I often use the example of Stop the War as a movement as a reason for optimism for whatever happens in the meantime, in Parliament, Whitehall, wherever; Stop the War has gone on indefatigable and I’m really delighted to be doing this because I much admire everything that Stop the War has done, there’s no equivalent actually in any other country and so congratulations on tonight.
I wonder how many of you have been to the National War Memorial in Staffordshire. It’s fairly recent, that is it was only finished about 2007. It’s an enormous place, it has 30,000 trees, rolling hills and monuments scattered throughout it. I mean in some ways it’s quite hauntingly beautiful, it’s a very unusual place: there are 350 memorials set in manicured lawns and thousands of trees and at the centre is the armed services memorial with its list of 16,000 British servicemen who it says, and I quote: “Died in operational theatre or were targeted by terrorists”.
Now on the day I was there a stonemason was actually adding two more names. There isn’t I should point out a cenotaph here to the fallen of two World Wars, there are many of those throughout the country, but these soldiers here died in 50 operations across the world during what we call peacetime. So, the people whose names are engraved on the memorials have died since the Second World War in these special operations and fighting terrorism which I think to most of you sounds like quite a euphemism – [for instance] Ireland, Kenya, Hong Kong, Libya, Iraq and many more including secret operations.
Not a year has passed since peacetime was declared in 1945 – official peacetime – that Britain has not sent military forces to fight its wars of empire. In country after country, the British arms business has furthered these wars of empire. Empire: it’s extraordinary even using the word. What empire? The investigative journalist Phil Miller recently revealed that Britain has 145 military sites, let’s call them bases, in 42 countries. Boris Johnson has boasted that Britain is to be, and I quote the foremost naval power in Europe.
In the midst of the greatest health emergency in modern times, with more than four million surgical operations delayed indefinitely, Johnson announced a record rise of £16.5 billion in so-called defence spending – a figure that would restore the NHS many times over. But the 16 billion is not for defence. Britain has no enemies other than those who betray its ordinary people, its nurses and doctors, its carers, its elderly, its vulnerable, its youth.
Amidst the solemn landscape of the National War Memorial there’s not a single monument, not one plaque, not one rose bush, in memory of all the civilians who died as a result of many of these so-called peacetime operations. There’s not a word of remembrance of the Libyan civilians killed when their country was wilfully destroyed by Cameron, Obama and [correction: Sarkozy] in 2011. There’s not a weasel word of regret for the Serb men, women and children killed by British bombs from RAF planes flying high courtesy of Tony Blair. Or the Yemeni children now being killed by rampaging Saudi pilots with logistics supplied by British officers in the air-conditioned safety of Riyadh. There’s no monument, of course, to the Palestinian children isolated and murdered with Britain’s connivance.
Two weeks ago, Israel’s military Chief of Staff [Aviv Kohavi] and Britain’s Chief of the Defence Staff [Sir Nick Carter ] signed an agreement and I quote ‘to formalise and enhance military cooperation’. That means more and more British arms and logistical support for the lawless regime in Israel. Perhaps the most glaring omission at the national war memorial is an acknowledgement of the million Iraqi’s.
A million men, women and children whose deaths were the direct result of Britain and America’s invasion of their country – an invasion based as we well know on outright lies. How does this country’s war-making elite sustain such a lethal silence? Why are we living with not just colonial wars but the threat of nuclear war?
Russia, a nuclear power, is encircled by America and Europe right up to the border where Hitler invaded. China, a nuclear power, is the brunt of unrelenting provocation with strategic bombers and drones constantly probing its territorial space. There are 400 American bases circling China like a noose, all the way up from Australia, through the pacific to Asia, and across Eurasia. This is almost never news. Why do we allow this lethal silence?
The answer lies in one word, propaganda. Our propaganda industries both political and cultural and that includes most – if not almost all – of the media are the most powerful and refined on earth. Our big lies can be repeated over and over and in comforting BBC voices. What is the propaganda aimed at? I would think it’s aimed at ensuring that we, who live in this country, never look in the mirror. Most of us never look in the mirror and see what we do in other countries.
A few years after the invasion of Iraq I made a film called The War You Don’t See [embedded above] in which I asked leading American and British colleagues and TV news executives why and how the Bush and Blair governments were allowed to get away with an invasion based on lies. The journalists said that had they and others challenged governments and exposed their lives, instead of amplifying and echoing them, the invasion of Iraq might not have happened – and perhaps a million people would be alive today. It’s an extraordinary admission, but coming from senior journalists in the United States I think it has more than just an element of truth, it was certainly the view of the CBS anchorman Dan Rather who told me that.
An Observer journalist described in my film and I quote him – his name is David Rose – “the pack of lies fed to me by a fairly sophisticated disinformation campaign”. Rageh Omaar, then the BBC’s man in Iraq, said and I quote “we failed to press the most uncomfortable buttons hard enough”. I must say I admired these journalists who broke the silence, but they are honourable exceptions.
Some years ago, I interviewed the former head of the CIA in Latin America, Duane Clarridge. He was refreshingly honest, he said that America the superpower could do what it wanted, where it wanted. His words were, and I quote: “get used to it world”. But we don’t have to get used to it, do we?
That’s why I’m supporting Stop the War whose tireless campaigning is breaking the silence – continues to break the silence – that war dominates us even in so-called peacetime.
I’ve reported a number of wars all over the world. I’ve seen the remains of children bombed and burned to death and whole villages laid to waste, trees festooned with human parts and much else. Perhaps that’s why I reserve a special contempt for those who promote the crime of war in whatever form, having never experienced it themselves. Break the silence, support Stop the War. Thank you.
Click here to read the original transcript in full at Stop the War Coalition website.