Saddam Huggers?

Feature story - 10 February, 2003
"Yea I hope you sail that [expletive deleted] Rainbow warrior up to a US warship, and I hope they blow you to kingdom come, Have a nice Day." That's the kind of message (along with endlessly unimaginative variations) that we've been getting since we started taking action against the build up to war in Iraq.

Greenpeace volunteers entered Southampton's Marchwood Military Port letting off coloured flares and setting up a peace camp in the military tanks destined for the Gulf.

Here are a few others:

"If you go out there you will be blown out of the water by our navy."

"I'm now leaving Greenpeace!!! You are hurting the Greenpeace name - making the organisation a political forum against war."

"I've been a Greenpeace supporter in the past, but after seeing your ships trying to block [military ships]... I will never send another dime to Greenpeace, which really is a pity."

"I'm not surprised to see that your international office is HQ'd in Germany! A perfect place for sissies."

(For the record, Greenpeace International is headquartered in Amsterdam, which is in the Netherlands.)

We're averaging around 300 emails a day here at Greenpeace International headquarters about our stance against this war. Much of it is unprintable hate-mail. Some of it expresses surprise and confusion about why we're taking an anti-war position. Some of it comes with membership cancellations.

For Karen and Ludmilla in our Supporter Services Department, who field and respond to this daily barrage, it can be pretty depressing. Especially when they get asked what they know about war. Karen grew up in Northern Ireland, surviving the worst of the troubles. Ludmilla grew up in Czechoslovakia and witnessed the Velvet Revolution. Their personal experiences of a totalitarian regime and bloodshed were part of what led them to Greenpeace.

The news isn't all bad. In some of our offices there's been an oupouring of support for our stance against the war. And while the mail is 90 percent negative, every now and then, a little spark of encouragement comes along that they can forward out to our folks in the field - the people on our ships who have been braving military security, freezing temperatures, arrest and harassment to stand up for what they believe in. Here's two examples:

"I want to congratulate you for the action in Rotterdam concerning that ship with weapons for the next Gulf War... I am really proud of belonging to and supporting such an organization as Greenpeace. Keep fighting and try to show the world that the US themselves do not fulfil many of the conditions they try to impose on Iraq."

"As an American opposed to the planned murder of many thousands of Iraqis at the hands of our government, I salute and congratulate Greenpeace on the blocking of the Military Port in Iraq protest.

I've long been a Greenpeace supporter, and remember the active part Greenpeace played in demonstrations in [Washington] DC against the first Iraq war, and heard that afterwards that the organization took a real hit in the form of less people giving money or joining Greenpeace-- So all that much better that Greenpeace is taking a principled stand on Iraq and getting out and DOING something about it-- You are setting a terrific example for the rest of us."

The message above bore a subject line of "Donation and why." It's the kind of support that keeps us going, both emotionally and financially. We rely on individual donations from nearly 3 million people world-wide who give knowing we're going to do the right thing, even when it hurts.

(Have you donated lately? If you believe we're doing the right thing in opposing this war, the best way to let us know is by joining us. Still not sure? Read on.)

But what about Saddam?

We don't support Saddam Hussein. We don't back any governments or political leaders. When we decided to take a stand against this war, it was because we see a far greater danger in the concept of preventive war.

Greenpeace has always been characterised by taking action against global threats. We hope this is why most of our supporters signed on in the first place. Regardless of whether this war is prevented or not, and if not, regardless of who wins and how long it takes, we honestly believe -no spin, but really in our hearts believe - that it is wrong, and that in the long term the world will be a much worse place in which to live.

For one nation to take arms against another because it believes that nation to be a threat undermines the foundations of peaceful coexistence, multilateral institutions like the United Nations, and an "entire web of laws, treaties, organisations, and shared values," to quote John Brady Kiesling's letter of resignation from the US diplomatic core.

As tempting as it may be to those who view Saddam as a cipher of evil to step in and remove him militarily, one has to ask what's next?

After the US conducts a preventive war on Iraq, will it set its sights on Iran? North Korea? And if the US can wage a preventive war to protect its national security, shouldn't India or Pakistan have the same right?

This is the first step on a slippery slope. It ends with the United Nations in tatters and the rule of might making right.

What does Greenpeace have to do with war?

There's a reason that Greenpeace has the word 'peace' in its name.

We were founded on a disarmament issue, when a boatful of hippies sailed to stop a nuclear weapons test in Amchitka, in the Aleutian Islands off Alaska, in 1972. In the decades following we sailed, walked, and flew against nuclear weapons testing in all the Nuclear Weapons States, ran campaigns against missiles and landmines, and stood up against war and its consequences in the Persian Gulf and Kosovo.

We've not been present or outspoken against all wars, just as we've not been present or outspoken against all crimes against the environment. But from our earliest days, Greenpeace has been about preserving the future of our planet.

Four issues directly inform our campaign against this war:

End the nuclear threat: We support the elimination of weapons of mass destruction. That means the US and other nuclear weapons states living up to their commitments to disarm -- not just the states that they oppose. Maintaining a world of nuclear "haves" which take military action against "have nots" is not the way to end the nuclear threat.

Stop climate change: This conflict is becoming a war because our world is dependent on oil. The right path is to secure energy independence for the US and all nations through renewables -- not to secure more and more sources of oil.

Eliminate toxics: War is the ultimate toxic cocktail. If we see the kind of oil spills and fires that we saw in the last gulf war, along with the chemical contamination of a conventional war, the region will suffer another major environmental catastrophe. That's not even to speak of the possibility of either side using chemical or biological weapons.

Ensure corporate responsibility: This war is brought to you by the oil companies. In particular, Exxon has been driving US dependency on oil by actively opposing the Kyoto protocol and denying climate change to be a reality. If the US were on a path to renewable energy, it wouldn't need to go to war to secure its oil supplies. As we've said elsewhere, Saddam would be just another run-of-the-mill tyrant among many in the world today were it not for the fact that he may sit on up to a quarter of the world's oil reserves.

Opposing war with Iraq is not a departure from Greenpeace's agenda -- it's part of a continued opposition to policies and actions that threaten our world's future.

Conscience

In the days of the cold war, our disarmament policies led to accusations from both sides: in the West that we were funded by the KGB, in the East that we were funded by the CIA. There was a time when our policies against nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific almost forced us to shut the doors of our Paris office for lack of national support. And our actions against whaling have always crippled support for Greenpeace in Japan.

What matters to us is not that we're popular, but that we're following our conscience, and that enough people of conscience agree with us to keep us going.

If you support that principle, and you support our view that this war is wrong, please support Greenpeace. Karen and Ludmilla could use some new pen-pals.