It was just under a decade ago that the Iraq war began. I only realised this recently when reading the first volume of the Chris Mullin diaries, covering the bulk of the New Labour era and the first few years of the Iraq war. It’s fascinating to see a portrayal of these events from the perspective of someone on the periphery of government, pulled in different directions by competing impulses of scepticism, expediency and loyalty. I was surprised at how immediately I can place myself in terms of the events he describes. He recounts his experience at parliament as “relays of school children, protesting against the war, blocked the traffic in Parliament Square, hurling themselves against the police lines”. Immediately I remember seeing Anti-Flag at the London Astoria (RIP) on the night in question:
He describes the February 15th demo, laconically remarking “let no one say that politics is dead or that New labour has failed to mobilise the young and the idealistic” while nonetheless being drawn towards a ‘pragmatism’ that will look worse with each passing year. Meanwhile I remember shuffling through the streets of London, debilitatingly hung over and vacillating between a sense of amazement at the size of the crowd and a wish that they would just be a little more quiet… at least until I felt better. He describes the morning after the bombing began and I instantly recall a long drawn out conversation online with a friend from the other side of the country, despairing that so little difference had seemingly been made by all the activity enacted against it.
Like many on the left in their late 20s, I was radicalised by the Iraq war. I’d been on the fringes of anarchist politics previous to this but only really skirting around the edges, with the Iraq war engendering a commitment to a range of causes. But again, I think, like many others, it also inculcated a degree of detachment. It left me with the desire to sustain an intellectual distance because of how exhausting and excoriating activism can be without it. It’s a very impressionistic claim but there’s a political sensibility, for lack of a better term, which I sometimes see in others which I recognise in myself. At least in the case of myself, I attribute its formation to the experience of the Iraq war campaign and see it as something that’s been entrenched over time. With the exception of campaigning against the arms trade (I’m not sure why) I’ve always tended to find myself back, skirting around the edges, in a way which I’m sure is fundamentally defensive but, as I get older, becomes easier to attribute to the other demands on my time.
Being angry all the time is draining but sometimes, confronted with something jarring, I’m reminded that the anger is still there, in spite of my intellectual detachment from my own responses to it. As I was reminded when watching this new documentary on the Iraq War which shows how right we were and yet illustrates how utterly without consequence that rampant mendacity was for those perpetrating it, with many now being taken seriously as they preach the need for military intervention in Iran, Syria and even Russia.