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School protesters five years on

Five years on from the invasion of Iraq, we sound out the views of some the school-age protesters that we interviewed at the time

February 7, 2008
5 min read

Read two of their responses here, for the full article see our print issue.

Michael Greenfield, 19, Oldham

In 2003, aged 14, Michael was reported as saying: ‘I am appalled and ashamed that our country has been dog led into a potentially devastating war.’

Five years on he describes how cynical he now feels about politics: ‘What a mess we’re in. Reports of yet more deaths in Iraq have become almost a permanent fixture on news broadcasts. For me they have lost their shock-value. Suicide bombings, kidnappings, torture and friendly fire: they are all now just common terms for my generation. The constant stories and images of death and destruction have had a desensitising effect upon my peers and me. If we are exposed to images of car bombs and brutal military operations every day, what can you expect? This has to be one of the most worrying legacies of the Iraq war on my generation.

‘The biggest impact it has had upon me personally is a distinct sense of disillusionment with the political system. Essentially, the current western political model has failed me. How can such an illegal, destructive, counterproductive and divisive operation like the Iraq conflict and “war on terror” be allowed to happen?

‘Aged 14, I was hugely enthusiastic in my criticism of the conflict, and truly believed that our efforts would reap some kind of reward. However, Blair’s blind commitment to Bush and the conflict in the face of such intense opposition left me with a strong sense of being wronged. If two million people taking to the streets of London wasn’t enough to stop him, what could we do?

‘Unfortunately, I have not since turned such feelings into political activism. However, it has taught me that capitalist democracy does not and can never work but for the interests of the rich few – just take a look at the weapons manufacturers, oil companies and security services enjoying their share of the victors’ profits. In this sense, the war has encouraged me to look for and develop my understandings of an alternative socialist system and not simply accept the political injustices that surround us.

‘The last line of my piece in May 2003 is scarily resonant: “All this war will do is create thousands of new terrorists.” It’s rather worrying that so many experienced world leaders failed to see what a 14-year-old boy could.’

Hannah Wright, 20, Bolton

‘The 2003 invasion ignited western public opinion in a way that had not been seen for years. Friends and families argued about the legitimacy of the invasion; there was high profile dissent in government; and millions, young and old, poured onto the streets to protest against military action.

‘I do not think anyone, for or against, envisaged the continued bloodshed and violence we see played out before us on our television screens at the beginning of 2008. The latest survey suggests up to 1.2 million Iraqi civilians may have lost their lives since the coalition invaded their country. The UN High Commission for Refugees estimates that two million Iraqis have fled their homeland into neighbouring countries such as Syria, Jordan and further afield into Egypt.

‘These are countries that are under continued pressure from Palestinian refugees and who are struggling to cope with increased numbers of Iraqis within their borders. This figure is in addition to the two million internally displaced Iraqis who have been forced to move as a result of vicious sectarian violence provoked by an insensitive imposition of the democratic process. The subsequent Shia desire for revenge and power was as inevitable as the Sunni fear of subjugation.

‘Iraq is split like never before. If this invasion has taught us anything, it should be that extensive research into ethnic and sectarian divisions, tensions and historical relations should be undertaken as a vital prerequisite for any proposed military intervention. Iraq is now appropriately termed a “melting pot” of hatred beyond our control.

‘So what lies in store for Iraq? A wall to separate communities may grant the coalition forces some reprieve from constant attacks but it is hardly a long term solution for a country ravaged by war, poverty and distrust of all, from occupier to neighbour.

‘Iraqis are in desperate need of the most basic services. Before we even begin to think of a long-term political process and the healing of sectarian wounds it is vital that civilians are granted their dignity, preferably by those who stripped it away most cruelly in the invasion of 2003.

‘I continue to oppose the use of military action in the case of Iraq, but we must all become a part of the effort to create a suitable platform from which Iraqi citizens can progress as a nation, towards a democracy of which they are proud.’

If you have anything to add-memories of walking out of school, thoughts on how you felt after being ignored or what you’re doing to mark five-years on, let us know in our forums.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
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