Owen Award Speech – 18th March 2005
This is a true
honour. Wilfred Owen was a great poet. He articulated the tragedy,
the horror and indeed the pity — of war — in a way no other poet
has. Yet we have learnt nothing. Nearly 100 years after his death
the world has become more savage, more brutal, more pitiless.
But the "free
world" we are told (as embodied in the United States and Great
Britain) is different to the rest of the world since our actions
are dictated and sanctioned by a moral authority and a moral passion
condoned by someone called God. Some people may find this difficult
to comprehend but Osama Bin Laden finds it easy.
Wilfred Owen make of the invasion of Iraq? A bandit act, an act
of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for
the concept of International Law. An arbitrary military action inspired
by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media
and therefore of the public. An act intended to consolidate American
military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading —
as a last resort (all other justifications having failed to justify
themselves) — as liberation. A formidable assertion of military
force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands upon
thousands of innocent people.
and totally objective account of the Iraqi civilian dead in the
medical magazine The Lancet estimates that the figure approaches
100,000. But neither the US or the UK bother to count the Iraqi
dead. As General Tommy Franks (US Central Command) memorably said:
"We don’t do body counts."
We have brought
torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random
murder, misery and degradation to the Iraqi people and call it "bringing
freedom and democracy to the Middle East." But, as we all know,
we have not been welcomed with the predicted flowers. What we have
unleashed is a ferocious and unremitting resistance, mayhem and
You may say
at this point: what about the Iraqi elections? Well President Bush
himself answered this question only the other day when he said "We
cannot accept that there can be free democratic elections in a country
under foreign military occupation."
I had to read
that statement twice before I realised that he was talking about
Lebanon and Syria.
What do Bush
and Blair actually see when they look at themselves in the mirror?
I believe Wilfred
Owen would share our contempt, our revulsion, our nausea and our
shame at both the language and the actions of the American and British
Pinter, playwright and poet, is the 2005 Nobel Laureate for Literature.