If you want peace, preach to the unconverted

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The Independent Online

Forget the obscenely lingering descriptions of the obscenities of war, it is always the tears of the strong that finish me – a fierce-faced man cradling his ruined child or sobbing like a child himself over the wind-blown space that was his wife. And so you hold on to the arms of your chair and feel your unentitled grief swell like fists in your chest and curse them all. The lot of them: the shamefaced and the told-you-so's, those who wanted this and those who didn't.

Forget the obscenely lingering descriptions of the obscenities of war, it is always the tears of the strong that finish me – a fierce-faced man cradling his ruined child or sobbing like a child himself over the wind-blown space that was his wife. And so you hold on to the arms of your chair and feel your unentitled grief swell like fists in your chest and curse them all. The lot of them: the shamefaced and the told-you-so's, those who wanted this and those who didn't.

Because it is not only aggressors who need schooling in the arts of persuasion; protesters and pacifists, too, have an obligation to do the best by their case and convince others of its justice. Easy to blame the war on those who love war; I blame it also on those who opposed it. They should have done a better job – produced arguments that smacked less of ancient ideology, found subtler people to express them, put language to better use than sloganising, sought the support of less obviously biased or hysterical groups, kept one issue separate from another, not turned the cause of peace into a ragbag of associated or not-at-all associated grievances, jeered less, cheered less, put their minds, every inch of the way, to the fears no less than the ambitions that fuelled the war, and why others, who were not all Bush's poodles, did not always think as they did.

And would that have made any difference? Who can say. But take me as a test case. Man, proud man, dressed in a little brief authority, but made a coward, when no one's looking, by his conscience, if that's not too grand a word. As I dithered for months, never moved by the blustering of the Americans, though sometimes impressed by the reasoning of Blair, now blaming the French, but then again recalling how much I like it in Cannes, now infuriated by the self-defeating tricksiness of Saddam Hussein (remember him?), but then again accepting that cunning can be the only weapon of the cornered, and all along knowing in advance that when the big men's tears begin to roll, I'd be a gonner – as I hung, I say, in this contemptible suspense, I was ripe, if anyone was, for the plucking. Any decent peace movement could have picked me up and made me theirs in seconds.

As it was, they put a wall up, forbidding if you weren't already camped on the other side of it, if you didn't take it as a given that Americans were hyenas, or that the world's stockpiles of poisons would go away by wishing them away, or if you believe that only those capable of listening are capable of answering. And thus they left me out there, where I didn't want to be.

Who cares, you might say. Why bother about me when you can bring nice ladies from Somerset and half the fourth-formers in the country out on to the streets? Well, I don't care about me in this equation, either. But if they couldn't address the concerns of a man in my condition – a nobody loitering by the banks of the River Indecision with his finger fluttering to his lips – how were they ever going to get through to the hard men, to Blair or Bush or Saddam Hussein, or to those who could get through to Blair or Bush or Saddam Hussein, or to those who could get through to those who could get through? The slow drip drip drip of mind-changing. And don't tell me that those who organised for peace never entertained such grandiose ambitions, because in that case who were they trying to reach?

I know the answer to that – one another.

What movement of good faith, knowing life and death hangs on the broadening of its appeal, would put Harold Pinter on its platforms? In a world torn apart by the monotones of bullies and buffoons, what is served by adding to our stock of both?

And who among the unconverted is George Galloway ever going to convince? George Galloway, who thought we should have given the Taliban more time to hand over Osama bin Laden and seeks to minimise Saddam Hussein's treatment of the Marsh Arabs and the Kurds on the grounds that it "took place some time ago". Ring a bell? – but that was in another country, and besides, the wench is dead.

Was it beyond the wit of the peace movement to build into its rhetoric a proper acknowledgement of the heinousness of the Iraqi leader? I know, I know – that was taken as a given. But givens are what we sweep under the carpet. And what's left to look at then is only the heinousness of ourselves. To stop a war, must it always be our own who are the criminally insane? Must we always be more wicked than the other guy? Can we not, at the very least, be equally bad?

How many people, including those who speak to those who speak to Bush or Blair, were unpersuaded by the arguments for peace because those arguments showed not a glimmer of comprehension of the arguments for war?

And then the "associated" causes. Never mind whether people were right or wrong to associate war on Iraq with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict: only ask yourself this – how did insisting on that association help to stop the war, how did the conflation clear our way to understanding and decision, how did it make a friend of anyone who saw no such association, or who detected only politicking and mischief in it. Was such a person not welcome aboard the peace train? Was it worth losing his support in this cause, because you couldn't count on it in another?

Forgive my cynicism, but is it entirely out of the question that some among the hierarchy of the peaceable never wanted peace at all – but, dreaming of comeuppance, see the war as necessary in the unfolding of history, the 100,000 Osama bin Ladens we've been promised as a consequence being just what the doctor ordered.

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