issue 236 - October 1992
Not in our names
'Powerless perhaps: disempowered - never.' Alastair Hulbert and Alastair Mcintosh
record how the peace movement in Scotland challenged the official version of the War.
We arrived at Peace House near Dunblane feeling desolate, frightened, powerless. The fire spluttered to keep our bodies warm against a snowy night, but inside each of us was touched by the icy numbing of prescient shell-shock.
'War in the Gulf: Not in My Name,' said the badges on the table. Powerless, perhaps we were: but disempowered - never.
Was there anything we, the Steering Committee of Scottish Churches Action for World Development (SCAWD) could do? We've been doing it all these years and failed, lamented someone. The first task of the peace movement is not necessarily to succeed, but to bear witness to truth, said Helen, a peace worker since her relief work days in Vietnam, who knew how truth gets lost in war.
Then someone suggested we use international computer networks, fax and telex, to establish an alternative news service. Gulf Watch was born.
The rest of the evening we felt so excited we forgot to crack open the bottle of whisky. A statement of purpose and method was drawn up by the following morning. Dated 15 January 1991, the eve of War, it said:
'Disinformation has already started. The reported defection of six Iraqi helicopters was an American setup which the media was taken in by. Our Government is recruiting the services of PR consultants to handle the media, as they do not consider the usual civil-service channels appropriate to how they want the conflict reported.
'SCAWD is concerned that disinformation and censorship means that key representatives within the Scottish churches may not always have access to adequate information on which to base public statements, pastoral letters, etc arising out of the need for an ethical critique of War developments. Accordingly we are setting up an emergency information service to provide daily short digests of material coming in from uncensored sources within the international church, peace, environmental etc networks...'
Gulf Watch Number 1 came out on the afternoon of 16 January. The following day GreenNet - an international electronic mail network - went wild, as war launched the international peace community into frenzied orbit.
Thereafter each day's two-page copy of Gulf Watch was a distillation from some 40 or 50 pages of selected material, accounting for some 90 hours of computer network access time within two months, as well as hundreds of pages of fax and other hard copy.
The advantage of having an active electronic mail 'conference' is that material can be publicly debated. Some 7,000 subscribers in 50 different countries can add their contributions or shoot down any doubtful items.
This is the power of electronic networking with satellite computer telecommunication links. Wartime media censorship can never be the same henceforth. Some of the same satellites that bounced down bombing schedules also carried messages of love - unscrambled, freely open to the interception we know takes place. In such small ways, perhaps, the oppressor's tool can help dismantle his fortress.
Radio Forth reported on Sunday morning at 8.30 am that local radio stations are coming under pressure not to play peace songs such as John Lennon's Give Peace a Chance... Gulf Watch contacted Julia Shipston, London-based press officer for BBC local radio stations, who said there is no ban; what's happened is that guidelines have been issued to the 37 English BBC local radio stations, calling for sensitivity when certain songs are played and giving a list of 67 potentially risky ones, including songs like Fields of Fire, I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight, Armed and Extremely Dangerous, and Roberta Flack's Killing Me Softly...
The protests against this War have been diverse and international in a way that the Vietnam protests never were ... In the first week of protest, over 250,000 people came out against the War in the United States, another 2.5 million overseas in 38 countries... San Francisco police arrested nearly 1,000 people protesting the War - more than were arrested on any single day during the Vietnam protests.
Letter from Rev Cohn Morton, St Andrew's, Jerusalem:
'There is no news of (the curfew) in the Israeli media that I can see or hear... The special effects are on agriculture - there are no feeding stuffs for animals as they are not being supplied from Israel proper which is the one source. Crops and vegetables cannot be sprayed, harvested or marketed. Some farmers broke the curfew in Jericho and Tulkam areas; they were each fined 2,000 shekels (about $800) and their produce was spoiled. Medical - ordinary curfew passes are not being honoured, so medical people cannot give clinics etc... It is absolutely inhuman to treat a population of 1.7 million in this way...
Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCM) have been used in combat for the first time in the war against Iraq. Over 290 conventional missiles have been fired so far (Feb 6) in the War, or almost half of the total number of missiles present in the US naval force in the region. It would cost at least $560 million to replace the missiles at 1991 prices... The use and announcement of Tomahawk launches by submarines was seemingly made with the intent of scoring big in next year's budget rather than in having a significant effect on the tide of events in Iraq.
An important survey of US Gulf War attitudes and opinion manipulation has been carried out by researchers at the Department of Communication, University of Massachusetts/Amherst. It says, 'Despite the months of television coverage devoted to this story, most people, we found, were alarmingly ill-informed. If the news media had done a better job in informing people, would there be less support for the War? Our study indicates that the answer to this question is 'yes'.
The ABC 5:30 pm news carried the story of Marine Harrier Jets dropping napalm. The report went on to say that 'it was only being used to clear oil-filled trenches'. Then a mysterious overhead reconnaissance photo appeared on the screen, supposedly showing the trenches all along the border. (For those without access to US media, reconnaissance photos have suddenly started appearing on the tube when they support whatever the Administration wants people to believe.)
Two points here: to avoid having napalm classed as a weapon of mass destruction under international law, the US managed to get it officially designated as a 'defoliant' back in the 1960s. Just how much of that Kuwait forest is still standing anyway? Also, when Jimmy Carter was President, the US air force publicly announced that it was removing all remaining stocks of napalm from its inventory, as they felt it was no longer needed. So where did this stuff come from ... an interservice garage sale?
Alastair Hulbert is Secretary of Scottish Churches Action for Would Development (SCAWD) and was the main editor of GulfWatch. Alastair Mcintosh is Development Director with Edinburgh University's Centre for Human Ecology. This is an edited extract from 'Gulf Watch Papers', which first appeared in the Edinburgh Review, (no 87, 1992), 22 George Street, Edinburgh EH8 9LF.