What happens if they give a war and no-one
turns up? Some Western governments (including
Australia's) are trying to whip up public
opinion in favour of a war against Iraq.
But they are not having much luck. In
Britain (where I have just been) the main
supporters of Mr Blair's military ambitions
are in the opposition Conservative party;
many of his Labour backbenchers and most
of the media are - at the very least -
sceptical of the need for a war.
This is not just an issue over Iraq.
I believe there has been a major social
change in Western countries towards the
"peace" issue. After all, during
the Cold War peace groups were branded
as unpatriotic and "Moscow fronts".
Now "peace" is respectable -
it can even be displayed on the Sydney
Harbour Bridge on New Year's Eve as a
greeting to the world.
This helps explain what has happened
to the Australian peace movement. It seems
to have disappeared just when it is needed.
The government is gearing up for a war
against Iraq but there is not the wide
range of peace groups that operated in
the Cold War years.
Instead, the peace movement has become
mainstream, middle-class and middle-of-the-road.
It is now respectable and its values permeate
all sections of society. There has been
a quiet social transformation.
This change in values may be seen in
four ways. Most noticeably, there is a
lack of support for a war against Iraq.
The media and many parts of the general
public are sceptical. This is not from
any love of Saddam Hussein but from a
general sense of combat fatigue. Conventional
military operations do not seem to be
so effective as in the past. After all,
there was a war against Saddam Hussein
11 years ago but that did not solve the
problem. Meanwhile, the US-led operation
in Afghanistan has still not brought peace
to that country. Wars do not seem to settle
anything - they only lead to fresh wars.
Second, there is increased interest in
the roots of war and more imaginative
ways of settling disputes. If conventional
military forces do not work, what could?
On Afghanistan, for example, imagine what
the situation would have been like if
the US had poured foreign aid into the
country in the late 1980s as the Soviet
Union withdrew its forces, so that the
country became a flourishing pro-Western
state. This would have prevented any scope
for the Taliban and Osama bin Laden to
take root in the country.
Third, many of the erstwhile "militaristic"
segments of society are less militaristic.
The ANZAC Day memorials are attracting
larger numbers of people, not least young
people. But the activities are not a glorification
of war - more a regret at the tragic loss
of life. It seems that the grave loss
of life of young people in April 1915
resonates with the fears of young people
about their own future and how a group
of old men can still ruin lives.
Meanwhile, military institutions are
re-inventing themselves. For example,
on November 11 2002, Remembrance Day,
the Imperial War Museum in London hosted
the 1995 Nobel Laureate Sir Joseph Rotblat
speaking on "A World Without War.
Is it Desirable?"
Fourth, the Australian Defence Force
now enjoys the highest level of public
support since World War II. In particular,
its peacekeeping operation in East Timor
is seen by peace activists as redeeming
Australia's tarnished image created by
the pro-Jakarta Australian governments
from Whitlam onwards. Thus, peace activists
have had to re-evaluate their own attitudes
towards the military and so recognize
that they do have an important role in
this new era of peacekeeping.
Therefore, there is a greater sense of
"peace" among the previously
differing segments of society and a greater
willingness to work together. The old
feuds between "warmongers" and
"peaceniks" no longer make sense.
The new era of warfare requires new ways
Warfare used to be international and
conventional. Now it is increasingly internal
and guerrilla. Large fighting formations
no longer bring lasting peace (as both
the Soviets and the Americans have found
in Afghanistan). Instead, military operations
have to be seen in the broader context
of not only winning the war but also winning
the peace. This means co-operating with
international relief organizations and
non-governmental organizations. It also
means trying to find other ways of settling
disputes. We are all "peace activists"
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