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War spin

Wars usually have powerful backers, even though most people want peace. So where does that leave peace activism today?

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Muriel Duckworth, the veteran Halifax activist, turns 100 this week, still full of hope that the cause of peace will eventually triumph in a world wracked by war (see also "Muriel's century," page 8). Ten years ago, during a peace vigil in Halifax, Duckworth told filmmaker Pat Kipping, "I don't know how you reach people who are making money out of making war, who are getting prestige out of making war, who are exerting their power and getting more power by making war." But then she added characteristically, "Every gathering like this gives you hope." Duckworth is right that war always has powerful backers, but it's also true that most people want peace. Ironically that's something even Hitler's Nazis understood.

"Why of course the people don't want war," Hermann Goering told an American psychologist during his 1946 war crimes trial in Nuremberg, Germany. Hitler's designated successor went on to point out, however, that leaders who want war can always "drag the people along." That's easy, Goering said. "All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

George Bush followed Goering's advice as he repeatedly warned Americans about the perils of Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction. "Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group," Bush claimed. "Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints." He also raised the spectre of an Iraqi nuclear attack: "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof --- the smoking gun---that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." Within months, the Americans were marching merrily off to war.

Canadian officials followed the same playbook to justify our war in Afghanistan. Chief of the defence staff Rick Hillier warned, after bombings on London's transit system, that Canada was also in the terrorist crosshairs. "We can't let up," Hillier told reporters as he announced that Canadian commandos were heading to Afghanistan as part of a 2,000-troop deployment aimed at rooting out what Hillier called "detestable murderers and scumbags."

With dire warnings such as these, it's almost impossible for peace groups to get a fair hearing. The mainstream media repeatedly amplify official fear-mongering, while giving only minimal coverage to anti-war demonstrators. The September Eleventh Peace Coalition, a national group consisting of peace, faith, women's, labour, environmental, cultural and student organizations, rated only 50 words in the Halifax Chronicle-Heraldin October 2001 when it called for a day of protest against Canadian participation in Afghanistan.

Most media coverage got even worse once our war began. The Canadian military adopted the latest American methods for controlling the media---"embedding" reporters with the troops, restricting access to information and limiting journalists' contact with Afghanis. No wonder that Canadians are seeing and hearing remarkably little about the thousands of civilians who are being maimed and killed.

And what they do hear is usually sanitized. A so-called expert last month on CBC radio's The Currentrepeatedly referred to Afghan victims as "collateral damage." What was needed, he opined, was the greater use of "non-kinetic means" for winning hearts and minds. Apparently he meant that instead of bombing and shooting so many innocent people, NATO forces should be building more roads, bridges and schools as though our military forces are benign construction crews rather than highly-trained purveyors of organized violence.

"I connect the kind of violence that we see in our cities and in our homes with the ultimate dependence of the state on violence as a solution," Muriel Duckworth told an interviewer in 2004. "I don't think people recognize that war is the greatest destroyer of human life, the greatest polluter, the greatest creator of refugees, the greatest cause of starvation and illness."

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