Terrence McKenna used to describe the news media as “an intelligence test,” and “the way you pass the test is you ignore it”. In that respect, as an insatiable ‘news junkie,’ I’m a huge failure. To me the news is like a film or a soap opera. So much so that I sometimes slip into the trap of forgetting these events are real and the people portrayed in them are not fictional characters. Perhaps this is the reason behind my surprise reaction to Tony Blair’s grilling today at the hands of the Iraq War inquiry: I found myself frequently agreeing with him!
Firstly I was disarmed by the fact that he wasn’t the simpering Shakespearian villain I’d come to imagine. So reviled and demonised is he, that I’d expected to see Iago waltz into view and finally get his comeuppance. Instead I got a man who made a decision, which I still at core disagree with, putting his case forward very well. Without wanting to trivialise it too much I think I’d expected some guy in one of those caricatured Blair masks to walk on and for the audience to gasp when they noticed the blood on his hands. Then he'd be put in the stocks before the jeering crowd. On reflection this made me think that the anti-war movement, of which at points I’ve been an active part, do themselves a disservice by portraying him as a panto villain.
I’m certain that in the past I’ve indulged in this. In my anger at the war and the sense that our voices were ignored I’ve probably called for Blair to be tried for war crimes and so forth, but recently I’ve started to wonder what exactly that achieves? I didn’t realise it at the time but this rhetoric only simplifies the debate. Imagine the consequences if such a fantasy were to be enacted and he really did end up in The Hague. The far reaching consequences for our country are unlikely to be positive.
There was a moment early on during his 6 hour cross examination when he announced that if he were still in power Iran would have to watch their step. I couldn’t help but think that might be a good thing. In the eyes of many Iranians, particularly the ones in power, people in the UK are part of “the great Satan”. They're Zionist collaborators who should be wiped off the map. When they have a nuke the power shift will be huge. If they knew we had no qualms about invading them would that make us safer? This is not a rhetorical question, I have no idea of the answer. The point I’m making is that when I was listening to ‘uncle Tony’ I posed it to myself for the first time.
I’ve already had emails from people accusing me of being a “sell out” and all the rest of it, but I’m just being honest. His performance was good and, when I’d watched it all, I began to question ideas I’ve held for years. It left me feeling conflicted and confused. If I’d have been in that crowd of protestors outside I don’t think I’d have been joining in their chanting with the same zeal I might have done a few years ago. To me they looked like “the mob” who, if they got their way, would get out the guillotine and never stop. Perhaps it’s my naturally contrary nature, or maybe it’s the power of a television broadcast and I’ve just been through a savage pro-war indoctrination session.
Recently I’ve been listening to Aldous Huxley’s famous 1962 Berkley UC speech about the dangers of future tyrannical regimes and the fact that they will have a powerful arsenal of weaponry with which to wage war on the minds of their citizens. One thing he talks about is the then emerging technology of television. He worries about the idea of charismatic dictators like Hitler and Stalin having access to people’s minds so directly via their TV sets. Given what I’ve just written about demonising people I’d like to point out that Blair is not a Hitler or a Stalin but the point remains. For a while he effectively sat in my front room and made his case for war. Words are thought control and he had the steering wheel to my mind firmly in his grip. On reflection I still don’t agree that he made the right decision but, who knows, perhaps if it’d been in HD...