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 Responses to The GulfWatch Papers






The following correspondence

was prompted by ‘The GulfWatch Papers’

(Alastair Hulbert and Alastair McIntosh eds)

featured in ER 87. This issue is

available, price £5. 95, from 

22 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LF.


Published in the Edinburgh Review, No. 89, 1993, pp. 144-155. Click here to read The GulfWatch Papers and links to related items; or click here to see a short summary.



30 March 1992


Dear Murdo


... It happened I was in Minneapolis airport at the time of the Gulf War victory dlay announcement and the entire place took off in a celebration of drinking and pseudo-military marching. A few days later on the Ides of March I heard a radio talk-in from Milwaukee and wrote a poem which I enclose, giving a very different aspect of American opinion. If it’s of use to E.R., use it. In Missouri, there were as many anti-war protest crosses on garden lawns as yellow ribbons tied to front doors....



J.  R. Grant



The Town Talk From Milwaukee


National Radio Network,

March 16th, 1991


Hearing the good round American voices,

Discussing the aftermath of brutal war;

Denying the need for it; disowning deaths,

In half a dozen distant places with it;

Discovering plots between the Government,

Big business, and the oil barons; the Press,

A ready tool to facsimile false news...

Highlights the movement of half a million men,

Halfway round the world ‘to crack a fourth-rate power’

… ‘Bombing the living daylights out of Iraq,

With unknown civilian casualties,

From thirty thousand feet.’ These powers of war,

Here, disassembled, as the country triumphs,

Hearing no evil, seeing no evil: where

The conscience of the nation strips on the air,

The colours from the flag, the beefy Marines

Of their glory, the flight-crews’ nightmares… voices

Of history professors and wounded vets

From umpteen wars, alongside apologists,

Establishment figures and media men,

The quorum for debate. 0 America,

—‘The black proportion in the armed forces’ —

—‘Big cuts in Veteran Aid now going through’ —

You will remember this day, when Caesar died,

When all Calphurnia’s dreams were not enough;

When the town talk in Milwaukee ripped aside

The ephemeral aspects of your glory,

To see its true vision, to hear its true voice.



24 February 1992


Dear Murdo


Shame on you for publishing anything as intellectually dishonest as The GulfWatch Papers!


Of course there is ample legitimate scope for criticizing the way in which the war was conducted but, if you are going to denounce the war as such, then you owe it to your readers to say what we should have done given the situation which confronted us. If, as I suspect, the answer is: let Saddam do as he pleases, then you should have had the courage to say so.




John Beloff


cc: Alastair McIntosh



25 February 1992               


Dear John


Thank you for your letter.


It is clear that the views you express are strongly held. Should you want to develop them into a longer piece for publication in Edinburgh Review I’d be pleased to publish it. I would ask for a reply to it from Alastair McIntosh or Alastair Hulbert.


Can I, however, disassociate myself from the notion which you put forward that the GulfWatch Papers imply a position of ‘let Saddam do as he pleases’. My own view is that one of the underlying causes of the Gulf War was that western governments were happy to ‘let Saddam do as he pleases’ even when there was clear evidence of his atrocities against the Kurds. It was only when economic interests were threatened that the scramble for the moral high ground began. My enemy’s enemy is not neces­sarily my friend: I am no more inclined to the view that one should let Bush do as he pleases than I am to the view that one should let Saddam do as he pleases.


I don’t know what western governments should have done after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. What I do know is that wars should be witnessed and discussed, not run as a kind of video show. If you want to participate in that discussion, I welcome that participation.


With best wishes


Murdo Macdonald



27 February 1992


Dear Murdo


You are a good sport offering me the hospitality of your columns.


I do not pretend to be an expert on Middle East affairs, still less am I an authority on military matters. But, yes, it is an issue on which I do feel strongly. The thought of Saddam acquiring one fifth of the world’s supply of oil and then launching a nuclear assault on Israel is not a prospect that I relish. I also consider that your issue was extremely biased. So far from Bush being the bloodthirsty ogre that you make him out to be, he chose to stop short of Baghdad (which he could certainly have taken) and allow his enemy to remain in power rather than incurring any further casualties. There can be few such precedents in history (it is rather as if the Allies had stopped short of taking Berlin in WW2).


I think you owe it to your readers to present a less one-sided view of the conflict and, yes, I would be grateful for an opportunity in due course to register my protest.




John Beloff


cc: Halla Beloff’

Alastair McIntosh



9 March 1992


Dear John


Thank you for copying me your correspondence with Murdo concerning the GulfWatch papers being published in Edinburgh Review.


As I have known you for some 16 years now and hold you in high esteem as a person of integrity, I was truly sorry to learn of your feelings. There are occasions with certain types of people when one delights at such criticism — it suggests one’s work has aptly hit a nerve — but this was not how I felt on reading your letter.


My personal perspective on war is one of complete pacifism. This has drawn me towards Quakerism, and like a number of Quakers I see it as incumbent upon those of us who adopt pacifism to combat violence through many aspects of our working lives. While running GulfWatch I was very much aware of the need to be accountable in this respect and therefore wrote the enclosed piece ‘Let us Gather Blossoms under Fire’ which was subsequently published by the Fellowship for Reconciliation and a small Scottish Catholic theological journal. I enclose it now in answer to your criticism.


It is my understanding that Alastair Hulbert’s position on pacifism is somewhat different from my own and therefore I would not like to give the impression that this response applies to him also. I think he would justify what we did rather more along lines of a political theology, drawing attention to hypocriti­cal aspects of international relations without which the occasions which gave rise to an event like the Gulf War may not have come about.


Yours sincerely


Alastair McIntosh


cc Murdo Macdonald





An Encouragement in Time of War to Those Prepared to Give Peace a Chance

 [As this text is elsewhere on my website, click here to view. Only the opening and closing paragraphs are reiterated here.]

Believing in non-violence and trying to live it can be a little rough at a time like this. Anger readily flashes our way as the intent behind the politely clad question, ‘So what would YOU do about Saddam?’, gives frightened and confused people a focus to round on. If you cannot have a go at Saddam personally, try a pacifist, a ‘foreign looking’ person ... anyone on whom the psychology of fear and insecurity can be vented…


 … This points to a new world order which the bitter legacy of violence constantly postpones, and that is why war is always wrong. So let us be unafraid to proclaim non­violence! Let us start living it, even just a very small start, now. Let us, in our hearts as Alice Walker’s poem suggests, gather blossoms in the midst of war.



12 March 1992


Dear Alastair


Many thanks for your letter and enclosure. I always knew you were a do-gooder but I never realized that you were a Quaker. That puts things in a rather different light. It shows, at any rate, that you are not just another trendy anti-American a la Chomsky? Pacifism is a position I can respect and, from the autobiographical piece that you enclosed, you have demonstrated that you have had the courage of your convictions.


Unfortunately, pacifism has little relevance to politics and to the real world where our options usually involve violence of one sort or another. I could not help wondering whether you had ever thought of preaching pacifism to your Arab friends, more especially to those of the PLO (since Arafat is here quoted with respect)? If there were more pacifists like you among the Arabs, Israel would not now be the armed fortress that it has become and is likely to remain so long as that beleaguered country is surrounded by those who are itching to perpetrate the Second Holocaust. Please do not misunderstand me. I dislike Shamir and have always supported Peres and the moderates. However, I thought one of the few sensible statements in your Gulfwatch papers was that reply by the counselor at the Israeli Embassy to that fatuous letter from Alastair Hulbert.


One of the drawbacks of pacifism is that it tends to make one self-righteous. After all, the Gulf War did gain three-party support in this country. Yet the whole tone of your GulfWatch Papers was to suggest that it was a wicked conspiracy by besotted militarists! That being said, perhaps we can agree on the following two points:


(1) The American Military, hypersensitive after the experience of Vietnam, insisted on keeping Allied casualties to a minimum and ending the war as speedily as possible. The upshot, unfortu­nately, as you rightly point out, was a gross over-kill of the enemy, civilians as well as soldiers. For the same reason the Allies stopped short of complete victory leaving Iraq in appalling chaos and Saddam still in power.


(2) The Allies deserve your censure for the fact that Saddam was in a position to launch his aggression. The West regarded him as less of a threat to their interests than the Ayatollahs and Islamic Fundamentalists and reckoned they could do business with him. They should, of course, have paid more heed to the Israelis who all along understood that he was the main enemy and who - merci­fully for us — destroyed his nuclear potential by a preemptive strike.


This much I hope is common ground between us. The reason why, in writing to Murdo, I called the GulfWatch Papers dishonest journalism is that nowhere does it discuss what policy you would have pursued. So, let us suppose we had let Saddam take Kuwait, what then? Would you have wanted us to defend Saudi Arabia? Presumably not. So now, on this scenario, Saddam is in posses­sion of one fifth of the world’s supply of oil. And let me remind you that Middle East oil is not just of concern to the Americans; many third-world countries depend on it and there is no shame attached to acknowledging that it is of vital interest to us all. Saddam, then, is now poised to carry out his declared threat to ‘incinerate Israel’. Do we still sit on our hands?


You see, this is the ultimate paradox of pacifism. It leads to appeasement and appeasement leads to the triumph of militarism.




John Beloff


cc: Murdo Macdonald


Edinburgh Review would welcome any further contributions to this debate — also, comments, responses, criticisms in general. Write to: 22 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LF.




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