It is now widely accepted that the invasion of Iraq has been a disaster and that “if the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, the consequences could be severe for Iraq, the United States, the region and the world.” This view is no longer confined to critics of the war, but is the unanimous conclusion of the Iraq Study Group published on 6 December 2006. This is a ten member bipartisan panel appointed 66% of Americans disapprove of the government’s handling of the war and 70% of Iraqis have a mostly negative view of the influence of the United States on their country. 61% of Iraqis approve of attacks on US led forces. in March 2006 by the United States Congress, that was charged with assessing the situation in Iraq and the US led Iraq war and making policy recommendations. It is also the publicly stated view of the newly appointed Chief of the UK Defence Staff, General Sir Richard Dannalt who said in a newspaper interview in October 2006 that we should “get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems”.
And on 19 December 2006 Britain’s most respected foreign policy think tank Chatham House issued a report which found that Britain’s decision to back the US war in Iraq was a “terrible mistake”.
The general public in the US, the UK and Iraq have reached the same conclusion. According to the Iraq Study Group 66 percent of Americans disapprove of the government’s handling of the war and 70 percent of Iraqis have a mostly negative view of the influence of the United States on their country. 61 percent of Iraqis approve of attacks on US led forces. According to a CNN poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation 15-17 December 2006, 70 percent disapprove of the way George W Bush is handling the situation in Iraq and 67 percent oppose the war. A Guardian/ICM poll in the UK on 24 October showed that a majority of voters want British troops to be pulled out of Iraq by the end of the year. And in an ICM poll conducted in a number of countries in early November 2006, British voters see George Bush as a greater threat to world peace than either North Korea’s Kim Jong-il or Iranian President Muhammed Ahmadinejad. Only 7 percent of British people think that military action in Iraq and Afghanistan has increased world security and only 44 percent support the decision to go to war in Iraq.
The purpose of this book is not to rehearse these arguments. There are large numbers of other books that do that and that also expose the extent of the deceit used by Bush and Blair to persuade their countries into this war. This book instead focuses on the These are brave and honest young men. It takes more courage to say no than to go along with the crowd. They have not been listened to enough because unlike Vietnam, the US army is not conscripted and recruitment is therefore confined to young people with limited life opportunities whose families are not well connected and able to articulate their views through the media. individual soldiers who are forced to kill and die to prop up this failing policy. A British army officer dressed in plain clothes stopped me in Whitehall some months ago to support my criticism of Tony Blair’s Iraq policy. He added that it was a terrible part of the responsibility of army officers to have to talk with the parents of those who had died under their command. He said that this was obviously always a terrible responsibility, but that when one was involved in a war in which the country did not believe and where deceit had been used to justify the war, the task was unbearable. And there has been a terribly large amount of killing and dying in Iraq. Up to December 2006 nearly 2,900 Americans have lost their lives. Another 21, 000 have been wounded, many severely. 126 British service personnel have lost their lives and an estimated 1000 have been severely injured.
According to a study conducted by the John Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in October 2006, as many as 654,965 Iraqis may have died since hostilities began in Iraq in March 2003 than would have been expected under pre-war conditions. 91.8 percent of these deaths were caused by violence and 26 percent of them by coalition forces.
There has been much passion in public debate in the UK about the war and the failure to hold politicians to account. There has been a dignified campaign run by Military Families Against the War, led by parents who have lost children and feel deeply aggrieved that there is no honour in the war in which their children died.
Those who support the war make constant tributes to the courage of the troops and send repeated messages of condolence to families who have lost a child. But we have heard very little from the troops themselves and in particular from soldiers who have decided that the war is wrong and have the courage to refuse to serve. This is the voice we hear in this book. It tells how low-income young people are recruited with false promises into the US military. And we also hear the words of those who served and can bear it no longer, who flee to Canada or go on the run.
These are brave and honest young men. It takes more courage to say no than to go along with the crowd. They have not been listened to enough because unlike Vietnam, the US army is not conscripted and recruitment is therefore confined to young people with limited life opportunities whose families are not well connected and able to articulate their views through the media. The book tells the stories of a small group of people, but once you have read it you are reminded of how brutal and ugly war is for all who are involved. The politicians tell lies and make misjudgements and put at risk the lives, wellbeing and mental health of vast numbers of other people’s children. In this book we hear from those who are brave enough to say “no”.