I'm an American tired of American lies

Woody Harrelson
Thursday October 17, 2002
The Guardian


The man who drives me to and from work is named Woody too. A relief to me,
as it minimises the chance of my forgetting his name. I call him Woodman and
he calls me Wood. He has become my best friend here, even though he's upset
that I have quit drinking beer. He's smart, funny, and there's nothing he
hasn't seen in 33 years behind the wheel of his black cab. He drove me for a
while before I felt confident he liked me; he doesn't like people easily,
especially if they have a rap for busting up black cabs.
Woodman and I agree about a lot of things, but one thing we can never agree
about is Iraq. He thinks the only language Saddam understands is brute
force. I don't believe we should be bombing cities in our quest for one man.
We've killed a million Iraqis since the start of the Gulf war - mostly by
blocking humanitarian aid. Let's stop now. Thankfully, most of the Brits I
talk to about the war are closer to me than to Woodman. Only your prime
minister doesn't seem to have noticed.

I have been here three months doing a play in the West End. I am having the
time of my life. I love England, the people, the parks, the theatre. The
play is great and the audiences have been a dream. Probably I should just
relax, be happy and talk about the weather, but this war is under my skin -
it affects my sleep.

I remember playing basketball with an Iraqi in the late 80s while Iran and
Iraq were at war. I didn't know at the time that the US and Britain were
supplying weapons to both sides. I asked why they were always at war with
each other and he said something that stayed with me: "If it were up to the
people, there would be peace. It's the governments that create war." And now
my government is creating its second war in less than a year. No; war
requires two combatants, so I should say "its second bombing campaign".

I went to the White House when Harvey Weinstein was showing Clinton the
movie Welcome to Sarejevo, which I was in. I got a few moments alone with
Clinton. Saddam throwing out the weapons inspectors was all over the news
and I asked what he was going to do. His answer was very revealing. He said:
"Everybody is telling me to bomb him. All the military are saying, 'You
gotta bomb him.' But if even one innocent person died, I couldn't bear it."
And I looked in his eyes and I believed him. Little did I know he was
blocking humanitarian aid at the time, allowing the deaths of thousands of
innocent people.

I am a father, and no amount of propaganda can convince me that half a
million dead children is acceptable "collateral damage". The fact is that
Saddam Hussein was our boy. The CIA helped him to power, as they did the
Shah of Iran and Noriega and Marcos and the Taliban and countless other
brutal tyrants. The fact is that George Bush Sr continued to supply nerve
gas and technology to Saddam even after he used it on Iran and then the
Kurds in Iraq. While the Amnesty International report listing countless
Saddam atrocities, including gassing and torturing Kurds, was sitting on his
desk, Bush Sr pushed through a $2bn "agricultural" loan and Thatcher gave
hundreds of millions in export credit to Saddam. The elder Bush then had the
audacity to quote the Amnesty reports to garner support for his oil war.

A decade later, Shrub follows the same line: "We have no quarrel with the
Iraqi people." I'm sure half a million Iraqi parents are scratching their
heads over that. I'm an American tired of lies. And with our government,
it's mostly lies.

The history taught in our schools is scandalous. We grew up believing that
Columbus actually discovered America. We still celebrate Columbus Day.
Columbus was after one thing only - gold. As the natives were showering him
with gifts and kindness, he wrote in his diary, "They do not bear arms ...
They have no iron ... With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them
do whatever we want." Columbus is the perfect symbol of US foreign policy to
this day.

This is a racist and imperialist war. The warmongers who stole the White
House (you call them "hawks", but I would never disparage such a fine bird)
have hijacked a nation's grief and turned it into a perpetual war on any
non-white country they choose to describe as terrorist.

To the men in Washington, the world is just a giant Monopoly board. Oddly
enough, Americans generally know how the government works. The politicians
do everything they can for the people - the people who put them in power.
The giant industries that are polluting our planet as well as violating
human rights worldwide are the ones nearest and dearest to the hearts of
American politicians.

But in wartime people lose their senses. There are flags and yellow ribbons
and posters and every media outlet is beating the war drum and even sensible
people can hear nothing else. In the US, God forbid you should suggest the
war is unjust or that dropping cluster bombs from 30,000ft on a city is a
cowardly act. When TV satirist Bill Maher made some dissenting remarks about
the bombing of Afghanistan, Disney pulled the plug on him. In a country that
lauds its freedom of speech, a word of dissent can cost you your job.

I read in a paper here about a woman who held out the part of her taxes that
would go to the war effort. Something like 17%. I like that idea, though in
the US it would have to be more like 50%. If you consider money as a form of
energy, then we see half our taxes and half the US government's energy
focused on war and weapons of mass destruction. Over the past 30 years, this
amounts to more than ten trillion dollars. Imagine that money going to
preserving rainforest or contributing to a sustainable economy (as opposed
to the dinosaur tit we are currently in the process of sucking dry).

I give in to Woodman, and we stop for a few beers. He asks me what I'd do in
Bush's shoes. Easy: I'd honour Kyoto. Join the world court. I'd stop
subsidising earth rapers like Monsanto, Dupont and Exxon. I'd shut down the
nuclear power plants. So I already have $200bn saved from corporate welfare.
I'd save another $100bn by stopping the war on non-corporate drugs. And I'd
cut the defence budget in half so they'd have to get by on a measly $200bn a
year. I've already saved half a trillion bucks by saying no to polluters and

Then I'd give $300bn back to the taxpayers. I'd take the rest and pay the
people teaching our children what they deserve. I'd put $100bn into
alternative fuels and renewable energy. I'd revive the Chemurgy movement,
which made the farmer the root of the economy, and make paper and fuel from
wheat straw, rice straw and hemp. Not only would I attend, I'd sponsor the
next Earth Summit. And, of course, I'd give myself a fat raise.

Woodman drops me at home and I ask if he likes my ideas. He offers a
reluctant "yes". As he pulls away he yells out, "But I'd never vote for a
man who can't handle a few pints at the end of the day!"

Woody Harrelson appears in On an Average Day at the Comedy Theatre, Panton
Street, London SW1 until November 3. Box office: 020-7369 1731.