as a young woman fought on the side of the Vietcong. Not only is it the most beautifully written novel I have read this year, it tells you about war word by word, until you feel your own eyes have been gouged out, your own corpse hung from a branch, and the "dizzying sense of carrion and gunpowder".

Bush and Blair talk of how a liberated Iraq will be, with a new democracy, human rights for all and the end of the horrific torture of Saddam's opponents and their children (which was first brought to the world's attention by Amnesty International fourteen years ago and ignored by the British and U.S. governments which then sold Saddam arms). But the worst of human wrongs is to kill 10,000 people (one Pentagon estimate). No human wrong of that proportion can justify some wildly optimistic scenario for improving human rights. And this is to put it mildly if in the end the U.S. decides to use nuclear weapons, a proposition now seriously considered in the Pentagon and one that is, according to a new poll, apparently supported by 60% of the U.S. electorate.

Since it is nearly New Year, I will mention a new book for the fireside, "War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning" (1), by Chris Hedges, a star war correspondent of the New York Times. Hedges made his reputation by covering wars in Central America, Iraq and Yugoslavia. He is a reporter who admits the closer he was to the action and the slaughter a greater high he got. Apparently fearless he lived for the next fight. "At certain moments" he wrote, "I would rather die like this than go back to the routine of life." He imbibed the narcotic of war as happily as any soldier seduced by the unlimited power to destroy.

War, he admits "gives a sense that we can rise above our smallness and divisiveness…In every society, including ours, is the passionate yearning for a nationalist cause that exalts us, that war alone is able to deliver". But as time went on he realized he had made a great spiritual mistake, although Hedges is not a religious man. As the French philosopher Simone Weil wrote, "Force is as pitiless to the man who possesses it, or thinks he does, as it is to its victims; the second it crushes, the first it intoxicates".

He has watched war leaders and their fighting machines and the journalists who hang out with them become corrupted by war. Even President Ronald Reagan, an upright man in many ways, called Jonas Savimbi, the rebel leader in Angola, the Abraham Lincoln of Africa, although he littered the country with mines, once bombed a Red Cross factory making artificial limbs and pummelled a rival's wife and children to death.

Hedges, who seems to have spent his precious spare moments as a war reporter reading the great works of western civilization, recalls of how, unable to sleep during the war in El Salvador, he picked up Shakespeare's Macbeth. "It was not a calculated decision. I had come that day from a village where about a dozen people had been murdered by the death squads, their thumbs tied behind their backs with wire and their throats slit". He opened the play at the speech of Macduff's wife made when the murderers sent by Macbeth arrive to kill her and her small children. "Whither should I fly?" she asks. "I have done no harm. But I remember now/I am in this earthly world- where to do harm/is often laudable, to do good sometime/Accounted dangerous folly."

Those words "seized me like furies" Hedges wrote. It drove him to write this unusual and searing book, deeply researched but its most precious insights culled from personal experience and his rich knowledge of our great literature in which he excels. If for a moment I thought Bush and Blair would give it time I would happily send them a copy to read in front of the fire.


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


(1) Follow this link to read about and order Chris Hedges' book from "War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning".


Copyright © 2002 By JONATHAN POWER


Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the

40th Anniversary of Amnesty International

"Like Water on Stone - The Story of Amnesty International"





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