Has An Anti-war Campaign Ever Been So Mainstream?

Now even Doctor Who has come out against the war in Iraq. It turns out the Christmas edition contains a thinly veiled anti-war message. And this follows the recent release of an anti-war album by Burt Bacharach, which could create the most relaxed anti-war movement there’s ever been.

Campaigners won over by Burt will issue a petition declaring: “We the undersigned object to the occupation of Iraq as immoral, illegal and much too loud.”

Just before that, Dolly Parton released an album of anti-war cover versions, and most astonishing of all Leo Sayer declared George Bush a war criminal.

Has an anti-war campaign ever been so mainstream? It wouldn’t be surprising if Roger Whittaker released an album called Whistle Against the War, including a whistled version of “All Along the Watch Tower” with guest star Des O’Connor. Or if the Mike Sammes Singers reformed to sing harmonised extracts from Robin Cook’s cabinet resignation speech, in a one-off “Sing Something Simple”.

Maybe Anne Robinson will insist on an anti-war Weakest Link special, with John Pilger competing against Tony Benn, Michael Moore and Sheikh Abu Hamza (“So, the capital of Peru is ’Caracas’ is it? What’s the matter, does all that praying leave no time for geography, Abu?”).

Agents of celebrities will drop their practice of insisting their clients will only answer anodyne questions on chat shows, and insist they’re asked about the Middle East. So Westlife will appear on Saturday morning kid’s TV, and when asked “What’s your favourite way of relaxing”, they’ll say: “Forcing the withdrawal of a warmongering misadventure, and then laying in a Jacuzzi.” Then they’ll announce they’re all going on the next anti-war march, as long as they’re allowed to mime the chants while someone else shouts them.

Alan Titchmarsh will host an edition of Ground Force from Fallujah – “Oo my goodness, this is quite a state isn’t it. Well never mind, we’ve got three days to get everything shipshape and let’s hope those bloomin’ Americans keep themselves to themselves from now on. Now, let’s start by covering this rubble with some trellis.”

BBC and ITV will compete for the rights to a show in which 12 activists live together in a house, each taking it in turns to creep under the fence at a defence base and smash up the fuel tank of a Tornado bomber, with viewers voting each week to shop their least favourite to the military police.

The transformation is even more notable in America, as three years ago any entertainer slightly nervous about the war was subjected to national vitriol. But a few weeks ago, when I was in New York, I saw the main breakfast news programme, all about missing cats turning up in toilet cisterns, and truck drivers attempting the world record for eating raw bacon – and then came a series of interviews with members of “Grandmothers Against the War”.

This was followed by an announcement of forthcoming anti-war protests, and details of how to get to them. I expected it to end with jocular conversational newsreaders saying: “Hey Laura, I have to say a trip downtown to push through lines of cops looks like a lot of fun this weekend. Let’s hope the protest weather stays good, and talking of weather, here’s Arnie with an update.”

If you’ve been opposed to wars for a long while, the current vogue can be quite disconcerting, like if you’ve followed an obscure band that suddenly has a hit single. There was a time when celebrity statements against wars were signed by a classical harmonica player and a bloke who’d been on The Bill. Then there’d be a fundraising benefit consisting of a posh actress reading a Lebanese poem, an Armenian beating a carpet to signify tolerance, and an announcement that in the foyer there was an exhibition of pacifist upholstery.

So some older anti-war activists may well be cynical, and complain: “Yeah, but if Doctor Who was really anti-war he’d nip back to the 13th century and hold a candlelit vigil against the crusades. Or at least persuade the Daleks to march up Whitehall chanting: ’2-4-6-8 – who shall we exterminate?’”

Worldwide, there always was a majority opposed to this war, but that’s now the case in Britain and America as well, which represents a larger opposition than there ever was against the war in Vietnam. And the minority that do still back the occupation feel sheepish about saying so, with no coherent justification. Yet it can feel immensely frustrating, as, despite that, somehow the warriors still get away with it. Except that – to a certain degree they don’t.

The other way of judging the impact of the anti-war movement is to imagine what Bush would have done if there hadn’t been any opposition. When he stood beneath his “Mission Accomplished” sign, he must have assumed he could march into wherever he liked, but instead he, his military and his project are stuck in a rut that can’t even keep Burt Bacharach quiet.

And in Britain, there must be several members of the current Cabinet who first thought about joining the Labour Party round about the same time that the charts were occupied with “You Make me Feel Like Dancing”. I wonder if they thought: “Some may mock my ambition to make the world fairer, more equal and more peaceful. But one day I’ll be a prominent member of a government way to the right of the bloke singing that, so much he calls us war criminals.”


Leave a comment