The war lovers I have known in real wars have usually been harmless, except to themselves. They were attracted to Vietnam and Cambodia, where drugs were plentiful. Bosnia, with its roulette of death, was another favourite. A few would say they were there "to tell the world"; the honest ones would say they loved it. "War is fun!" one of them had scratched on his arm. He stood on a landmine.
I sometimes remember these almost endearing fools when I find myself faced with another kind of war lover – the kind that has not seen war and has often done everything possible not to see it. The passion of these war lovers is a phenomenon; it never dims, regardless of the distance from the object of their desire. Pick up the Sunday papers and there they are, egocentrics of little harsh experience, other than a Saturday in Sainsbury’s. Turn on the television and there they are again, night after night, intoning not so much their love of war as their sales pitch for it on behalf of the court to which they are assigned. "There’s no doubt," said Matt Frei, the BBC’s man in America, "that the desire to bring good, to bring American values to the rest of the world, and especially now to the Middle East . . . is now increasingly tied up with military power."
Frei said that on 13 April 2003, after George W Bush had launched "Shock and Awe" on a defenceless Iraq. Two years later, after a rampant, racist, woefully trained and ill-disciplined army of occupation had brought "American values" of sectarianism, death squads, chemical attacks, attacks with uranium-tipped shells and cluster bombs, Frei described the notorious 82nd Airborne as "the heroes of Tikrit."
Last year, he lauded Paul Wolfowitz, architect of the slaughter in Iraq, as "an intellectual" who "believes passionately in the power of democracy and grass-roots development." As for Iran, Frei was well ahead of the story. In June 2003, he told BBC viewers: "There may be a case for regime change in Iran, too."
How many men, women and children will be killed, maimed or sent mad if Bush attacks Iran? The prospect of an attack is especially exciting for those war lovers understandably disappointed by the turn of events in Iraq. "The unimaginable but ultimately inescapable truth," wrote Gerard Baker in the Times last month, "is that we are going to have to get ready for war with Iran . . . If Iran gets safely and unmolested to nuclear status, it will be a threshold moment in the history of the world, up there with the Bolshevik revolution and the coming of Hitler." Sound familiar? In February 2003, Baker wrote that "victory [in Iraq] will quickly vindicate US and British claims about the scale of the threat Saddam poses."
The "coming of Hitler" is a rallying cry of war lovers. It was heard before Nato’s "moral crusade to save Kosovo" (Blair) in 1999, a model for the invasion of Iraq. In the attack on Serbia, 2 per cent of Nato’s missiles hit military targets; the rest hit hospitals, schools, factories, churches and broadcasting studios. Echoing Blair and a clutch of Clinton officials, a massed media chorus declared that "we" had to stop "something approaching genocide" in Kosovo, as Timothy Garton Ash wrote in 2002 in the Guardian. "Echoes of the Holocaust," said the front pages of the Daily Mirror and the Sun. The Observer warned of a "Balkan Final Solution."
The recent death of Slobodan Milosevic took the war lovers and war sellers down memory lane. Curiously, "genocide" and "Holocaust" and the "coming of Hitler" were now missing – for the very good reason that, like the drumbeat leading to the invasion of Iraq and the drumbeat now leading to an attack on Iran, it was all bullshit. Not misinterpretation. Not a mistake. Not blunders. Bullshit.