As the prospect of war in Iraq approaches - with its almost inevitable consequences of many deaths, destruction of already ravaged communities, and fear among the relatives of those who will prosecute this carnage - we have a duty to consider carefully whether we have to follow this course.
When I was a boy, my father (an army officer who started his career in the ranks in 1939) told me that war was always the result of diplomatic incompetence and political failure. So it is with Iraq. But this is not the time to consider the historical sequence of events that has led to this position; we must rather concentrate on making decisions about the next steps to take.
It is also time to consider other injustices of the world, and the west’s deliberate retreat from addressing poverty and brutality elsewhere, when not in our political or economic self-interest. For example, the need to reach a just and lasting peace in Palestine should be important regardless of the Iraqi situation.
Yet, the decision to resort to armed conflict in Iraq must be based solely on the issues relating to Iraq itself. I know that Saddam Hussein is a brutal murderer, a violent oppressor of people who live under his curse, and a horrific blight on the face of humanity. But we are told the reason for going to war is that he is a clear and present danger beyond the borders of his country. I simply do not know if that is so. But I live in a democracy where I have the privilege of calling my leaders to account through the ballot box if they deceive or lie.
I trust that when Tony Blair carries the burden of immediate decisions that will kill or save people, he knows that he also carries the far heavier load of accountability to his people. This is a burden that Saddam Hussein has never borne nor will he until he is brought down - either peacefully or through the death and destruction of war, that always marks the failure of politics and diplomacy, and which I believe now is inevitable.
© Richard Burge 2003
Originally published as part of a debate on 6th February 2003 Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Pt. II