Tuesday 28 January 2003

The coffee table war

by Robert Fisk

American publishers have been churning out glossy memorials to the Twin Towers and bullish pro-war propaganda. But do their arguments stand up?

In Britain, newspapers scream their arguments for war. In America, they do it with books, heaps of them, coffee table books recalling the attacks of 11 September 2001, paperbacks pleading for peace in Iraq, great tomes weighed down with footnotes extolling the virtues of "regime change" in the Middle East. In New York, the publishers as well as the media have gone to war.

Just read the titles of the 9/11 books – many of them massive photo-memorial volumes – on America's newsstands: Above Hallowed Ground, So Others Might Live, Strong of Heart, What We Saw, The Final Frontier, A Fury For God, The Shadow of Swords... No wonder American television networks can take the next war for granted. "Showdown in Iraq", CNN announces. "Prepared for War." No one questions its certainty. I protested during a live radio show earlier this month that the participants – including an Israeli academic, a former Irish UN officer, a Vietnam vet, Tony Benn and others (including myself) – were asked to debate not whether there should be a war in Iraq, but what the consequences of that war would be. The inevitability of conflict had been written into the script.

The most recent and most meretricious contribution to this utterly fraudulent "debate" in the United States is The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq (Random House, New York) by Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA spook and an ex-director for "Gulf affairs" at the National Security Council. It's the book that all America is supposed to be talking about and its title (the "Threatening Storm" is, of course, a copy-cat version of The Gathering Storm, the first volume of Winston Churchill's Second World War history) tells you all you need to know about the contents.

Just as George W Bush last year tried to dress himself up as Churchill fighting appeasement, so Pollack twice pretends that the world is confronting the same dilemma that confronted Britain and France in 1938. The Allies could have won in a year, he claims, if they had gone to war against Hitler then. The fact that Britain and France, though numerically stronger in troops, were weaker in modern armaments – whereas the United States today can crush Saddam's forces in a week – is not allowed to interfere with this specious argument. Pollack accepts that Saddam is not Hitler, but once more Saddam is dressed in Hitler's clothes – just as Nasser was the Mussolini of the Nile during the Suez crisis of 1956 – and anyone who opposes war is, by quiet extension, a Nazi sympathiser.

Before and immediately after the start of the Second World War – the real Second World War, that is – British publishers deployed their authors to support the conflict. Victor Gollancz was a tireless defender of British freedoms. By 1941, we were publishing the best-selling Last Train from Berlin by Howard K Smith, the brilliant American foreign correspondent's chilling account of life in Nazi Germany before the US entered the conflict.

But these were often works of literature as well as ideology. What is happening in the United States now is something quite different: a mawkish, cheap-skate attempt to push Americans into war on the back of the hushed, reverent, unimpeachable sacrifice of 11 September.

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