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Who risks whose future?

It is 12 January 2003 and US president Bush has rallied his troops for what he calls “The first war of the 21st century”. What is your view of this crisis, where, briefly, do you stand? This is the question we are putting to people around the world, especially those with their own public reputation and following. Our aim, to help create a truly global debate all can identify with.
Donald Sassoon
12 January 2003

Wars present many problems. One is that we never know what’s going to happen. For most of us, and this excludes genuine pacifists and Saddam-sympathisers, such knowledge would determine our support. Assume the ‘best scenario’: the inspectors find overwhelming evidence of the presence of weapons of mass destruction; the United Nations decide to intervene; the subsequent attack on Iraq kills very few people. Foremost among the casualties is Saddam Hussein himself. The whole operation is accompanied by a popular movement which establishes a genuine democracy in Iraq. Unlikely but not impossible.

Take a far darker outcome: though no weapons are found and without UN support, Bush attacks with Blair’s enthusiastic support; the war drags on for weeks, months even, with considerable ‘collateral damage’; what’s worse (from the point of view of western public opinion, so resilient when the dead are not theirs) body bags return in large numbers to London and Washington. And even worse: the inevitable skyrocketing of oil price makes driving prohibitive while the recession turns into a depression. The medium-term outcome is just as catastrophic: ‘friendly’, i.e. pro-Western governments are toppled throughout the Middle East which is swept by an unprecedented wave of Islamic fundamentalism; Israel proceeds to a massive ethnic cleansing of the West Bank; al-Qaida’s recruiting agents are besieged by applicants eager to join and die for the cause. Still gung-ho on the war? I don’t believe you.

The actual outcome is likely to be between these two poles; the precise point impossible to predict. But then, if we knew the outcome, there might never be wars. We certainly would not have had the first, perhaps not even the second, world war. So war is risky. But before you cast your vote, think seriously: who is risking? Whose children? Whose future?

Originally published as part of a debate on 12 January 2003 Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Pt. 1.

See also Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Pt. II

 

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals


To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.


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