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`True' lies and war

KALPANA SHARMA

LAST week I almost threw a rock at my television set. Because I saw the elected head of a country telling such a blatant lie that for a moment I thought I had heard wrong. Yet he did this without the flicker of an eye, without a shadow of doubt passing over his face. He did it with all the moral righteousness that belongs to those who believe that they have the god-given right to rule the world.

I am referring to the live press conference by the Bush-Blair duo after their meeting at Camp David. The leader of the world's most powerful nation, and his completely loyal ally, displayed, through body language and words, their belief that power can turn even blatant lies into shining truths. Thus British Prime Minister Tony Blair talked about the death of over 400,000 Iraqi children over the last decade as an illustration of the villainy of Saddam Hussein, the man he and Bush have sworn to remove from Iraq. All sides tell lies during times of war. But such a blatant lie? When the world knows only too well that these Iraqi children died because Britain and the United States, amongst others, imposed economic sanctions on Iraq that denied its citizens basic medicines and its children adequate food?

The saddest part of this immoral and illegal war has been the fog of lies that has enveloped the world thanks to them being broadcast relentlessly through the 24-hour western news channels. Untruths such as the "coalition" forces — Anglo-American, to be more accurate, as the minuscule contingent of Australian troops has never been heard of — having the audacity to suggest that the missile that fell on a crowded market area in Baghdad, killing and maiming several score men, women and children, all "non-combatants", could have been fired by the Iraqis themselves. Robert Fisk of The Independent, one of the few Western journalists worth reading, reported the exact markings found on a piece of the killer missile. The markings were in English. Anyone really interested in figuring out how and why this happened, could easily do so based on this information. But who wants the truth? Even if they admit that it was an American missile, we could be told that it is part of Iraq's hidden arsenal of armaments — the elusive "weapons of mass destruction" — supplied many decades back by the Americans to help them fight the Iranians! Who knows? Anything is possible.

Fortunately, some British newspapers are documenting, and reporting this litany of lies, misinformation and inconsistencies. The latest in the string of half-truths is the story about aid being rushed to the suffering "Iraqi people", for whom concern is being expressed every few minutes by the very people who are killing them. A shipload of aid, in the British ship "Sir Galahad", had docked in the small port of Umm Qasr. But the truth? Half of the ship was full of ammunition and arms. And according to aid organisations in Britain, at least 32 such ships will be needed to provide adequate succour to Iraq's beleaguered "non-combatants".

So don't believe those photographs you see of desperate Iraqis reaching out for crates of "aid" being chucked at them from trucks. The photographers perched on top of these trucks get great shots. But the people who can catch the packets are the young and the able; the people who need them are the old and infirm, young children and women. And in any case, what was distributed during the photo-op that yielded striking front-page pictures for the world's newspapers was no more than a crumb being thrown at a country full of starving people.

Last month, before the carpet-bombing of Baghdad began, there was still a very slight chance that war would be averted. Today, one can only feel a sense of dread as this fog of misinformation and lies spreads even as people on both sides get killed in a senseless war. The men and women in the American and British armies are caught in the same web of deceit as the rest of us. It was to be a short, sharp, surgical strike. Instead, no one knows when it will end. Many of their comrades have died in "friendly fire". This too was not written into the script. And as temperatures rise, they are now being asked to pause, and wait, as reinforcements and supplies slowly make their way. Despite protestations to the contrary by the army bigwigs, this too was not part of a plan.

America and Britain have invaded not just Iraq but all our homes. Thanks to the "embedded" journalists, we are being bombarded with the hardware of this war while the real story is taking place away from the eyes and ears of these journalists. The real story is being told not just by Al-Jazeera, but by a few brave western journalists and some idealistic young men and women who are sending e-mails from inside Iraq giving us the sordid and human dimension of this war.

All wars are immoral in my view. There can be no "just" war. There is no justice in killing people. But this war is as immoral as they come. It has outraged the sensibilities of a wide cross-section of people around the world. And there is a reason for that. The world can never be a peaceful or safe place if even one nation believes that it has the right to teach another nation a lesson through the use of force. When the most powerful country in the world chooses to do this, we can be certain that the world will now be a much more insecure place. Not just America, but every country in the world.

In these last weeks, I have asked myself: why do I hate war? Why am I convinced that more sophisticated armaments, or bigger armies, cannot make nations and peoples secure? Is my hatred of war and violence something to do with the fact that I am a woman? Am I repulsed by blood and gore, not turned on by the sophistication of modern war machines? Some of this is true. But the real reason I hate war, will not support it as an option on any count is because I believe that war begets war, violence begets greater violence, that the result is unconscionable suffering being inflicted on the most vulnerable and that in the end, the seeds of insecurity and hate planted by campaigns of war and killing heighten tension and increase insecurity. They can never lead to a peaceful world.

E-mail the writer at ksharma@thehindu.co.in

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