Why the War Was Wrong

The Coalition is bogged down in Iraq and the mounting death toll of Westerners suggests a growing resistance to the occupation. In light of the continuing problems in post-Saddam Iraq, seven Australian academics and commentators have laid out their reasons for opposing Gulf War II from a moral, philosophical, legal, ethical and humanitarian viewpoint. Edited by philosopher Raimond Gaita, they attempt to answer some fundamental questions. What led Prime Minister John Howard to eagerly embrace the rationale for war? Why was the public lied to over weapons of mass destruction? Why were the media and government so dismissive of Iraqi casualties, civilian and army?

La Trobe University academic and commentator Robert Manne opens his chapter with a comprehensive summary of the neo-conservative movement in the US and its ever-increasing influence within the Bush administration. September 11, 2001 was the perfect opportunity to exploit their American hegemonic ideology, of which Manne says, “I am certain that they [the neo-cons] knew that while the story they circulated before the invasion might be useful for propaganda purposes it was, for all other purposes, utterly absurd.” Manne offers no major revelations, and while giving Howard’s modus operandi for Australia’s military involvement, he admits that those who opposed the war, including himself, have to recognise that if their road was followed, Saddam would still be in power.

Goerge Bush, Tony Blair and Howard claimed before the war that international law and UN Resolutions justified military action in Iraq. Hillary Charlesworth, Professor of International Law at Australian National University, dismisses these claims and instead argues for a serious discussion about the true meaning of humanitarian intervention in the 21st century.

The reporting of deaths in the war concerns Eva Sallis, an award-winning Australian author, and she focuses on our ability “on an emotional level, to go to war against one man.” Sallis convincingly argues that all human life is sacred, and should not be viewed differently when “we” fight against “them.” Raimond Gaita continues this line of thought, albeit in a more philosophical, but at times overlong, way. He asks the questions, however, that our daily media rarely asks. How can a nation like ours claim to believe in the sanctity of life, yet “destroy, with unrelenting ruthlessness, the lives of many who seek asylum in this country, or bomb solders as mercilessly as the Americans do.”

Peter Coghlan, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Australian Catholic University, writes perhaps the most far-ranging essay, and outlines the reason why the war could never have been successful: America simply doesn’t get the Arab world. The US wanted to remake Iraq in its own image, argues Coghlan, and the top-down management so favoured by Washington is indeed causing continued trouble in Iraq. Writer Guy Rundle instead focuses on the worldwide left, and the challenges ahead in the face of such dominant global right-wing ideology. He demands nothing less than a re-evaluation of the movement’s ideals, because “the left can no longer regard international relations as simply the politicking of capitalist states.”

Mark McKenna, an Australian Research Council Fellow in History at ANU, closes with a wonderfully concise dissection of Howard’s use and abuse of the Anzac myth, to both silence anti-war critics and place himself as “patriotic defender” of Australian soldiers. McKenna claims Howard has created numerous false myths about Australia’s past in order to strengthen his hand, as “peddling false history becomes a means of exerting control over the politics of war.”


Antony Loewenstein is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia. 

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