Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When 3 Million People Across the World Took to the Streets to Stop the War

by MIKE MARQUSEE

Three years ago, the world witnessed something unprecedented. On the same day, in 900 cities in forty countries north and south, east and west, thirty million people took to the streets in protest against the imminent attack on Iraq. There were demonstrations in Moscow, Karachi, Dhaka, Manila, Johannesburg, Cairo, Kinshasa, Tel Aviv, among many others, but the biggest turn-outs were in the belligerent nations. The marches in Britain, Spain, Italy and Australia were probably the largest in their countries’ histories.

On 15th February 2003, I was lucky enough to find myself in New York. Here, in the city whose suffering on 9/11 had been the pretext for the escalating war on terror, half a million people braved freezing temperatures and police hostility to voice their dissent, their rage and their hopes. In race, age, sexuality and occupation the protesters were as diverse as the city itself. And it was clear from the speeches and from comments in the crowd that the dissident New Yorkers took comfort in the global nature of this protest. They knew they formed part of a human majority.

There had been international protests in the past, but on those occasions a turn-out of a few thousand in half a dozen cities might have been deemed a success. February 15th was something different: in numbers, in geographical spread, and in its impact on public consciousness.

Nonetheless, three years on, the war in Iraq continues, and the protesters’ fears have been realised many times over. The US-UK invasion uncovered no weapons of mass destruction but did plunge millions of Iraqis into even greater misery than they had known before, which is why in a survey of Iraqi opinion conducted by the British Ministry of Defence, 82% wanted a prompt end to the occupation. Iraqis have endured three years of lawlessness, disrupted power and water supplies, human rights abuses (tens of thousands detained without charge, many tortured), economic breakdown, increasing disease, and lethal violence.

Bush himself conceded that he thought 30,000 Iraqis had been killed in the conflict so far. A statistical analysis recently published in the US-based Counterpunch magazine working from data collected in 2004 by researchers from Johns Hopkins University concludes that the “best estimate for deaths inflicted to date as a result of the invasion and occupation stands at 183,000. Even the facts as presented by the Pentagon imply death and injury on a huge scale. A report to Congress indicates that in the second half of 2005 there were on average 60 Iraqis killed per day a fifty per cent increase over the previous year. In the same six-month period, US forces conducted more than 400 air-strikes, involving bombers, gunships or unmanned drones. Since March 2003, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing alone has dropped more than 500,000 tons of ordnance on Iraq, compared to the two million tonnes dropped by all US forces in the entire course of the Vietnam war.

Countless horrors have accompanied the conflict. The looting and destruction of Iraq’s (humanity’s) ancient heritage. The wave of kidnapping and assassinations that has taken the lives of more than 250 of the country’s leading educators and intellectuals. The one hundred journalists killed either by the occupiers or the resistance. The plunder of the the Iraqi treasury by corrupt officials and multi-national corporations. The erosion of women’s rights.

The occupiers have proclaimed one turning-point after another. But despite referenda and elections, constitutions and cabinets, the high-tech bludgeoning of alleged rebel hot-beds such as Fallujah, Tal Afar, Samarra, Al-Qa’im, Haditha, Ramadi, and Husaybah, warfare continues and self-determination for Iraqis remains a remote prospect. The writ of the central government remains negligible and its authority dependent on the 180,000 US-led foreign troops. Meanwhile, the occupiers’ divide-and-rule strategy (the only one left in their arsenal once it became clear that the bulk of the population, however relieved to be rid of Saddam Hussein, did not welcome their presence) has unleashed sectarianism and pushed Iraqi society perilously close to civil war.

A common theme of speeches at the 15th February demonstrations was that attacking Iraq was likely to increase the jihadi terrorism it was supposed to combat. So it has proved – in Iraq, in London and elsewhere. In Greek mythology, Cassandra’s tragedy was that she saw the future but no one believed her predictions. The protesters’ tragedy was that nearly everyone believed their predictions but the rulers proceeded on course for disaster regardless.

The remaining proponents of the initial invasion argue that all this is still better than rule by Saddam Hussein. Many in Iraq would disagree, but in any case what kind of a measure is this? Are these the only alternatives the west is prepared to offer the people of Iraq? For the dead, injured, impoverished and abused, this kind of calculus never adds up.

In the US and Britain, more people than ever broadly agree with the what the protesters were saying three years ago, but there are fewer people protesting. Ironically, one of the reasons for the decline in numbers on the streets is the extraordinary success of 15th February, and the concomitant sense of failure that ensued. The record-breaking turn-outs did not stop the US and Britain from going to war. “We protested in huge numbers, numbers never seen before, and still it made no difference, people in London say. “They didn’t listen. They never listen. So what’s the point of protesting again?

Actually, it’s far too early to judge the long-term significance of what happened on 15th February 2003. People who took part in the non-cooperation and civil disobedience campaigns in India in the twenties and thirties had to wait a long time for swaraj. There were eight years of protest and more than two million dead before the Vietnam war came to an end.

Many demonstrators who hoped to deter the invasion of Iraq probably underestimated what they were up against: not just a rogue US president but a sole superpower accustomed to shaping a global order of extreme inequality to its advantage. Reigning it in will be the work of more than a day of demonstrations, no matter how huge. What 15th February did display, spectacularly, was the existence of a popular internationalism that has grown in the shadow of elite-driven globalisation. Whether and in what manner the day is remembered in the future will depend on how the contest between the two unfolds.

MIKE MARQUSEE is the author of Wicked Messenger: Dylan in the 1960s and Redemption Song: Muhammed Ali and the Sixties. He can be reach through his website: www.mikemarqusee.com

This column originally ran in The Hindu.

 

 

 

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 30, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel and Academic Freedom: a Closed Book
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Can Russia Learn From Brazil’s Fate? 
Andrew Levine
A Putrid Election: the Horserace as Farce
Mike Whitney
The Biggest Heist in Human History
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Sick Blue Line
Rob Urie
The Twilight of the Leisure Class
Vijay Prashad
In a Hall of Mirrors: Fear and Dislike at the Polls
Alexander Cockburn
The Man Who Built Clinton World
John Wight
Who Will Save Us From America?
Pepe Escobar
Afghanistan; It’s the Heroin, Stupid
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Howard Lisnoff
What was Missing From The Nation’s Interview with Bernie Sanders
Julian Vigo
“Ooops, I Did It Again”: How the BBC Funnels Stories for Financial Gain
Jeremy Brecher
Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor
Binoy Kampmark
Pictures Left Incomplete: MH17 and the Joint Investigation Team
Andrew Kahn
Nader Gave Us Bush? Hillary Could Give Us Trump
Steve Horn
Obama Weakens Endangered Species Act
Dave Lindorff
US Propaganda Campaign to Demonize Russia in Full Gear over One-Sided Dutch/Aussie Report on Flight 17 Downing
John W. Whitehead
Uncomfortable Truths You Won’t Hear From the Presidential Candidates
Ramzy Baroud
Shimon Peres: Israel’s Nuclear Man
Brandon Jordan
The Battle for Mercosur
Murray Dobbin
A Globalization Wake-Up Call
Jesse Ventura
Corrupted Science: the DEA and Marijuana
Richard W. Behan
Installing a President by Force: Hillary Clinton and Our Moribund Democracy
Andrew Stewart
The Democratic Plot to Privatize Social Security
Daniel Borgstrom
On the Streets of Oakland, Expressing Solidarity with Charlotte
Marjorie Cohn
President Obama: ‘Patron’ of the Israeli Occupation
Norman Pollack
The “Self-Hating” Jew: A Critique
David Rosen
The Living Body & the Ecological Crisis
Joseph Natoli
Thoughtcrimes and Stupidspeak: Our Assault Against Words
Ron Jacobs
A Cycle of Death Underscored by Greed and a Lust for Power
Uri Avnery
Abu Mazen’s Balance Sheet
Kim Nicolini
Long Drive Home
Louisa Willcox
Tribes Make History with Signing of Grizzly Bear Treaty
Art Martin
The Matrix Around the Next Bend: Facebook, Augmented Reality and the Podification of the Populace
Andre Vltchek
Failures of the Western Left
Ishmael Reed
Millennialism or Extinctionism?
Frances Madeson
Why It’s Time to Create a Cabinet-Level Dept. of Native Affairs
Laura Finley
Presidential Debate Recommendations
José Negroni
Mass Firings on Broadway Lead Singers to Push Back
Leticia Cortez
Entering the Historical Dissonance Surrounding Desafinados
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi: ‘My Life is My Message’
Charles R. Larson
Queen Lear? Deborah Levy’s “Hot Milk”
David Yearsley
Bring on the Nibelungen: If Wagner Scored the Debates
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]