Morton's Neroma. That's what the surgeon said. If you walk for a long time on a hard surface, the nerve in your third knuckle on your left foot will fire off, and you'll be in trouble. And so I was, shuffling through the stinking horse manure of London's Whitehall, close to Horseguard's Parade, hanging onto my wife's hand, holding high a placard. A yard ahead an elderly lady pushed a wheelchair containing a young boy with irons on his legs. He was wrapped in blankets, his head lolling to one side. Ahead of them was a group of five elderly ladies from the Women's Institute of Bridgend in Wales loudly proclaiming that they represented a hundred more who couldn't get to London. Behind us a young Asian man roared at intervals into a hand-held loud speaker Tony Blair, Terrorist! George Bush, Terrorist! The battery was fading, but not his voice.
Neither he nor any of us were aware, on that freezing February 15th 2003, that we were part of an unfolding history. As far ahead and as far behind as we could see were young, old, disabled, folk on crutches, babes in arms, teenagers singing, young Asian and Arab men protesting, old couples leaning on each other for support. I had impertinently written to the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and challenged him to be there. But he wasn't. And, apart from a dozen honourable exceptions, neither were the members of our Mother of Parliaments. Most, no doubt, tending to their homes, wives, and cattle. And their directorships.
Ahead, still two hours shuffle away, lay the three hundred and fifty acres of Hyde Park. By afternoon's end we would fill it with angry people, wall to wall, gate to gate. That's a lot of folks. The final estimate, proved by photographic and overhead video evidence, was a minimum of one and a half million. The largest peacetime demonstration that the world had ever seen.
I'd written to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. I'd told him that I'd seen all these lies before, in Vietnam, Iran-Contra, in Britain's conquest of Suez and Cyprus, in America's campaign of lies about Libya. We warned him that Iraq, surrounded as she was by America's enemies, would become another Lebanon, another Cyprus, another Vietnam. Straw and my local member of Parliament told me I was a fool. Leave it to those who understand these things. And we, the little people, were watching it all again. On the US networks, and notably on Fox. Saddam's Winnebagoes of Death. A CIA lie, confidently repeated on every Fox presenter screen. What of Al Jazeera? We'll bomb 'em, bumbled a retired Lieutenant Colonel. Yea. Amazing, urged Fox's Brian Kilmead. But Fox was only part of it. America had over the twentieth century visited many Nine Elevens on other inferior nations, from McKinley's brutal conquest of the Philippines, to Nixon and Kissinger's Two hundred thousand [drowned in a single series of raids over Haiphong] is not enough.
And now war had visited American shores. Nine Eleven demanded revenge, and a frenzy of blind patriotism ran through every level of society, dividing Transatlantic friend from friend, nation from nation. Someone will hear from us, muttered a traumatised President. The Dogs of War were about to be loosed, but no-one could guess where they had mind to run. Or could they? The little people knew, and said it, loud and clear. But the leaders could not hear, would not hear.
And so to Sky television news, and James Rubin, guru of Clinton's White House, a wise man, one who really should know, and certainly not a Neocon. Question time, and as luck would have it, my name came first out of the hat.
Over to Peter of Worcestershire, England. What is your question to James?
Evening James. Nine Eleven was enacted by primitive technology and nineteen willing hearts. How will an invasion of Iraq reduce the number of willing hearts?
Well, thought Jamie, an invasion of Iraq will prove to the Arab world that brutal dictators cannot be allowed to do what they do. And so, surrounding Arab nations will understand that the best route is to adopt democratic ways for their peoples.
Read Jamie's answer again, carefully. Heard it before? How many times? Who said it? Democrat or Liberal? And now, early December 2006, almost four years later? I was watching on CNN and Al Jazeera last evening (and by the way, how is the strongest democracy in the world coping with the "freedom" of information question posed by Al Jazeera?) the lines of minences grises questioning would-be Secretary of State for Defense, Robert Gates.
The thought crossed my mind. Where were these now very wise and thoughtful Senate gentlemen and ladies when we — the little people — were protesting around the world that the Iraq invasion would be based on a lie, was nothing less than a visceral desire for vengeance against the great Them? Where were America's highly paid and educated media bloodhounds when Rumsfeld comically acted out the word "guerrilla" when asked if there were insurgency groups forming in Iraq just weeks after the invasion?
Mrs Clinton and each of those senators voted to support the President in 2002, even though it was obvious and widely known what he intended to do. And they watched, as we all did, the hour-long CIA lies mouthed by Colin Powell with Negroponte sitting at his shoulder like a mournful vulture. And still they supported the war.
Only now, with hundreds of thousands of "inferior" ( la Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity) human beings dead, and Iraq a broken state for decades ahead, does America understand its mistake. But still must for years continue the suffering, the agony, the dying, while there remain "American Interests" to be protected and reinforced. "They" out there must die, while America learns from its mistakes, and while a failing President and a ruling elite attempt to salvage their reputations at home and in history. And when the next Nine Eleven occurs, what will America do?
Thus may I ask — as generously as I can of you, America. What kind of people are you? When will you ever learn?
December 13, 2006