Reviews

by John Millington

The Stop the War coalition successfully mobilised millions to oppose the Iraq war and there's no-one better better placed than its chairman Andrew Murray to assess the imperial history leading up to the conflict and blow the pro-war arguments of the "left" unceremoniously out of the water.

Murray's book is a concise, hard-hitting account of the arguments surrounding the build-up to war and the resulting occupation of Iraq.

It provides both an easy to read historical account of British imperialism leading up to the war and counteracts justifications for the war.

Star readers will need little reminding of how the "existence" of WMD was the original justification for the assualt on Iraq.

But when peace campaigners and even Republican card-holding former weapons inspector Scott Ritter exposed this as a lie, justifications from media pundits began to circle around "liberal interventionism."

Murray points the finger at leading pro-war journalists such as John Lloyd and Nick Cohen and historian Niall Ferguson for dressing up imperial invasion under the guise of imposing "freedom and democracy" in Iraq.

Using direct quotations from a range of sources, Murray exposes the fallacy that empire was somehow a positive development for countries throughout Africa and the Middle East as well.

The historical revisionism of the British Empire by right-wing historians and pundits whom Murray quotes at length is at times shocking.

For historian Lawrence James, "Britain's empire was a moral force and one for good. None has been survived by so much affection and moral respect."

Such a statement might get the reader's blood boiling, but Murray also cogently demonstrates how such a rose-tinted view of British imperialism serves to justify modern 21st century imperialism.

"It is now more important than ever to rescue the real record of Empirefrom those who would like to bury it in obscurity and those who would like to use it as a model for contemporary world governance," he states.

And Murray goes on to break a taboo in British politics by direct comparison of the crimes of nazi Germany with those of the British empire. He challenges a comfort zone that the British empire's racist crimes can be offset by the notion that the building of railways and infrastructure helped to develop countries like India.

During the period of imperial plunder, life expectancy fell by 20 per cent and per capita income did not rise between 1757 and 1947.

The final chapters let rip at ex-PM Tony Blair and so-called left proponents of the war through scrutiny of the little-known Euston Manifesto - worth a read after this book.

Murray contends that Blair is not simply a warmonger but a product of a politics stretching back to Victorian times. "Blair tapped into a current of thought as old as the British empire - that a little imperialism in the right hands is good thing" he writes, along with the promotion of social improvements among the conquered.

One cavil in this otherwise excellent and essential read is that it perhaps strays into the realm of "my enemy's enemy is my friend" in commenting that the 2001 Twin Tower terror attacks were directed at reversing the policies of sanctions on Iraq and the repression of Israel by of the Palestinians.

But this book is a must-have for anti-war activists. It puts fire in the belly and is an invaluable tool for exposing those who justify the Iraq war.