Animal rights campaigners complain about the US navy's use of sea lions to find mines.

Ray Crowley

Topics Politics

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When headlines read ‘The war has been greenlit’, they seemed to mean that the go-ahead had been issued to send in the tanks and troops. But they could just as well have meant, send in the tree planters.

All over the UK and USA, people are struggling to maintain ‘appropriate’ behaviour during wartime. Celebrities shuffled awkwardly into the Oscar ceremony minus the usual red carpet, glitz reduction in place. Some, such at Will Smith and Cate Blanchett were conspicuous by their absence (perhaps they stayed home to watch the news coverage?), while others used their position in front of the crowd to express their views. Documentarian Michael Moore caused a stir with his ‘shame on you George Bush’ speech, while best actor winner Adrien Brody talked about a friend who had gone to the Gulf.

On morning TV shows, presenters snickered watching Saddam Hussein’s live speech of Tuesday morning, made ill-thought-out anti-war statements, and then empathised with the wives and children left at home by their military daddies. At a punk metal concert I went to recently, the crowd was urged into its usual state of violent excitement, not by crazy stage antics such as flinging sheep heads, but by a rousing chant of ‘fuck George Bush’. Nobody is immune to the war.

Although daily life of morning coffee, the office, soaps, and newspaper headlines continues, nobody can leave the subject of the war alone. Having a job presenting a cheesy quiz or a something-to-watch-while-you-do-your-ironing show, and exhibiting ‘appropriate behaviour’ at war time, is as uncomfortable a mix as the ‘I don’t support this war but I support the men fighting it and sympathise with their families’ sentiment.

There is one group of people, though, who seem more happy than most to carry on doing what they’ve always done: environmentalists and animal rights campaigners.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is complaining about the US navy’s use of sea lions to find mines and underwater saboteurs. A PETA spokeswoman argued that ‘it is simply not ethical to put animals in harm’s way…. They never enlisted, they know nothing of Iraq or Saddam Hussein and will probably not survive’ (1).

I wonder how many of Iraq’s people enlisted for this war? Hearing Wednesday’s reports of the ‘apocalyptic’ scene which ‘left charred bodies and mangled cars littering the streets’ after allegedly American cruise missiles hit a Baghdad marketplace, 20 sea lions couldn’t be further from my mind (2).

Meanwhile, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has criticised the war on Iraq on environmental grounds: ‘We find ourselves confronted with events whose impact could undermine sustainability long into the future.’ (3) And Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Norman Baker has warned that ‘conflict must be conducted in a manner that doesn’t damage the environment any further than necessary’, and that ‘the environment is often the long-term casualty of the war’ (4).

Most of these environmentalist arguments go along the lines of: destroying Iraq’s natural resources will leave the Iraqi people with no means to pick up their lives again. IUCN explains that ‘damage to the natural environment from armed conflict can undermine the natural resource base on which millions of people depend for their livelihood…. The human and ecological price that is paid for modern warfare is colossal, and the debt it leaves behind takes years or decades to pay off’ (5).

Enough of this nonsense. There is no human and ecological price in this war – there is only the human price. Ecology has no value of its own. It has value only where people can use it to better their lives. This war might deprive Iraq of Saddam’s regime, but it will also leave Iraq at the mercy of supposedly more civilised parent types, who stomp in with tanks and missiles when things don’t come up to scratch. Loss of marshlands and the fate of ecosystems mean nothing when compared to loss of human freedom.

Saddam’s regime has faced criticism for draining marshlands in the area where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet, the mythical site of the Garden of Eden. This has forced species such as the sacred ibis and African darter closer toward extinction (6). British Royal Marines were praised last week for averting ecological disaster by securing oil fields, in light of the possibility of Saddam spilling oil into the Gulf or setting oil wells on fire (7).

Saddam criticised for environmental degradation? The British praised for averting ecological disaster? Surely there are far more important things to be condemned and praised in this war? Attempts to condemn war on environmental grounds rather than human grounds, and to support war on environmental grounds, are as bad as each other.

Read on:

spiked-issue: War on Iraq

(1) Let slip the sea lions of war, Verity Murphy, BBC News, 11 March 2003

(2) Military spokespeople at odds over civilian deaths, Oliver Moore, Globe and Mail, 26 March 2003

(3) Scientists urge rethink on war, Alex Kirby, BBC News, 25 March 2003

(4) Marines ‘avert ecological catastrophe’, BBC News, 21 March 2003

(5) Scientists urge rethink on war, Alex Kirby, BBC News, 25 March 2003

(6) Iraq marshes vanishing, Tim Hirsch, BBC News, 22 March, 2003

(7) Marines ‘avert ecological catastrophe’, BBC News, 21 March, 2003

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Topics Politics


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