News and Views from the UK

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

“It must be a very interesting time in
the States at the moment,” remarked our
server at dinner, “with November coming
up.”My wife Catharine and I were enjoying
a rare night out without children in her
hometown of Wivenhoe, population about
6 , 0 0 0 , just out s i de Co l ch e s ter in Essex ,
E n gl a n d . The most frequ ent su bj ect of
conversation with natives during this trip, I had already
noticed, had shifted from the small talk of previous visits to
the ongoing war in Iraq and the world-famous lunacy of
George W. Bush.
Now in this tiny village in the suburban Southeast, the
twenty-something waiter who attended the local high school
and worked at Gatwick Airport before coming home to
Wivenhoe furrowed his brow as we left the restaurant and
told me, “I just hope the monkey gets out.”
There was much snickering when we arrived in Britain
over the latest terror alert in the US, based on three and fouryear-
old evidence. But the press and the public seemed to
treat the matter as par for the course rather than a shocking
scandal. The phrase “July surprise” is unknown in the UK,
but millions seemed to notice the convenient timing of the
latest Orange Alert.
After all, the complete washout of every single justification
for war with Iraq has received much more open attention
in the UK than in the US. The incessant lies of the “war
on terror”, the power grabbing, the backroom wheeling and
dealing, the nepotistic contracts, all appear in Britain as obvious
if harsh facts, not as conspiracy theory.What still puzzles
many people in the British Isles, however, is continued American
support for the war, even at ever decreasing levels.
Why, they kept asking me, but why? What about the fact
that there were no weapons of mass destruction, no connections
with al-Qaeda, and what about Abu Ghraib?
The UK is certainly no stranger to terrorism. There have
been no trashcans in British train station for many years (the
IRA used to put bombs in them). The famously unarmed
police are now supplemented in the London area by elite
squads of Kevlar goons with submachine guns. And fully
80% of crime prevention budgets now go to the ubiquitous
(yet apparently ineffective) surveillance cameras. Still there is
widespread dismay and disgust even in Britain over America.
s reaction to a single day of terrorism, albeit a particularly
nasty one.
“What’s amazing to me,” confessed a Brighton resident
named Roger over a few pints, “is that Bush and Cheney and
Rumsfeld and that lot have managed such a complete turnaround
since 11 September.” Roger was shaking his head,
smiling ruefully. “I mean America had the support or sympathy
of every country in the world, even the Arab countries.
But in two short years they’ve managed a complete reversal.”
“Now,” Roger says, “almost the whole world is against
them, and I think, here at least, there’s a real sense of being
against Bush and company and not against the American
The United Kingdom is by most accounts the United
States’ closest ally, not counting our client states in Central
America where we train the police and choose the presidents.
So close in fact is the alliance that a major public debate in
Britain at the moment seems to be whether Prime Minister
Tony Blair should be called the US “poodle” or whether that
designation lets him off the hook for his own lies, his own
chickenhawk foreign policy and his bloodless social policy.
Some of the mainstream press in the UK, where there is
no First Amendment but also no pretense of media “neutrality”,
have made their position clear in the matter: “Blair is a
coward,” proclaims one headline from last year’s Mirror.
The arti cle then explains that “bl ood on his hands” is an
ex pre s s i on coi n ed “to de s c ri be impecc a ble po l i ticians wh o, a t
a safe distance , order the mass killing of ord i n a ry
peop l e … e s pec i a llyto thosemodern po l i tical leaderswho have
h ad no pers onal ex peri en ce of w a r, l i ke Geor geW Bu s h , wh o
m a n a ged not to serve in Vi etn a m , and the ef fete Tony Bl a i r.”
This gives some clue as to the opinion of the British public
regarding their government’s alliance with the US. And
many people I talked to expressed dismay that the Blair government
joined the US war on Iraq in complete disregard to
public opinion. “Undemocratic” is the word I heard them
use. This may sound strange to American ears.After all, they
have a queen. But Britons have fought long and hard for their
rights, too – rights they now see evaporating along with ours.
In fact most of the people I talked to in England insisted
that, although “there may have been some initial support in
the States for the invasion of Iraq, in England there never
was.” Such conversations are by their nature anecdotal, but
they are not meaningless. Polls of British opinion dispute the
claim as stated, strictly speaking, but they still show little support
for the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
“There has been little change in opinion about the war in
Iraq,” found a Pew global attitudes survey conducted in February
and March 2004, “except in Great Britain, where support
for the decision to go to war has plummeted from 61%
last May to 43% in the current survey.”
“ In con tra s t ,” the Pew report says ,“60% of Am ericans conti
nue to back the war. Am ong the coa l i ti on of the ‘u nwi ll i n g,’
l a r ge majori ties in Germ a ny, Fra n ce and Russia sti ll bel i eve
t h eir co u n tries made the ri ght dec i s i on in not taking part in
the war.Moreover, t h ere is broad agreem ent in nearlyall of t h e
co u n tries su rveyed – the U. S . being a notable excepti on ‘ that
thewar in Iraq hu rt , ra t h er than hel ped , the war on terrori s m .”
A BBC poll around the same time found similar results,
and further details in the BBC poll may also shed some light
on the meaning of the numbers. Ranking the various partners
in the war from 1 to 10 by performance, respondents in
the BBC poll gave British military forces the highest mark of
the survey: 8.3 – in contrast to an abysmal 4.9 for Blair and
4.3 for Bush. The British populace seems to share with the
American a sympathy, or at least a reluctance, not to “support
the troops,” the everyday grunts who are sent to do the dirty
work, however wrong the war itself and however deceitful the
politicians who planned it. In the same poll, 42% of British
respondents said they trust Blair less now than before the
w a r, while on ly 4% trust him more . On the so-call ed
“weapons of mass destruction,” 22% said Blair lied outright
while 40% said he exaggerated, leaving a negligible number
who still believe. And 55% said that they believe the war in
Iraq has not helped Britain’s longterm security.
But what this means for the Blair government’s prospects
is unclear. The electoral alternative is the Conservative Party,
the hated Tories, who under Margaret Thatcher (and, P.S.,
John Major) plundered the social equity accumulated over
generations. Still, Blair and the so-called New Labour – akin
to Clinton’s rightwing Democratic Leadership Council in the
US – can hardly rest on their laurels.
In ad d i ti on to the high – profile defecti ons of Bl a i r ’s Ca bi n et
m i n i s ters over the last two ye a rs , the Labour Pa rty has reportedly
lost fully half its mem bership since the war with Ira q ,
n owdown to 190,000 to t a l . Cert a i n ly no one has to be a member
to vo te Labo u r, but su ch a prec i p i tous drop speaks stron gly
to the disaffecti on and disgust among the party faithful.
The third-party Liberal Democrats are almost certain to
take up some of the slack, and local elections have already
seen spotty losses for all the major parties in contests against
the Independent Working Class Association and other marginal
So Blair could face a steep uphill climb according to
almost every observer, perhaps including Blair himself. Earlier
in the year Blair reportedly considered stepping down, but
his closest aides talked him out of it.
Last year, in the lead-up to invasion, hundreds of thousands
protested in New York, San Francisco and other US
cities. In London protesters numbered over one million, out
of a national population around only 60 million, apparently
including many who had never demonstrated against anything
in their lives – not even, though they were old enough
and did oppose it,Vietnam.
Pro-war officials in the UK tend to blame the left-leaning
media for public opposition to the war. But why the average
Brit would give more credence to anti-war journalism than to
its pro-war counterparts in The London Times, for example,
they do not explain.The notion that people might be reacting
to the facts presented is apparently unthinkable.
British ire erupted again mid-August when the supposedly
quiet town of Basra near Kuwait exploded and a British
soldier was killed. One. UK forces have lost a handful in Iraq,
in contrast to a near-thousand US troops killed. Yet British
outrage over each death is palpable. The family of the most
recently deceased stalked away from a meeting with Blair’s
staff blaming the Prime Minister personally for their son’s
death. And the press covered it.
Around the same time another British soldier, recently
back from Iraq, killed himself with automobile exhaust. Major newspaper reports detailed the soldier’s opposition to the war in Iraq, the changes
in his personality that seemed to result from his time in Iraq, and his family’s belief that
the war was to blame. Some headlines even passed along their demand:Was his death a
final act of protest?
Contrast the US media’s treatment (or non-treatment) of the Peaceful Tomorrows
group of family members of those killed in the September 11 terrorist attack.When family
members marched betweenWashington DC and NewYork City, opposing war, carrying
signs that read, “Not in our name,” The New York Times reported simply that they
were “mourning” and cropped their protest signs out of the accompanying photo.
“Why is the American media so conservative?” asked Maggie, a neighbor of my inlaws,
in an impromptu curbside chat. “Is it because of the corporate ownership?”
Her husband Dave chimed in: “We have Rupert Murdoch, but we know where he’s
coming from.”
“Yes,” admitted Maggie, “here you can read The Guardian or The Independent, even
The Times, and, OK, you might not agree with them, and, yes, it’s biased, but you know
where you stand with them, and at least there’s some real facts there, and you can argue.”
“But the American press, from our perspective here,”Dave added,“seems so glitzy and
– sorry, but, superficial.”
Here, then, is another unthinkable question: What would happen if the US media
were less superficial and reported more facts, dropped the pretense of neutrality and
openly disagreed on current issues? The answer is left to the reader’s imagination with
one historical note; that is, the irony that what the Founding Fathers envisioned for
American democracy, with all its flaws, is perhaps now more closely approximated in the

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.