THE BLOG

Why Iraq Still Matters Ten Years On

19/03/2013 14:51 GMT | Updated 19/05/2013 10:12 BST

Many people wonder what drives people to immerse themselves in a political cause or movement against a war being waged thousands of miles away, involving a country they have never visited, and a people and a culture that that have no obvious connection with.

When you think about it, one of the most remarkable and ennobling aspects of the human condition is our ability to experience empathy, compassion, and to express and demonstrate solidarity with complete strangers. History is littered with examples of this. In the case of Iraq, in the run up to the war in 2003, millions of people around the world exerted themselves in trying to stop what they knew would be, and turned out, a human catastrophe for the Iraqi people, whose only crime was that they live in a country that sits on a sea of oil.

I was living in the United States in the run-up to the war in the Iraq, living what was in many respects a double life. By day I was Ben Affleck's stand in/double on the movie he starred in, Surviving Christmas, by night I was attending antiwar meetings in an office in East Los Angeles, organising and planning events in opposition to the Bush administration's drive to war.

On the set of the movie tensions were running high as the real world intruded. I recall the producers stipulating that politics was off limits as a topic of discussion on the set, such was the atmosphere. Instead of openly discussing the upcoming war and politics behind it, people began scrawling their views on the walls of the bathroom. Within days it was covered with both pro and antiwar slogans and messages.

I recall conversations with Ben Affleck's bodyguard about the looming war. He was an ex-marine who claimed to have once been stationed at the US embassy in Baghdad. His attitude, as you might expect, was that 'we should go in there and kick Saddam's ass.' Sadly, there were more than a few on the crew who shared this view.

For the previous six months leading up to this point, I had given almost every waking moment to the anti-war movement. In this I was joined by men and women of all ages, background, ethnicity, nationality, religious persuasion and none. We were a mosaic, a microcosm it often struck me of the world we aspired to. Americans, Koreans, Mexicans, Palestinians, black, white, Asian, Latino - all of us were committed to mobilising and resisting the war. Hours and hours spent building demonstrations, meetings, film nights, street stalls, writing leaflets, press releases, trying to leverage as much support across different organisations, labour unions, churches, mosques, synagogues in what was undoubtedly the most meaningful and important experience of my life.

I will never forget the feelings of grief, anger, fear, and sadness that overwhelmed me when news came that the bombs and missiles had started falling on Baghdad. I was on the set of the movie, which by now I hated, when it came. As soon as the day's shooting wrapped, I jumped in my car and drove over to the office, headquarters of the LA branch of the ANSWER Coalition, where the core group of activists and organisers were sitting and standing in front of the TV watching the news. Hardly anybody spoke. Our collective attention was solely focused on the pictures being broadcast of missile bursts and explosions from Baghdad. I thought about the terror of those who at that moment were cowering under those missiles and bombs and felt sick to my stomach.

How could this be happening in the 21st century? How in a so-called democracy could we allow our leaders to unleash war on a defenceless people based on half truths and lies?

But then I considered that the history of the West is littered with lies and distortions - the lie that we are a force for good in the world, spreading civilization and democracy and prosperity. The reality is that we are and have been the exact opposite. Every statue, monument, and grand building in every one of our towns and cities verily drips with the blood of the millions that have been exploited, abused, oppressed, and negated under the juggernaut of empire, imperialism, and colonialism wearing the mask of the progress. This for me is the main lesson of Iraq ten years on.

An emergency demonstration had been planned to take place the day after the war started. It was organized to take place outside the Federal Building on Wilshire Boulevard in LA, the sight of so many demonstrations in the city I had participated in over the past year or so.

I was presented with a dilemma. I was scheduled to work on the movie as normal the next day, which would mean missing the demonstration. In the end there was really no choice to make. The movie and my role as a movie star's stand-in paled in comparison to attending the demonstration. With this in mind, I picked up the phone first thing the next morning, called one of the production assistants and left a message informing her that I was quitting the movie to attend a demonstration against the war.

Of course, objectively, my actions would make no difference to the Iraqi people or to the war. Nonetheless my conscience would have tortured me if I had not and continued as normal.

Ten years on the chaos and carnage continues in Iraq. The lives of millions have been destroyed, whether killed, maimed, traumatised, forced to leave their homes, seeing friends and loved ones killed or maimed, and so on. Then there are the 179 British soldiers who died, leaving behind parents, siblings, wives, and loved ones dealing with the pain of their loss forever after. The cost to the taxpayer of £9billion is crime in itself, a monstrous sum of money to fund a monstrous and catastrophic war.

As expected, on this the tenth anniversary of the war, we have the usual apologists being rolled out to try and convince us that despite the 'problems and 'setbacks' it was worth it. After all, they tell us, there are democratic elections in Iraq now, which there were not before. Yes, but there also weren't untold tens of thousands of orphans, widows, and dead.

Ten years ago this week the richest nations in the world unleashed a war for oil on one of the poorest. Those responsible for this crime remain at large. This, by any measure, renders words such as democracy and civilization meaningless.

John's memoir of his years as an antiwar activist in Hollywood, Dreams That Die, is now available