Marching orders

Some tips for the anti-war movement: give the celebrities a boot; send 'the kids' back to class; no more poetry.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics
  • Marching orders

Many readers of these pages might be forgiven for thinking we’ve all got it in for anti-war protesters.

This is, of course, not true. Everyone in Britain has articulate, highly educated friends who have been on marches, people we admire and respect. There are many, too, who are not really convinced either way about this adventure in Iraq. I speak as someone who is broadly for it, but with serious misgivings.

Yet many who have mixed feelings could easily be swayed to an anti-war position, were it not for the anti-war movement itself. Rather than presenting itself as a rational, level-headed coalition, the anti-war caucus unfortunately comes across as a rather objectionable rabble, comprised of professional malcontents and self-serving airheads. I cannot be the only person whose stance, as a consequence of the conduct of demonstrators, has become anti-‘anti-war’.

In the spirit of generosity, here is a 10-point guide for the anti-war coalition that wants to win over the waverers:

  1. Don’t say ‘war is always wrong’. Sometimes it is moral, just and necessary. Peace and liberty have to be fought for, something our Rousseauian pacifists seem unable or unwilling to grasp. The alternative can be death or subjection to tyranny.

  • ‘Not In My Name.’ Give this narcissistic phrase a rest. Nobody cares who you are. It would seem that some are less interested in stopping conflict than in seeking approval from their peers in these days of conspicuous compassion.

  • ‘Let’s make war on poverty and racism instead.’ No: let’s not make war on any abstract nouns at all. This is as meaningless as trying to wage ‘war on terror’.

  • Give the celebrities a boot. As everyone knows, actors and pop stars are dim, hollow and insecure folk who will do anything to get the world to love them. George Michael lecturing Westlife for their ignorance in these matters is simply the last straw.

  • Stop writing multi-signed letters to the press that say ‘Children’s writers against the war’; ‘Chiropodists against conflict’; ‘Urban Renaissance Programme Managers against oppression’. This is all very interesting, but on what authority do these people write and what are they trying to prove – beyond getting their name in the paper?

  • Lose the Socialist Worker placards. There isn’t a cause these professional protesters would not march for. Their presence merely debases your own.

  • Stop waving French flags. A while ago we were all meant to hate the French for dropping bombs in the Pacific and exploding Greenpeace ships. Chirac’s current non-committal stems not from sincere motives either, given his government’s financial interests in preserving Saddam’s regime. In Chirac’s case, it is about oil.

  • Stop sneering at the Hanging Chads of Florida. In 1951 and 1974 the party that attained only the second biggest number of votes nationwide was returned to power in Britain.

  • Send ‘the kids’ back to class. Most of them probably don’t know where Iraq is. If you were 15 again, given the chance to skip class, head down to Downing Street with your mates, smoke weed, and throw the contents of your geometry set at policemen, of course you too would be ‘anti-war’. It’s the stuff of Grange Hill fantasies.

  • No more poetry. The world cannot stomach Harold Pinter verses in these already testing times.
  • Look at how the Vietnam War was wound up early thanks to protests in America, or what the Poll Tax riot achieved. Demonstrations can make a difference. Lose the platitudes and miscreants and you could change the world.

    • Some important lessons

    A report by End Child Poverty, a coalition of charities including the NSPCC, this week called for the abolition of grammar schools, saying selection contributed to child poverty. Meanwhile, a new book, How Not To Be A Hypocrite: School Choice For The Morally Perplexed Parent by Adam Swift, argues that private schooling offends the basic principle of equality of opportunity and should be banned. What with the furore over Bristol University’s admission policy, it seems that non-state schools are undergoing another bashing at the moment.

    I’m no great fan of public schools. I deliberately failed my entrance sixth-form level exam to Eton college, as I was very happy in my (admittedly quite posh, and unusually very good) comprehensive in west London. I found Eton a decidedly creepy place, much like the school featured in Dead Poets Society – minus Robin Williams. Public school kids I met at university were on the whole more ignorant and obnoxious than those who hailed from the state sector.

    Then again, some of them have become my best friends. It is clear too that public schools are generally far superior to the state sector – which has some of the worst schools ever witnessed in this country. This week, a survey by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) shows that violence and abusive behaviour in Britain’s schools has become so prevalent that teachers are too scared to report it.

    The state education sector is in such a ruinous state thanks precisely to the doctrine of egalitarianism. Not liberal egalitarianism – equality of opportunity – but a utilitarian variety: equality of outcome. This doctrine insists that no pupil must outshine another, as this is perceived as ‘hierarchical’, or more recently, ‘hurtful’. Because the border between pupil and learner has been demonised as didactic (a dirty word), and stifling children’s own ‘creativity’, today pupils now learn nothing from teachers they don’t respect anyway.

    It’s all very well arguing for the abolition of private schools or state grammars, but until the core philosophy of the state system is readjusted to promote excellence, it will remain an empty gesture that will solve nothing.

    • Third Law of Gardening Journalism

    ‘He who berates our safety mania over gardening one week will the next cut his left hand on a shard of glass while planting onions, thereafter spending an afternoon with TCP and bandages in the bathroom.’

    Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

    To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

    Topics Politics


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