Extracts from the introduction*: Martin Bell writes
“This is a time for storm warnings if ever there was one. Some of those storms, of war and terrorism, are already breaking over us. We worry ourselves to bits about little and local issues footpaths, flight paths, career paths and the like, as if the conditions of peace and freedom, on which our societies depend for their normal functioning, are natural entitlements, which can safely be taken for granted . . .
It is when war becomes a local issue that we really will have something to worry about. And it is worth remembering that in the end war always is a local issue, claiming individual lives in specific places. It is the trench or cellar or street or field where its victims, soldiers or civilians, breathe their last. It is the pilot who says, `I didn’t know who was there. I really didn’t care. You fall totally into execute mode and kill the target‘ . . .
“If we don’t blow ourselves into oblivion the quest for regime change, or whatever other military adventures attract our leaders, and if we don’t continue to go to war for its own sake, then future generations will look back on life in the Western democracies at the start of the twenty-first century, at least until 11 September 2001, as a sort of golden age, or fools’ paradise – depending on the strength of the hostile forces ranged against us.
From where I have been and what I have seen, my antennae tell me that the fools’ paradise theory is very much nearer the mark. The Second Gulf War, an exercise of raw power that applied the values of the Wild West to the relations between states, has sharpened the edge of the argument . . .
“We share with creatures who are in every respect less destructive than we are. With a few exceptions, the fiercest predator or venomous reptile kills only one at a time, for food or in self-defence, and is benign in relation to man.
“We kill our own more than any other species on earth, and we do it to the point of genocide. In the ratio of civilian to military casualties, the wars in the collapsed states of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have mocked the Geneva Conventions and victimized the innocent to an unprecedented degree.
“Weapons of mass destruction proliferate – and not only those in the hands of sovereign or rogue states. A passenger jet flown into a skyscraper is as much a weapon of mass destruction as a nuclear warhead. So is a sea mine rolled downhill into a village, or a 500 pound aircraft bomb bolted to a rocket and fired into a crowded city centre, or a mortar bomb aimed at a market place. These are not imagined examples. I have seen their effects at first hand . . .
“The Cold War was safer than this . . .
“Our way of life is defended by new and ever more ingenious ways of death. The sole remaining superpower seeks out its enemies and blasts them with the firepower of its missiles, drones, long-range bombers and carrier-based aircraft. By answering terror with counter-terror, it bids for the status of the world’s most hated nation. Too bad about the collateral damage and the needless taking of life. The higher the warplanes fly, the harder it is for their pilots to distinguish between a friend and a foe, an allied and an enemy reconnaissance vehicle (Iraq), a tank and a tractor (Kosovo), a terrorist cell and a wedding party (Afghanistan). The mark of Cain is upon us . . .
Language is another casualty
“When we speak of degrading an enemy’s assets, what we actually mean is killing people – the unarmed and the armed, the innocent and the guilty, blown to bits in the same high-explosive inferno. The same applies to `blue on blue’ or ‘friendly fire’ – the code for attacking our allies. Power and ignorance, like officers and maps, are a dangerous combination . . .
“The United Nations, the last best hope of mankind, is a forlorn cave of winds on New York’s First Avenue – invoked (when it is convenient to do so and bypassed when it isn’t
“The most vital issues of war and peace are resolved in something close to a state of anarchy. The rule of international law is whatever the White House, with an obedient echo from Downing Street, says that it is in the New American Century. ‘If we need to act we will act,’ said President Bush, `and we don’t need the approval of the United Nations to do so’ . . .
The war in Iraq, waged without a specific or sufficient United Nations mandate, was the sort of imperial enterprise that, in the sweep of history, belonged more to the nineteenth than the twenty-first, century. It was gunboat diplomacy, conducted not with ships’ cannons, but with all the weapons of mass destruction that at the science of the new millennium can procure . . .
Our media, which should be informing us, are instead turning out the light and joining the stampede from reality in the blind and mad pursuit of commercial advantage, of profit without honour.
“The culture of celebrity, like an army of ants, has colonized the news pages both tabloid and broadsheet . . . Television is the god that failed . . . It has not yet become the worst that it can be, but it is working hard on the project and is still on a downward trajectory. Just when you think it has hit the bottom, it finds new depths to plumb.
“The outcome is that it serves us less as a window on the world than as a barrier to it. Its screen is only a screen in the original sense – something that blocks our view of what lies on the other side of it . . . and then, because we find these things strangely unreal (and they have already been censored by the `good taste brigade’ of broadcasting to stop them upsetting us too much), we take refuge in `reality TV’ and the bromides of Big Brother.
“Our reach has exceeded our grasp. Something is seriously out of joint. We are left with no heroes, but only celebrities. We need a survival strategy, but seem to lack enough of what it takes to put one together: understanding, courage, compassion, common sense, connectedness, care for each other, steadiness under fire and memory.
“What follows is a journey through the new world disorder Better fasten your seat belts. This could be a rough ride.”
*THROUGH GATES OF FIRE – A journey into World Disorder, by Martin Bell, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003