Friday, January 13, 2006


Channel 4 TV UK. Iraq: The Failure of War: 19.30 GMT, tonight.

Veteran war reporter and former independent MP Martin Bell kicks off the new series of 30 Minutes with a powerful film arguing that war is an increasingly unreliable and unjustifiable means of solving conflicts in the 21st century. In short, "it doesn't work", he says. It is the first in a ten-week run of provocative polemics in which high-profile authors address important current affairs subjects. Bell is no pacifist. But the reporter, known by his trademark white suits ever since he first wore one during the Balkans conflict in which he was wounded, has spent the best part of 50 years experiencing the cruelties of war at first hand.

Starting as a soldier, later as a war correspondent, and most recently as an ambassador for UNICEF, Bell's views on war have evolved from supporter to sceptic. Except in the most tightly defined circumstances, Martin Bell now believes that war is avoidable, intolerable and a deplorable waste of human life. He examines the complicity of the media in presenting a sanitised version of the impact of war, which frequently fails in its stated objectives, claims 90 per cent of its victims from among the civilian population, depends on the decisions of politicians with no first-hand knowledge, and frequently fails to command public support.

Bell's views are compelling, though he largely ignores the challenges of assessing conflict in the age of armed assymetry - what usually gets labelled terrorism. But they aren't the lynchpin of a specifically Christian argument for nonviolence - as proposed by John Howard Yoder and others. The questions for those who would be companions of Jesus are not "how do we avoid conflict?" or "how do we absolve ourselves from culpability?". They are "who and what are we witnessing to?" and "what does it mean to be a community of character in a world of calcuated inhumanity?"

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