|Wilfred Owen Award Speech - 18 th 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.
What would 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.
An independent 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 chaos.
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 governments.