Wednesday, 29 January 2003

No beginning or end to war

by Günter Grass

War is looming. Once again war looms. Or is war only being threatened so as to stop war coming? Does the limiting word "only" mean that this is just a mock threat, this staged build-up of US and British troops and ships on the Arabian peninsula and in the Red sea, with its supply of pictures to the media of overwhelming military might? As soon as one of the world's two dozen dictators has crumbled into exile or preferably is dead, will this all turn out to be a show of force which brought peace and can vanish away again?

Hardly. This looming war is a wanted war. It is already going on in the heads of the planners, in the world's stock exchanges, and in what seem to be forward-dated TV programmes. The enemy target is in the sights. He has been named and - along with other enemies on the stocks who will be targeted and named next - he fits the bill for those who want to conjure a danger so grim that it undermines careful reflection.

We know how people create enemies where none exists. We know, and have plenty of pictures to illustrate it, what happens in war when the target is not quite hit. We are familiar with the words for damage and casualties which we are told to accept as inevitable. We are used to the relatively small number of its own dead that the world's number one ruling power has to count and mourn while the mass of enemy dead, including women and children, go uncounted and are not worth mourning.

So now we wait for the new war and the old repetitions. This time new missile systems will be even more accurate. We can be confident about the choice of pictures from this looming war. The flow of images will be sanitised of every detail of horror. Familiar TV channels will be there to give us a new instalment of war as soap opera, interrupted only by ads for consumers who are living happily in peace.

The only issue for discussion is whether people approach this coming, already happening war as loudmouthed or half-hearted allies, or the sort who may only make a small contribution on the sidelines like the Germans, whose time for making war is over by now, or should be.

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