Judy Davis: `We do not support your war'
BY JUDY DAVIS*
[Speaking to anti-war rally in Sydney, Australia, 30 Nov 2002]:
I remember my horror the day in 1991 that the US military attacked the retreating Iraqi army on the road from Kuwait to Basra in Iraq. The war had been won, Saddam Hussein had announced a complete troop withdrawal from Kuwait in compliance with UN resolution 660 and a defeated, starving army was making its slow journey home. The attack left thousands of charred, dismembered bodies and 2000 vehicles littered along the 90 kilometres of highway.
The attack was a violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention, common article 3, which outlaws the killing of soldiers who are “out of combat”. No attempt was made by the US military command to distinguish between military personnel and civilians. It was as if a declaration had been made — rules of etiquette no longer apply. There will be no more discourse.
War is, of course, the ultimate failure in communication, but the West has long believed it has had the edge on civility. We can no longer take comfort in this fantasy. Those who support Prime Minister John Howard's easy war rhetoric, those who believe in that fantasy, should educate themselves about the society they intend to destroy.
1) As of early 2001, the bombardment of Iraq had lasted longer than the US invasion of Vietnam. In October 1999, US officials were telling the Wall Street Journal they would soon be running out of targets — “We're down to the last outhouse”.
2) Iraq's levels of nutrition, schooling and public services were once well above regional standards, with a per capita GNP of over $3000. Today, courtesy of UN economic sanctions, it is under $500, making it one of the poorest societies on Earth.
A land that once had high levels of literacy and an advanced system of health care has been devastated by the West. Its people are denied the basic necessities of existence; its soil is polluted by uranium-tipped warheads.
3) According to 2001 UN figures, some 60% of the Iraqi population has no regular access to clean water.
4) In 1997, the Food and Agriculture Organisation reckoned that 27% of Iraqis were suffering from chronic malnutrition, and 70% of all women were anaemic.
5) The United Nations Children's Fund reports that in the southern and central regions of Iraq, which contain 85% of the country's population, infant mortality has doubled compared to the pre-Gulf War period. In 1997, it reported that 4500 children under the age of five were dying each month from hunger and disease.
6) In late 1998, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, former UN assistant secretary general Denis Halliday, resigned from his post in protest against the blockade, declaring that the total deaths it had caused could be upwards of 1 million.
Down to the last outhouse, indeed.
The majority of Australians remain unconvinced by the Howard government. The majority of Australians do not want their country to be responsible for any further misery and death in Iraq. I don't believe that the current fear-mongering campaign run by the government and the media will succeed. I believe that the majority of Australians are indeed a peaceful, tolerant people, that the stigmatising of Islamic Australians appalls us, that Howard's vision of the future is utterly alien to our beliefs.
We're being told that the war is against the Iraqi regime, not the Iraqi people. I challenge Howard, therefore, to revise his views on refugees. I challenge him to justify his government's treatment of Iraqi asylum seekers. Have we fallen into a moral abyss?
I challenge the Labor Party politicians to show moral courage. The time has come for people in public office to stop wasting energy second-guessing the public — forget about the polls. We want to know what you actually believe in, we need to know you'll risk your political futures for what you believe in. We need tolerance, compassion, we need wisdom from you. Maybe then, we'll listen to you.
But we will not slide into the moral abyss, with blood on our hands. Mr Howard, you haven't presented us with a single compelling reason for the further slaughter of innocent people. We do not support your war in Iraq.
[* Judy Davis is a renowned Australian actor. This speech was delivered to the November 30 Walk Against War rally in the Sydney Domain. It has been slightly abridged.]