Some Bruschetta, yesterday.
Blairites and other pro-war commentators often like to delude themselves into thinking that ordinary working class people in Britain don't really care about international political events like the war on Iraq, and it is only the 'chattering classes' who make the case against it at their 'dinner parties'. Just before last years General Election, for example, David Aaronovitch railed against the liberal 'dinner party set' for whom opposition to George Bush and Tony Blair were 'bruschetta orthodoxies'.
Leaving aside the merits of this argument (which I fear are not great), I thought I would just describe to you some snatches of conversation I overheard on train journey today. A group of six American women tourists - some middle aged, some a little older - boarded the train and sat down a few seats away from me. They proceeded to talk, discussing films and their accomodation etc. etc. They mentioned Josh Hartnett and Kevin Spacey. I got back to reading a book.
Then they got onto more interesting matters. These women - or at least the majority of them - were working class and all white. One of them mentioned her husband who had 'been in Iraq three times', had been in special forces for seventeen years and was now retired 'and I want to keep him retired'. They discussed how badly paid the National Guard and American troops in general were.
Then they got onto the war. 'I don't mind them going to war but this war is wrong' said the first woman. 'You don't go into somewhere without any idea of how you are going to get out. Afghanistan was one thing, we should have stayed there and finished there before starting somewhere else. You don't fight a war in one place when you are still fighting a war in some other place'.
Maybe this isn't quite verbatum, she mentioned Al Qaida as well but I didn't catch that bit, but that was the general drift of what she was saying. The others seemed pretty much agreed. The most elderly woman in the group chipped in, saying 'well, we have been here before' (I guess she was alluding to Vietnam). The first woman continued, attacking the Republicans and also mentioning someone she knew who was addicted to Fox TV. Fox TV - like the Republican Party in general - did not seem to impress these women. They commented on the joke made at Dick Cheney's expense at the Oscars ceremony, which was 'the best bit' of the Oscars.
Then they moved onto motives for the Iraq war. The first woman said, 'we all know why it started, it was about George going on where his father left off', a settling of family scores for the Bush family. Then one woman who had been previously silent challenged this. 'If one towel headed Arab [I presume she was referring to Saddam Hussein] had annoyed your father, wouldn't you want to go and fight him?' The first woman then came back on this immediately: 'Yes, George could go and fight him, he could send his daughters there, [but] why should he send our boys [to do his fighting for him]?'
This questioned remained unanswered as the train pulled into its destination, and after a period of silence, the conversation went back towards discussing the four day trip they had ahead of them.
My point I think is this. While the war might not generally come up spontaneously in conversation among British working class people in the same way, it is not because people in Britain are pro-war. I think it is just that the number of troops the US has and the high casualty rate it is experiencing makes the war a central issue for ordinary Americans in a way in which it is not here in Britain, the experience of military families against the war aside. However, it is clear that the longer the troops stay out in Iraq the more popular such 'bruschetta orthodoxies' will become. As Trotsky apparently once said, 'you might not be interested in war, but war is interested in you'.