No beginning or end to war
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War is looming. Once again war looms. Or is war only
being threatened so as to stop war coming? Does the limiting word
"only" mean that this is just a mock threat, this staged build-up of
US and British
troops and ships on the Arabian peninsula and in the Red sea, with its supply of
pictures to the media of overwhelming military might? As soon as one of the
world's two dozen dictators has crumbled into
exile or preferably is dead, will this all turn out to be a show of force which
brought peace and can vanish away again?
Hardly. This looming war is a wanted war. It is already going on in the heads of
the planners, in the world's stock exchanges, and in what seem to be
forward-dated TV programmes. The enemy target is in the sights. He has been
named and - along with other enemies on the stocks who will be targeted and
named next - he fits the bill for those who want to conjure a danger so grim
that it undermines careful reflection.
We know how people create enemies where none exists. We know, and have plenty of
pictures to illustrate it, what happens in war when the target is not quite hit.
We are familiar with the words for damage and casualties which we are told to
accept as inevitable. We are used to the relatively small number of its own dead
that the world's number one ruling power has to count and mourn while the mass
of enemy dead, including women and children, go uncounted and are not worth
So now we wait for the new war and the old repetitions. This time new missile
systems will be even more accurate. We can be confident about the choice of
pictures from this looming war. The flow of images will
be sanitised of every detail of horror. Familiar TV channels will be there to
give us a new instalment of war as soap opera, interrupted only by ads for
consumers who are living happily in peace.
The only issue for discussion is whether people approach this coming, already
happening war as loudmouthed or half-hearted allies, or the sort who may only
make a small contribution on the sidelines like the Germans, whose time for
making war is over by now, or should be.
Who is the target of this war which is only being threatened? A fearful
dictator. But Saddam Hussein, like other dictators, was once a brother-in-arms
to the democratic world power and its allies. On their behalf, and heavily armed
by the west, he waged war for eight years against his neighbour Iran, because at
that time the dictator who ruled there was enemy number one.
But, the argument goes on, Saddam Hussein is in possession of of weapons of mass
destruction (which has not yet been proved). We are also promised that after
this dictator is defeated democracy will be installed in Iraq. But this
dictator's neighbours, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which are western allies and
serve as launchpads for invading Iraq, are also dictatorships. Are they the next
targets for wars to bring democracy?
I know these are idle questions. The world power's arrogance has an answer for
all of them. But everyone knows or assumes that it is all about oil. To be
accurate, that it's all about oil again. The spectre of hypocrisy which the last
remaining superpower and its chorus of allies use to cover their true interests
has become so threadbare that the drive for dominance shows right through. It
stands there in its hubris, unashamed and dangerous to the rest of the world.
The current US president is the perfect expression of this common danger we
I don't know if the United Nations will be resolute enough to resist the US's
clenched drive for power. My experience tells me this wanted war will be
followed by other wars with the same drive behind them. I hope my country's
citizens and government will give convincing proof that we Germans have learned
the lesson of the wars we have caused and will say no to the oncoming madness,
"What should I do if in fretful sleep the ghosts of the slaughtered were to
appear, bloody, pale, and wan, and weep in front of me, what should I do?"
That's the question the 18th century writer, Matthias Claudius asks in his poem,
Warsong. Looking back on our wars and the people we have slaughtered, this is
the question we have still not answered completely.
That distant, looming war which is already under way and which never stops,
poses his same question yet again.
"Alas, it is war, and I don't wish to carry the guilt for it."
(GŁnter Grass won the Nobel prize for literature in 1999. His new novel,
Crabwalk, will be published by Faber in April.)
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