Mass the forces. Launch the bombers. Loose the media mavens. Then sit back and watch as “the good guys” smash “the bad guys“. It looked so simple. But it seems that the decision-makers either under-estimated or chose to ignore the growing power of “the people with no names“. Who are the “people with no names”? They’re the millions of people whose faces and names don’t fill today’s TV screens. They are not the Donald Rumsfelds, George W Bush’s, or Jacques Chirac’s. Neither are they the embedded reporters describing combat operations in Iraq. They are your neighbours across the road. The demonstrator outside the White House. The marchers in Melbourne. The rioters in Cairo. And the sniper or suicide bomber from some difficult to pronounce place or clump of buildings or new pile of rubble on some patch of earth somewhere in this world. Maybe Palestine, or Basra, or Grozny, or … Half a century ago the black American poet, Langston Hughes, observed that people were rising up and throwing off ‘downpressing’ regimes. Hughes wrote: “The folks with no titles in front of their names, all over the world, are raring up and talking back to the folks called mister…”[*] In the 1940’s the voices of the “people with no names” were unheard. But the “people with no names” talked back at Dien Ben Phu in 1954, in Montgomery Alabama in 1955, in Algeria in 1960, in Zimbabwe in 1978, at the Berlin Wall in 1989… All over the world, the “people with no names” have continued talking back and wrenching more and more control of the world from the people called “mister”. Now, the voices of the “people with no names” connect and fly through the Internet; their massed faces are seen on our TV screens; their thoughts stream out of fax machines and pour into ‘talk shows’. But their individual faces still don’t fill the TV screens. That’s still done by the hired ‘talking heads’ who look back at us while they earnestly analyze or report some minor incident of the moment that some TV news producer has decreed is ‘headline’ or ‘breaking’ news that must be brought to us ‘live’. The still unfolding story of this western toss of the dice into the sands of Iraq shows that the feelings, values, and opinions of ordinary people are having a direct and profound effect on all the combatants involved in this dusty gamble. It’s a long way from the Second World War fire-bombing of the German cities of Hamburg , Dresden, and Cologne. Now, in 2003, the world’s most powerful nation finds itself fighting a war in which it must so arrange its actions that it does not simply obliterate “targets”; or even rough-up civilian populations. The world’s superpower cannot be prevented from tossing its smart bombs at will. But it is now forced to weigh ‘target’ value against world opinion. As the black clouds and bright flashes of destruction of this gamble in Iraq are presented to us by TV’s ‘talking heads’, we are also seeing the power of mighty missiles being blunted and reduced by the growing power of the “people with no names”. When the shooting ends – perhaps I should say when the shooting dies down – the world’s only superpower will find itself in a new world where its power to act is still not limited by any adversary who possesses equal combat power. Rather, it will find its military power limited even further by something called ‘world opinion’. You may think that this sounds all fuzzy and ephemeral. But consider this. In February 1945, the Allied Powers mounted a one day thousand bomber raid on Dresden and destroyed that city, killing over 100,000 German civilians as a by-product – what’s now called ‘collateral damage’. Now, in 2003, using bigger and even more powerful modern bombs and missiles, superpower USA can easily mount a 500 bomber 500 missile one-day raid on Baghdad. US armed forces, acting alone, can completely obliterate that city and kill an even larger number of Iraqi civilians – in far less time, and with much less risk, effort, and expense, than it took to destroy Dresden, or Cologne, or Hamburg. But superpower USA hasn’t done that. Superpower USA won’t do that. Why not? World opinion! And what’s world opinion? It’s the amassing of the opinions of all those millions of “people with no names”. It’s the emerging hidden power that no one sees – but everyone recognizes. Even Dubya and the whole mighty power of hyper-power USA.
[*] From the collected poems of Langston Hughes – “In Explanation of Our Times”.