What does war look like?
I am haunted by this picture. It was taken by Donald McCullin in 1964 when he was covering the Cyprus conflict. That woman could be my mum. The woman to her left could be my grandmother. The boy to her right could be me.
Donald McCullin later took another photograph of a shellshocked American soldier in Vietnam. This is another face of war.
This week the Chilcott Report was published and was about another conflict, the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. That year I got up one February morning, along with Penny, Jafer and Kenan and made my way to Hastings town centre to catch a coach to London. From there we joined and marched against the impending war in Iraq. Along with many others who’s numbers varied from 750,000 (police estimate) to 3 million. That varies from 1 in 84 of the UK population to 1 in 21. All in a small part of London.
There has already been much said about the report and I’m not going to repeat it. But what I will try and do is draw together some of it’s conclusions and the relevance it plays in today’s politics.
The response from Mr. Blair was emotional, his voice choking and seeming like he was close to tears. But his defence was weak. We could all think what we like, but ‘he’ was the ‘decision maker’, upon whom responsibility rests. No one disputes that the title of Prime Minister suggests a place at the top of the hierarchy. But I’m sorry, that’s not good enough. You were warned. By the security agencies that challenged some of the information they were fed. By members of your own cabinet, one of whom resigned rather than support you. And by millions of people who couldn’t see that invading, occupying, subjugating a country without invitation was going to bring peace to the Middle East.
I’ve had many managers in my working life, some I respected and helped me develop, some who offered good advice when I needed it, and sometimes when I didn’t ask for it. The point I’m making is that there are many aspects to being a good manager, one of which is to consult, consider the evidence and make a decision. Mr. Blair consulted and considered for show only. He told Bush ‘I’m with you whatever’. It was all about him. Not his cabinet. Not about his party or its members. Just him. His perception of leadership is to ignore everyone and then expect us all to support whatever decision he makes. I’ve had managers like that too.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair still maintain the world is a safer place without Saddam Hussein. For who? For the relatives of the 250 victims of the bomb in Baghdad last week? Or the Iraqi population as a whole? A study published in 2011 estimated 500,000 dead since 2003. Out of a population of 31 million. Or 1 in 62 people of a whole country to put it another way. Does that sound like liberation to you?
The House of Commons will debate the report over two days this week. But already Jeremy Corbyn has apologised on behalf of the Labour Party for taking the country into an unnecessary war. Whether he should have done so I don’t know. Because he personally never supported the war and was one of the speakers at that demonstration in February 2003. It’s very magnanimous of him to apologise on behalf of those who led the party and supported the war at the time.
These include Hilary Benn, Angela Eagle, Margaret Hodge (remember her? She started the petition to say they had no confidence in Corbyn). The list goes on, David Miliband (remember him? Some say he should return to Parliament to lead the Labour Party). Gisela Stuart? She’s the one that followed Boris Johnson around the country recently. Yep, she was a Labour MP that supported the war too.
Have you noticed something?
The key figures in the rebellion against Jeremy Corbyn got it wrong in 2003. Some say they even wanted to get rid of Corbyn so that he wouldn’t be leader when the report got out. Perhaps it’s they who are out of touch with public opinion now too.
And the Tories? The then opposition? What did David Cameron, Ian Duncan-Smith, Liam Fox, William Hague (remember him?), George Osborn do? Yep, they supported a war based on fantasy dressed up as facts too.
Of 413 Labour MP’s 139 voted against their government (including Jeremy Corbyn).
Of 166 Tory MP’s 15 voted against the war, leaving the majority of them in favour too.
Sometimes war in unavoidable, Iraq in 2003 was not one of those times.
I’m not after Blair’s blood. But an apology and an acknowledgement that he made a mistake would be the only decent and honourable course of action left to him.
Until I hear it I won’t have any sympathy when I hear him trying to defend himself.