Yesterday the lines lit up and the question was: ?We want to make a video to give peace a chance. Are you in??
I?ve done three videos like this in my life with varying degrees of success: Band Aid – ?Do They Know It?s Christmas?? Voice of LA ?Stand And Be Proud? and The Peace Choir ?Give Peace A Chance.?
Band Aid was easily the most effective and arguably saved millions of lives from starvation in Africa in the mid 80?s (see Band Aid diary icon on your left). ?Stand And Be Proud? which was designed to show a united city in LA after the damaging riots was a stunning achievement for all those who took part and featured a multi ethnic choir and orchestra numbering 1500 people but did not reach its destined audience. Give Peace A Chance was last minute attempt to stop the Gulf War – and obviously no one took a blind bit of notice of that one!
After some consideration I tried to imagine the effectiveness of a new bunch of solemn-faced pop-stars standing around a microphone begging Bush, Blair and any other belligerent allies they can convince not to drop a load of smart bombs on thousands of Iraqis half a world away and I tell you I can?t see it working – even worse I?m afraid it sends the wrong message.
By chance I last night finished reading ?Ambushed? by Ian Stewart, an autobiographical account of a Canadian war journalist?s remarkable escape from death in the civil war in Sierra Leone, and today at lunch I read articles by famous war photographer Don McCullin and war reporter Maggie O?Kane in Rolling Stone. I read about war a lot. In the past 2 years I?ve read complete histories of the First and Second World War and the American Civil War. I?ve read two different books about the fight for Iwo Jima, and books about the Submarine campaign in the North Atlantic and the bombing campaign launched by the US Army Air Force on Germany. I have pored over photographic volumes of dead Vietnam War photographers and read and re-read Don McCullin?s ?Unreasonable Behaviour.? In words of one syllable one?s conclusion can only be: WAR SUCKS.
I?ve never seen a bullet fired in anger but my father was a military pilot his whole working life as was his brother. I was born after the end of WW2 but vividly remember that the centre of every British city I visited as a child – Bradford, Bristol, Sheffield, Leeds, Birmingham, London, Coventry – was a pile of rubble awaiting the funds for rebuilding. As a child I also lived in Germany and saw the same destruction in the centre of Cologne. The phrase bomb-site was as common a part of my lexicography as building-site would be in yours. As a child I remember seeing a picture of my father wearing shorts holding his revolver outside his tent in Cyprus where he was stationed for 9 months during ?The Troubles? and fearing for his safe return. Later I too would live in Cyprus where I?d see bullet holes in walls and graffiti which was still painted with the words Enoka or Eosis – the acronyms for the warring factions. When I was twelve I visited Beirut and saw the city just months before it collapsed in bitter fighting and later watched the hotel where we’d stayed taking artillery fire on the 9 o’clock news. When I was 19 I visited Munich for the Olympics and stood in shock with other teenagers from all over Europe as I listened on German radio and heard the news about the death of the Israeli athletes. I have stayed in the Europa Hotel in Belfast which has its own entry in the Guinness Book of Records because it has been so frequently bombed. Last year I crawled through the frightening Chu-Chi tunnels outside Ho Chi Minh City and then in Spain was shown the bullet ridden walls where thousands upon thousands of innocent civilians were murdered in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War.
Throughout my entire youth whenever I took anything for granted, was shiftless, lazy, rude or unproductive my parents would tell me their experiences of their years surviving the Blitz. My parents both went to work in Germany after the war and would tell me endless stories of shortages and sacrifices – and they were on the side of the victors. My parents actively discouraged me from becoming interested in the armed services – they were for peace – but even so I remember my Mother once being berated by a German friend: ?Für sie, immer den Kreig!? ?For you, it?s always about the war.? For my parents the war was the all consuming drama of their lives by which everything else was measured.
I bore you with this list of ?achievements? to say: ?I haven?t been in a war but I know a little of the damage that war can do.?
And now we want to Blitz Bagdad. The official line is that a) it will be a clean surgical process; b) ?collateral damage? (i.e. death to innocent civilians) will be minimal and c) it will all be over fast. Well, a) the articles I read in Rolling Stone at lunch today suggest that what we think we know about the surgical brilliance of the Gulf War is not really the whole story and pictures of dead bodies whether Iraqi or American were rarely taken or allowed to be published; b) It seems likely that collateral damage will be bigger than we?d like to believe and c) I?d just like to remind us all of that most infamous of pre-war expressions: ?It will all be over by Christmas.”
If we go into Iraq we may indeed neutralize weapons of mass destruction (which if they exist may never be used – who can predict?) but we will also injure, mentally and physically, large numbers, I mean huge numbers, of people. If we are to do this then we the public need to be aware of what we are doing – let us be COMPLETELY aware of what we are doing. Lying through the press and hiding images from us of the terrible truth of what we are committing in the name of world peace will not cut it. If not we will be guilty through our innocence.
If I am to be involved in some filmic thing at this stage of the pre-war hubbub I want it to be about the images of what war does. Tattooed teens singing about peace is great but it won?t do anything but wind people up. Let?s be brutal and be aware of the truth – let?s not nest and cosset ourselves and hide away in SUV-land and switch channels. Let?s see the blood for it will shock and scare and sadden us. I will not make a video of singers singing songs of peace for it?s own sake.
Read all you can about war and never stop if only so you understand how horrifying it is. In the Donald McCullin book I mentioned he recounts his life as a war photographer, its reality, its addictiveness, its glamour and its brutality. But eventually you understand that trying to bring truth to the world damages a man who started out with the highest of intentions – to show the world that war will not work. As he recounts his life away from war in the final chapter of his book you become aware that he is a deeply sad man. This is how he finishes his book:
?My son Alexander sometimes stays with me, but mostly I?m alone in my house in Somerset. The ghosts in my filing cabinets sometimes seem to mock me – the ghosts of all those dead in all those wars, especially that little Biafran boy. Now, since that last head-on collision with life, there are also the ghosts of my loves. With this book perhaps they will be set free.? (Unreasonable Behaviour – Don McCullin).