Big-screen documentaries never change the world. Blackfish has not shortened the queues to see maltreated killer whales leap through hoops at SeaWorld. Super Size Me reduced neither the all-American waistline nor the profit margin of McDonald’s. The Cove did not prevent the Japan whale industry slaughtering dolphins. So what possible chance, more than a decade after Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, has a mere film of bringing about that most chimerical of holy grails: an admission that the case for invading Iraq was knowingly built on a lie?
We Are Many revisits the anti-war marches of 15 February 2003. On that date there were demonstrations in 789 cities across 72 countries, plus Antarctica, attended by many millions of people of all ages, creeds and colours, none of them frightfully persuaded by the neocon project — eventual cost: $6 trillion — to give that goddamn Saddam a biff on the conk.
In this powerful account of the epic failure of public opinion — and of the House of Commons — the usual suspects say their piece about peace. There’s the estimable Jerry Corbyn, Noam Chomsky, the late Tony Benn, Jesse Jackson, Clare Short, Ken Loach and Tariq Ali. The self-beatifying Sir Richard Branson very nearly saved the world by laying on a secret plane to fly Mandela to Baghdad to talk Saddam into exile. And joining the ranks of statutory thespians and many weeping peace activists are Messrs Albarn and Eno.
‘I feel that I speak for a growing number of people in this country,’ Damon Albarn, descended from a long line of conchies, told a news crew at the time. If it had been Noel Gallagher, the Britpopper who once went to drinkies at No. 10, maybe Blair would have listened. Brian Eno recalled writing to the government requesting a copy of the sexed-up dossier, though not in that exact wording. He showed it to a couple of weapons inspectors who told him how much of it was invalid. For some reason, he says, not many MPs asked the same questions.
Governments, alas, tend not to take kindly to being klaxonned by niggly pop peaceniks. The establishment is all too practised at ignoring people it sees as sloganeering irritants. ‘What everybody now knows,’ says Peter Oborne, kicking himself that he missed the march, ‘is that these deranged lefties were incredibly right.’ Not that the marchers thronging the streets were all beardies in berets and harpies in pink. John le Carré, a respectable buttress of the national edifice to the bristly tips of his eyebrows, reflects on the breathtaking obscenity of a British government setting out to deceive the British people. Hans Blix chortles about Blair’s risible 45 minutes. Most devastatingly of all, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff says he’d happily go to jail if his testimony about the CIA falsifying intel could take the three disgraces Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney with him.
Blair, who can no longer walk safely down a British street, turned down the film’s latest invitation to look back. A staffer writes without irony that he’s too busy running his three charities and working for peace in the Middle East. It is left to David Blunkett and Lord Falconer to hoist the weary old ‘now we know so much more’ defence.
At stake in 2003, apart from a lot of lives, was ownership of the eponymous first person plural: the bellicose ‘we’ which thirsted for victory and the pacifist ‘we’ waved away by Bush as a mere focus group. The New York Times called these constituencies the two superpowers.
But why rake over old coals now other than to issue a gigantic ‘I told you so’? There are still 45 minutes to run when the USAF embarks on its PlayStation bombardment of Baghdad. We Are Many, made by London-based Iranian Amir Amirani, goes on to argue that the seeds of revolution in Egypt were sown in 2003, and that Mubarak was ousted by protestors whose spines were stiffened by those formative experiences in Tahrir Square. And at least we didn’t bomb Syria. This feels like a bathetic denouement in the week Mubarak’s successor has been sentenced to death and Islamic State has conquered Ramadi. But that’s activists for you: always looking on the bright side. Someone has to.