Democracy as a system of government is built on a number of pillars; one of these is a well informed populace. The foundation of this pillar is an independent free media employing responsible principled journalists. Without them democracy would be flawed and defective, but the ability of unscrupulous media and its power to whip up fear, bigotry and xenophobia must never be underestimated.
It is a tragedy and a fact of life that it is easy to demonise a country or a minority by designating it the "other" particularly if the country has a different culture and religion. An example is the demonising of Iraq prior to the war by, among other things, simply replacing the country of 27 million people with the name of one man "Saddam Hussein". The awesome power unleashed by government and interested groups to convince the population in Britain and America of why a war on Iraq should be waged, using distortion of intelligence, lies and half truths was breathtaking. It reached a point where many of my close friends actually believed that if something was not done about Iraq quickly, bombs and missiles would be raining down on London and New York. An atmosphere was created where journalists and commentators felt afraid of saying anything to counter these lies for fear of being branded unpatriotic. George Bush's statement after 9/11 "you are either with us or against us" terrified people from speaking out.
The military-industrial complex has enormous influence which it can and will bring to bear on governments, the broadcasting and the print media, to shape the news agenda and the parameters in which debate is conducted, so that it can serve the interests of corporations and powerful individuals to whom wars present an opportunity to make money. Most people make up their minds from reading headlines and listening to short snappy news items. They have neither the time nor the inclination to delve into issues by reading several sources; cross referencing and checking what they are being fed, particularly if the news concerns a foreign country. In domestic issues, competing ideas and facts are by and large presented and debated, thus giving the citizen the ability to make an informed judgement. Unfortunately, when it comes to conducting wars in faraway places this does not happen.
I weep at present day Iraq that I left about 48 years ago as a 17 year old on a scholarship to study in Britain. It is now a broken country plagued by terrorism and sectarianism unleashed by an illegal war. The attendant chaos and lack of basic services have made life hell for its people, and for the foreseeable future they are condemned to a fearful insecure existence . President Obama called the Iraq war "a dumb war"; Ed Miliband, the new leader of the labour party, apologised for the Iraq war thus: ".....wrong because that war was not a last resort, because we did not build sufficient alliances and because we undermined the United Nations". This is a good start, and long overdue, but where are the apologies to the four million displaced, and to the hundreds of thousands of women and children who have lost husbands and fathers? Where are the apologies for the children born and yet to be born with birth defects as a result of the use of depleted uranium ammunition? Yet ministers who took this country into war reacted to this limited apology with anger and annoyance. Why? Surely saying sorry for an illegal war that has blighted the lives of millions is the very least of what is required, and totally inadequate.
If journalists, commentators and lawyers had been braver and more diligent in challenging the politicians and the war lobby, in ways that resonated with the average citizen, we might have avoided the suffering of millions of Iraqis and thousands of Americans and British, and up to a trillion pounds in cost to American and British taxpayers.