The question of the legality of the war in Iraq was, quite deliberately, beyond the scope of Chilcot Enquiry and the report published yesterday makes no direct comment about legality. Never the less, for many the question of the legality of the war is crucial. The initial response to the report is that it indirectly supports the claim that the Blair government took the UK into an illegal war. The Chilcot report makes clear that in 2003 war in Iraq was far from a last resort. Tony Blair then stands accused of leading the UK into an act of aggression against Iraq.
Iraq war veterans have spoken about their feelings of betrayal, having been led into a war on a lie. Following the publication of the report families of those 179 British soldiers who were killed in Iraq expressed their distress. For these families the Chilcot report confirmed their worst fears, that their loved ones died in vain. The legality of the war is undoubtedly significant.
For the 150,000 Iraqis who died as a direct result of the war, their friends and families and the thousands of others who have died as a result of sectarian violence which followed, legality may be a little less significant. To put it bluntly, a dead child is still a dead child regardless of the legality of the act that caused it.
There is without doubt a lot that can and should be learnt from the Chilcot report. But we must look beyond what was unique about this war. We must not treat Iraq as an anomaly. Rather, we should look to what is familiar and recognise what is inherent to every war. A legal war is no less lethal, no better equipped and no more predictable.
The Chilcot report is a damning indictment of Tony Blair. But a government can only launch a war if there are people willing to support it and people willing to fight it. Responsibility in the context of war is diffuse and complex. To focus solely on Blair is to miss the point. Our response to Chilcot must be to question a broader culture of militarisation and the assumptions we make about the utility of armed force.
Over a million people marched in protest against the war in Iraq. When the government couldn’t count on public support for the War on Terror it made a very deliberate attempt to ramp up support for the armed forces instead. 2006 saw the introduction of Veterans Day, the name later changed to Armed Forces Days in 2009. There has been an increase in the visible presence of the armed forces at sports matches. In an effort to install a ‘military ethos’ in schools the Troops to Teachers scheme was launched in 2013. Here in Leicester, the Army recruitment stall which is regularly in the city centre at weekends encourages children to play with weapons and sit in military vehicles.
Every member of parliament who voted in favour of war in 2003 must take responsibility for their choice. But responsibility does not end there. A culture of militarism implicates us all. The war in Iraq was disastrous. But a good war is hard to find.