Deborah Orr: The world is not a pretty place

'Our leaders tell us the gamble was that the West was too decadent to fight. The truth is that we are too decadent not to'
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The memory of the new mother is well-known to be a capricious system. Nevertheless, there are few mothers who do not retain one or two arbitrary but vivid recollections of the draining, disorientating, but generally oddly magical, rites of night-feeding.

The memory of the new mother is well-known to be a capricious system. Nevertheless, there are few mothers who do not retain one or two arbitrary but vivid recollections of the draining, disorientating, but generally oddly magical, rites of night-feeding.

I know that I'll never forget, night after night, waking up not once a day but four times, not only to an insistent, innocent cry of pure need, but also to the pain and trauma of split-second reacquaintance with the atrocities of 11 September.

Naturally, that's no claim to special suffering, no complaint about the rude rupture of my baby bubble. It hardly needs to be said that the emotional processing of the crime of all crimes was unspeakably gruelling for all who lay claim to humanity.

But the particular experience of cradling and nurturing a baby through those acts of nihilism felt like self-indulgence. So too, did calling The Independent, jettisoning the right to, and principle of, maternity leave, and adding another voice to the cacophony. There was little for me to do among all that death but follow the counsel of our leaders, and get on, in the most literal of ways, with life.

Except that it was obvious that our leaders were not following their own counsel. We were to get on with life (or shopping at the very least), and leave them to get on with war. It was to be a special war: "The War Against Terrorism". Those who argued that this was like waging steam against ice were being smugly silenced with the shibboleth that there was no credible alternative.

In the time-honoured leftie-protest tradition, 10 days on from the attack, myself, my baby and my breasts, floated off to a peace meeting. What, after all, is a peace meeting without nursing mothers? Thousands had attended, to hear speeches from people who even from the platform were joked about as being the usual suspects.

Accordingly, the usual points were rousingly made: it was America that was the rogue state; it was globalisation that was the root of all evil; it was oil that was behind the West's involvement with the Middle East; it was Israel that fomented all aggression; it was the arms trade that promoted war, and so on. As if, right or wrong, the continued rehearsal of these strident alternative shibboleths would do anything at all to promote peace. Instead, the reverse was true.

Worse, this meeting was not only incendiary; it also contained a self-congratulatory edge. Several speakers remarked on the impressive turn-out, and found their remarks greeted with applause. Eventually, ever the politician, Jeremy Corbyn began his speech by suggesting that the next peace meeting would have to be held in the Albert Hall. The crowd went wild, and we had to leave. Not out of any moral objection. It was just that for the first time in the evening the noise of these well-meaning thousands was too great for a baby to bear.

Meanwhile, back on the home front, peace had broken down. My first son, just turned four, had hitherto shown every sign of being almost spookily accommodating to his new sibling. But it was gradually becoming apparent that he did feel some anger and that this anger was being visited upon his peers. He was hitting other children, at school and at play. His only excuse was that they "started it".

Needless to say, our only course was patiently to explain that hurting others was always wrong. Physical punishment, as most people now agree, was unthinkable. It would simply have been setting him the wrong example.

So, of course, would turning on the news. Granted, it's insultingly simplistic to conflate accepted practice in the bringing up of children with good guardianship of the world. But at the same time the spectacle of watching Mr Blair appeal to Mr Sharon and Mr Arafat to stop fighting – to do something that his own coalition patently will not do – is rather similar to watching a parent flailing around in the ageing ruins of his moral authority.

So is listening to his call for the world to unite and support the US military's right to bring down the Taliban, when his highest praise, in his desperation to maintain the coalition, is saved for Saudi Arabia, a regime propped up by that self-same army. Not pretty.

It is difficult to believe that privately Mr Blair does not know this. Certainly there are some very influential members of the coalition who do know it, however dimly. That's why this attack on Afghanistan has been conducted with compromises which mirror the grotesque joke that is the ideology of the third way.

There may be diplomacy involved in The War Against Terrorism, and there may be humanitarian aid involved in The War Against Terrorism, but these can be no more than delusional tributes to the guilty, secret, knowledge that this war is wrong. As long as there's military action, the best the other two can achieve is a tiny measure of mitigation.

That, however, does not mean that the gestures are not appreciated or needed. How terrible this war would be without acknowledgement that it is being waged against an already defeated and degraded country, suffering a madness invoked by past sins against it.

But that does not remove the terrible paradox: it was that very defeat and degradation which made made the option of war more attractive than any of the others. However long it continues, this war is, as wars go, an easy one. It is a low-risk luxury for short-term thinkers, a gift to the bellicose, and a sop to the uncertain.

It is also – has to be – exactly what the perpetrators of the atrocities wanted. The mayhem unleashed by these dead nihilists is continuing. Our leaders tell us the gamble was that the West was too decadent to fight. Instead the truth is that we are too decadent not to. We're showing off, indulging a hubristic belief that we can fix whatever we want to, whenever it suits us.

What if the military action against Afghanistan were still an option, kept up the coalition's sleeve, its absence in the face of such provocation a powerful symbol of the unacceptability of creating terror in any person?

The money spent on unleashing war might instead have been spent on aid for the starved and suffering people and the ever-burgeoning refugees of Afghanistan.

The time spent planning it might instead have been spent on developing a far less compromised, much more dynamic, dialogue with the Middle East, and with each other. The coalition may have been much stronger, much wider and much more able to face down the Taliban, and remove Osama bin Laden, without destabilising the extremes of the Muslim world. Who can say with certainty that The War Against Terrorism would be in worse shape for having put the B52s on indefinite hold? No one.

The atrocities of 11 September, it was said at first, would change the world. But the world has reached for the same old solutions, even though, forever, each war's end has spawned a new war. Isn't this worth noting?

Meanwhile, in the momentous months since my son was born, he has developed only one new life skill. Like the mass of humanity around the planet, his first milestone is his mastery of the smile. This is how his morning begins, and this is how his life begins. Happiness, for him, is the presence of another human face. And so we've smiled together, he and I, through these cursed, interesting times. There's not much else that we can do.

d.orr@independent.co.uk

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