At an anti-war demonstration in central London on Saturday, while most of the participants and prominent speakers criticized the governments for the Iraq and Afghan invasion, Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief of the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, accounted the media for propagating government-vested interests and misleading information.
“Wars are a result of lies,” Assange said referring to World War II, Vietnam War and also the invasion of Iraq. The event on Saturday was organized to commemorate 10 years of the Afghan invasion and remember the lost lives in the war.
Amid an estimated crowd of about 1,000 supporters— the organizers estimated it to be 5,000— for peace at Trafalgar Square, Assange blamed the media for not being transparent and supporting “the liars.”
“It’s not just leaders, not just soldiers, it is journalists. Journalists are war criminals,” Assange said as camera shutters went berserk and the crowd cheered in support.
Though Assange’s statement took the spotlight before the crowd marched to 10 Downing Street to make their voices heard to the Prime Minister David Cameron, most of the people expressed their frustrations over years of war resonating a similar thread: bringing home the troops from Afghanistan, cutting the country’s defence budget and investing in health, education and social reforms.
“The government is spending on military adventures abroad,” said Martin Ross, a solicitor for 30 years. “It should spend money on education, health, pensions.”
Ross, 63, who was carrying a stack of Morning Star, a socialist daily, walked around the square, talking to people and asking people to buy the newspaper in the Square, the money that would go as a donation for anti-war campaigns.
The website of the organizers, Stop the War Coalition, says they need to raise £10,000 to cover all costs related to the event.
While some people attending the anti-war assembly spared some change as volunteers walked around the Square with donation buckets, others stood there in solidarity waving banners reading “Cut War Not Welfare” and “Afghannostan.” 105-year-old Hetty Bower was on of them.
Bower, an anti-war activist has been attending many of the anti-war demonstrations over the years. Before she made a short remark denouncing war as someone else held the microphone for her, she was introduced as “the oldest peace campaigner.”
“Her only complain is that we march very slow,” remarked the presenter standing besides Bower.
While the elderly jeered the ongoing war, the young participants also didn’t deter to opine.
In his white t-shirt with Halliburton— engulfed by political and environmental controversies— printed on the back, 21-year-old Conrad Molen was signing petitions to bring back the British troops from Afghanistan.
“My belief is that war is pretty profitable. It’s a big racket essentially the relationship between government, troops and private companies…its creating massive problems and a lot of people are dying,” said the student of War, Terror and Democracy class at Brighton University.
While he said that if an event as such would do anything, his friend, Paddy Vipond from the same program at Brighton University, said that it might create some effect though the government ignored the 2003 anti-war demonstration where nearly two million people marched in the British capital.
“If you don’t speak out when something is going wrong, you only got yourself to blame when it starts affecting you,” Vipond, 21, said. “So I’m going to fight till the end. Hopefully I make a difference.”
The United Kingdom’s investment in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has put tremendous pressure on the people and have less prioritized other sectors that affects the people, said musician and visual artist Brian Eno speaking to the mass.
He mentioned about the government’s £100m fund cuts last year for the Arts Council England and also the cuts in funds for the BBC World Service.
But according to the Ministry of Defence’s website, the UK government’s defence budget “will fall by around 8% in real terms” by 2015.
“Despite these cuts, we expect to continue to have the fourth largest military budget in the world and to meet our commitment to NATO of spending at least 2% of GDP on Defence,” the statement further reads.
And it’s the government’s decision to be pouring money into pointless war that makes people like Ross to be a part of the anti-war rallies.
“The government took no notice in 2003,” said Ross, one of the millions who marched in 2003. “This [peace] is what people still want and the government still takes no notice.”
“We have to keep fighting and protesting,” he firmly said.
And as public support against war stands strong, Assange said there are possibilities and “optimistic understanding” of making the governments surrender through a collaborative effort.
“If wars can be started by lies, peace can be started by truth,” he said. “So that is our task and that is your task. Go and get the truth. Get into the ballpark and get the ball. And give it to us. And we will spread all over the world.”