Running headline had it that more than 1,000 supporters for peace gathered at London’s Trafalgar Square on October 9.
Speakers included such personalities as John Pilger, journalist and documentary filmmaker; Jemima Khan, associate editor of The Independent; Tony Benn, British Labour Party politician and former MP; and Julian Assange, editor-in-chief for the whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
At an anti-war demonstration in central London on Saturday, while most of the participants and prominent speakers criticized the governments for the Iraq and Afghan invasion, Julian Assange accounted the media for propagating government-vested interests and misleading information.
“Wars are a result of lies,” Assange said, referring to World War II, Vietnam War, and also the invasion of Iraq. The event on Saturday was organized to commemorate 10 years of the Afghan invasion and remember the lost lives in the war.
Amid an estimated crowd of 1,000 supporters – the organizers estimated it to be 5,000 – for peace at Trafalgar Square, Assange blamed the media for not being transparent and supporting “the liars.”
“It’s not just leaders, not just soldiers, it is journalists. Journalists are war criminals,” Assange said, as camera shutters went berserk, and the crowd cheered in support.
Though Assange’s statement took the spotlight before the crowd marched to Downing Street to make their voices heard to Prime Minister David Cameron, most of the people expressed their frustrations over years of war resonating a similar thread: bringing home the troops from Afghanistan, cutting the country’s defense budget and investing in health, education and social reforms.
“The government is spending on military adventures abroad,” said Martin Ross, a solicitor for 30 years. “It should spend money on education, health, pensions.”
Ross, 63, who was carrying a stack of Morning Star, a socialist daily, walked around the square, talking to people and asking them to buy the newspaper in the Square, and the money would go as donation for anti-war campaigns.
The website of the organizers, Stop the War Coalition, says they need to raise £10,000 to cover all the costs related to the event.
While some people attending the anti-war assembly spared some change as volunteers walked around the Square with donation buckets, others stood there in solidarity waving banners reading “Cut War Not Welfare” and “Afghannostan.” 106-year-old Hetty Bower was on of them.
Bower, an anti-war activist, has been attending many of such demonstrations over the years. Before she made a short remark denouncing war as someone else held the microphone for her, she was introduced as “the oldest peace campaigner.”
“Her only complaint is that we march very slow(ly),” remarked the presenter standing besides Bower.
While the elderly jeered the ongoing war, the young participants also did not deter to opine.
In his white t-shirt with Halliburton printed on the back, 21-year-old Conrad Molen was signing petitions to bring back British troops from Afghanistan.
“My belief is that war is pretty profitable. It’s a big racket, essentially a relationship between government, troops and private companies…it’s creating massive problems and a lot of people are dying,” said the student of War, Terror and Democracy class at Brighton University.
While he said that if an event such as this would do anything, his friend, Paddy Vipond from the same program at Brighton University, said that it might create some effects though the government ignored the 2003 anti-war demonstration where nearly two million people marched in the British capital.
“If you don’t speak out when something is going wrong, you only got yourself to blame when it starts affecting you,” Vipond, 21, said. “So I’m going to fight till the end. Hopefully, I make a difference.”
The United Kingdom’s investment in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has put tremendous pressure on the people and has less prioritized other sectors that affect the people, said musician and visual artist Brian Eno while speaking to the mass.
He mentioned the government’s £100m fund cuts last year for the Arts Council England and also the cuts in funds for the BBC World Service.
But according to the Ministry of Defence’s website, the UK government’s defense budget “will fall by around 8% in real terms” by 2015.
“Despite these cuts, we expect to continue to have the fourth largest military budget in the world, and to meet our commitment to NATO of spending at least 2% of the GDP on Defence,” the statement further reads.
And it’s the government’s decision to be pouring money into pointless wars that makes people like Ross to be a part of the anti-war rallies.
“The government took no notice in 2003,” said Ross, one of the millions who marched that year. “This [peace] is what people still want and the government still takes no notice.” “We have to keep fighting and protesting,” he firmly said.
And as public support against war stands strong, Assange said there are possibilities and “optimistic understanding” of making governments surrender through a collaborative effort.
“If wars can be started by lies, peace can be started by truth,” he said. “So that’s our task and that’s your task. Go and get the truth. Get into the ballpark and get the ball. And give it to us. And we’ll spread it all over the world.”
Bhandari is the UK based Correspondent of The Week.