A mediocrity of lies

Other methods, not madness

Ghassan Hage

Hundreds of thousands of Australians walked to voice their opposition to John Howard's insistence on involving us in the war against Iraq. They came from all walks of life and from all social, religious and ethnic backgrounds. They were not all committed pacifists. Many - I am sure most - would be very willing to go to war to defend Australia were it in any way endangered. Many would also be ready to accept that there comes a time when one has to fight for what is right. Some would even accept that one might have to fight for the sake of a special relationship between our country and an ally like the United States.

But what was absolutely clear was that the marchers were not prepared to accept that we ought to go to war for the sake of a special relationship between Howard and US President George Bush. Because of the lack of consultation before Howard inserted Australian troops in this US venture, this is what our soldiers would be fighting for if war broke out at this very moment. The only way to change this would be if Howard tried to obtain a mandate for his decision through an immediate referendum or some other democratic mechanism.

Some of Howard's supporters in the media and in politics are pushing the incredible line that he should be supported because he is a man of conviction, and that it is nice to have a politician driven by convictions rather than by polls. But one minor thing is missing from this argument: democracy, where politicians still have to convince a majority of the people before they can act on their convictions. You cannot go to the polls after having involved your country in a war and, if defeated say, "Oops. Sorry. I didn't actually have a mandate to have all these people killed."

After all, it is not the first time that Howard has been a man of conviction. He stuck to his conviction about the unpopular GST, but he still went to the people and obtained a mandate. He also stuck to his convictions by opposing the republic, even though many thought a republic was a foregone conclusion. So why not have some democratic debate and decision-making in an environment where all polls show that the majority of Australians do not want war? Is the decision to send Australians to die less important than the decision to adopt a new tax? Or is it because Howard doesn't think he can win this one until after the war has started?