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Oh dear, it is not a lovely war!



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It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.

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Perspective

Thursday 3 April 2003

James Dunn, former diplomat

 

Oh Dear, It is Not a Lovely War!  

 

It is a sombre time for those who spoke out against this country’s involvement in George Bush’s war against Iraq. The war is now well under way, to the growing concern of the international community. We can hope for an early end to the destruction, but as resistance stiffens that prospect is by no means certain. The main battles are probably yet to come. And the biggest challenges are probably ahead of the Coalition. Getting Coalition forces to Baghdad is one thing; taking the Iraqi capital setting the stage for democratic reconstruction is another. The war may come to an early end, but to secure a durable peace may be beyond the narrow vision of the Bush Administration.  

 

I have been dismayed at the television coverage of the conflict so far. It has been extensive to the point of saturation, but appallingly one-sided. The US policy of ‘embedding’ journalists is a stifling tactic, and seems to have ensured that we see the war through military eyes. We see lots of supersonic warplanes, occasional cruise missile firings, tanks charging across the desert towards Baghdad, and exploding buildings. The endless briefings, whether here or abroad, are mostly by military officers and intelligence analysts whose discourse tends to dehumanise the war. The humanitarian dimensions of the conflict have received scant attention. For the ordinary people it is not a Lovely War. It is admittedly hard to get to those at the other end of the bombardment, but we must hear more about the millions of ordinary Iraqis who are bearing the brunt of the suffering caused by the war.  

 

The coverage so far tells us little about a side of war I have experienced. We are not seeing faces filled with terror, bewilderment and sheer despair, and scenes of death and human misery. At this time I have haunting memories of thousands of dying victims of atomic radiation (many of them children) in Hiroshima, where I happened to be as a teenage soldier in the aftermath of its bombing.  

 

Years later I witnessed the despair of Czechs in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of 1968, which brutally extinguished their hopes for an end to Soviet domination. There was little physical destruction, but the psychological damage was starkly apparent. More recently, in East Timor I have vivid memories of terrified Timorese desperately trying to escape the TNI/militia campaign of killing and destruction. I shared one night of terror with a Timorese family, as the militia burnt houses, and indulged in an orgy of killing around us.  

 

In this war against Iraq few of our small contingent of troops will experience the terror that grips ordinary people when they are engulfed by war. They will not hear the weeping of women and that heart-wrenching distress of children confronted with awesome destruction as America’s weapons of destruction descend on Baghdad and elsewhere.  

 

John Howard has appealed to us to accept his decision to involve us in this war, and to support the Australian forces now in the Gulf region. I share his revulsion at the tortures carried out by Saddam Hussein’s regime but cannot forget the dismissive attitude of his officials to my own accounts of torture by the TNI/militia in Timor, which I reported two years ago, as a UN official. I was told by one of his officials that delving into such matters would merely open a can of worms! Mr Howard’s new found intolerance of crimes against humanity may be a refreshing change, but it can also be a ploy to win the support of a reluctant community for this military adventure in disregard of a sceptical United Nations.  

 

Whatever their reservations, Australians will support our troops, but not necessarily as Mr. Howard would like. We will respond to their special needs, but that will not mean an end to our resentment of our involvement in a war without UN authorisation. It is hard to support this kind of military solution, this dangerous precedent, and impossible to forgive our Prime Minister for having ignored the popular will on a matter of such fundamental national importance.  

 

Guests on this program:

 

James Dunn  

Former diplomat, defence analyst, senior foreign affairs advisor to Federal Parliament and most recently U.N. investigator of crimes against humanity