By Barun Mitra
While war brings enormous human tragedy, there are times when it is necessary as a last step in order to defend freedom and restore peace. This is where the present anti-war movements have got it completely wrong. The peace activists are protesting against the war in Iraq. They are concerned about the possible human sufferings in the event of a war. But it is perhaps no coincidence that the same activists had hardly shown any concern for the sufferings of the people living under various brutal regimes like that of Saddam Hussain. In fact many of the activists seem to rationalise that these regimes are all products of US and other interventions. And when the US at last seems to recognise the limitations of realpolitik, and rectify the mistakes of the Cold War years, it is condemned for being neo-colonial.
The peace movements have been spectacularly wrong from the days of Neville Chamberlain’s declaration of “peace in our time” following his meeting with Hitler. Within months Europe was engulfed in war. Likewise, it could be argued that the anti-nuclear activists in Europe had only helped prolong the life of the Soviet empire, by focussing exclusively on disarmament in the 1970s, while the collapse of the “evil empire” was hastened by its inability to keep pace with economic and technological progress in the Western alliance. The military build up under Ronald Reagan may have been the final straw that broke the camel’s back, and led to the collapse of the most powerful and oppressive state on earth, without firing a shot. But this was no thanks to the peace activists. This is perhaps one reason why western peace movements find few takers in countries which have finally been liberated from tyrannical rulers.
Even the anti-Vietnam protests, the most successful of peace movements that led to the withdrawal of the US forces from Vietnam, did not look beyond the loss of American lives. The peace movements turned a blind eye to the brutality that befell people in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos following the US withdrawal. For nearly a decade people risked their lives to take the boat ride to freedom. And the most preferred destination was the US, the country that had fought a decade long war in Indo-China. The track record of peace movements in dealing with recent tragedies that engulfed countries such as Rwada, Congo, Bosnia, Kosovo, Burma, and many others, has hardly been noteworthy. So it was no coincidence that ordinary Afghans cheered the arrival of US led forces in Kabul with the fall of the Taliban regime. And there is every reason to believe Iraqis will welcome the liberation from three decades of Saddam’s misrule. Saddam was recently re-elected with almost 100 per cent of votes, there cannot be a better illustration of the fatal weakness of his regime.
Most importantly, the peace movements have completely misunderstood the roots of peace and prosperity — freedom. They seem to be oblivious of the fact that the freedom they enjoy to protest against their own governments is not available to people in Iraq.
Indeed, the freedom enjoyed by the peace movements in free countries, is not merely an indication of divided opinion in many of these countries, but more importantly an indication of the enormous strength of free societies to absorb such diverse range of views. Even while the activists take to the streets to protest the war in Iraq, they provide the most vivid demonstration of the power of freedom.
It is time, therefore, to recognise that aspiration for freedom is universal. And people in Iraq, and many other Arab and Muslim countries deserve to enjoy the same freedom that many of us take for granted. If the peace movements don’t recognise the aspirations the people of Iraq, the Iraqis will seek to find their own freedom, consigning to the dustbin of history the peace movements that sought to perpetuate the staus quo.
(The writer is the director of Liberty Institute, an independent think-tank based in New