They united in protest. A builder in Bradford, a Glasgow nurse, a London office worker and his opposite number in Tokyo, a Vietnam veteran in Washington DC and a Russian bank clerk, a Pakistani schoolboy, a Cairo shopworker, a Parisian housewife and a doctor in Damascus. They all came together in a single act of defiance. Hundreds of thousands of people across the world joined in a common aim, across cultural divides and language barriers to say "No".
As around 100,000 troops from Britain and America made their way to the Gulf, their numbers were dwarfed by the ranks of ordinary men and women who took to the streets in cities around the world to condemn war on Iraq. And the demonstrators' clear message to their leaders was echoed in a swelling chorus of generals, defense experts, actors, musicians, writers and artists speaking out against threatened military action.
A woman carries a poster with a 'Bush wanted' slogan in an anti-war demonstration in central Brussels, January 19, 2003. Thousands of people around the world took part this week-end in protests to try to prevent a possible U.S conflict against Iraq. REUTERS/Yves Herman
Their call may not be heeded but it was loud enough to be heard.
In Washington, American citizens staged the biggest peace demonstration since the days of the Vietnam war. "I'm a Vietnam veteran," said David Mastrianni, 55, a software engineer from Southington, Connecticut, who had traveled down with his wife, Nancy, determined to protect against "another generation being sent off to war".
Mr Mastrianni was an easy-going man, not especially haunted by the time he spent between 1968 and 1969 as a drafted army engineer at Long Binh, outside of what was then Saigon. He was more haunted, he said, by the idea of allowing a war to take place without making his protest. It was the first time that either he or his wife had been to a peace demonstration. "Maybe we have learnt our lessons, and we have learnt not to believe everything our government tells us," said Mrs Mastrianni.
There were many protesters like the Mastriannis: peace-demo virgins who for various reasons felt this was the time to join in, to listen to more than 50 speakers rally against military action and then to join the tens of thousands on a march to the US Navy Yard in Washington and demand in vain to inspect America's own weapons of mass destruction.
Never had their message been received by so many people "in the mainstream", said organizers."You are talking to the broader base now," said Susan Riley, a nurse from Minneapolis.
Outside the Permanent Joint Headquarters of the British Armed Forces in Northwood, north-west London, hundreds gathered to hear the veteran Labour leftwinger Tony Benn warn of "massive" opposition across Britain to the prospect of war: 2,000 were in Shannon, Ireland, 2,500 in Liverpool, 1,500 in Cardiff, 2,000 in Bradford, 250 in Glasgow ...
The protesters were in good company. Sir Michael Quinlan, former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defense, this weekend told The Independent on Sunday that war was "disproportionate". Major-General Julian Thompson, a senior Falklands veteran, admitted he was "not persuaded of the case for war at the moment". "I also don't think that Saddam Hussein is necessarily the right target," he added. And defense analyst Paul Beaver urged a "second mandate" from the UN before war was contemplated.
There was outright opposition too from the actress Juliet Stevenson, who insisted: "This is not our war, and not one we should have got involved in." The screenwriter Alan Bleasdale said he was "horrified" at the prospect of war, and Corin Redgrave, the actor, called for civil disobedience and industrial action. Body Shop founder Anita Roddick said: "Shame on Bush and Blair for threatening their illegal and immoral war."
Some in the arts world are determined to take further action. The actress Julie Christie is urging performers to support a public declaration against war. Her "No War Pledge", already signed by 40 prominent names and organizations, including the actress Emma Thompson, the comedian Victoria Wood and the film-maker Mike Leigh, is to be posted in a national newspaper to coincide with the 27 January deadline for the presentation of the UN weapons inspectors' report.
The pledge describes war on Iraq as "immoral and contrary to international law", urges the British government to withhold support for it and calls on "all who support peace and respect international law to take a similar stand". Voices against war: actors writers, warriors, citizens
Paul Beaver, defense analyst
I would like to see a second mandate from the United Nations. I don't want Britain to squander its position within the Arab and Muslim world by unilateral action with the US. Another reason against it is that this is a campaign which, if the country is going to invest in it, will cost us around £1bn.
Douglas Hurd, former foreign secretary
The overthrow of an Arab regime, however odious, by an Anglo-American military force would seem different [from the 1991 war]. The greatest danger might arise in the aftermath of a war in a region that would see itself under the domination of the US, the protector of Israel.
Sir Michael Quinlan, former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defense
If we are talking about war, I think it is disproportionate. It is an enormous thing to start a war with all the direct effects and repercussions in the region. I don't think Saddam, though very nasty internally, is danger enough to be worth a war.
Alan Davies, actor
Inspectors found a dozen empty warheads under a pile of earth, but it's not enough to convince me to send anyone to risk their life. I have my doubts about war because of the issue of oil. The focus on Iraq has less to do with the war against terrorism than a long-standing grudge held by the Republican Party.
David Hare, playwright
An unsanctioned invasion of Iraq has no legitimacy. Its arbitrariness is an encouragement to terrorists. I wish an end to dictatorship in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, as well as in Iraq. Most of all I wish for a US government which has the guts to imagine a policy for peace in the Middle East.
Tony Benn, former MP
You cannot take a nation to war unless it is united. There is massive opposition in Britain: 58 per cent. Bush and Blair are planning to tear up the UN Charter to make a war which would be a regressive war, to kill people, which would be a war crime, and to do it in a way which would endanger world peace.
Juliet Stevenson, actor
This is not our war, and not one we should have got involved in. It's a complete mystery to me why we've allowed ourselves to get drawn in. I don't have any sense of what it's really about. It's certainly not about what they say it is. We've been hoodwinked and misled.
General Sir Michael Rose
As a commander, I would not want to lead my troops into battle unless I was totally convinced of its just cause and that all necessary resources had been made available. So far, this does not seem to be the case. And how will a war against Iraq impact on the global war against terrorism?
Salman Rushdie, writer
There is a strong case for a "regime change" in Iraq. The complicating factor is the US's approach which looks like bullying because, well, it is bullying. If the US reserves the right to attack any country it doesn't like the look of, then those who don't like the look of the US might return the compliment.
Field Marshal Lord Bramall, former chief of the Defense Staff
This is a potentially very dangerous situation in which this country might be swept into a messy and long-lasting Middle East war. All I ask is that this thing is looked at carefully. We are supposed to be taking a lead on the moral issues of the world.
Corin Redgrave, actor
It's not only those of us in the arts who are opposed to this it's the church, the medical profession, people in public service. We are talking about a criminal adventure that is going to tear the heart out of British society. To make their views heard, people should be thinking about acts of civil disobedience.
Alan Bleasdale, writer
I'm horrified by the prospect of war. It's the wrong war, at the wrong time, and against the wrong people. I'm bewildered by the state of mankind. The rise of fundamentalism, and not just Islamic but the kind we see in the West as well, is the greatest threat to civilization we've ever experienced.
Major-General Sir Patrick Cordingley, commander in the 1991 Gulf War
I am absolutely opposed to a war. We were absolutely determined [in 1991] that the war was just, that there was a clear UN resolution and that was to free Kuwait. The most important thing was that we were aware that the British people were behind us.
Günter Grass, writer
Once again, the issue is oil. The web of pretence which usually conceals the interests of the world's last remaining superpower and her chorus of allies has been worn away to expose the true interests of power. They are revealed in all their hubris as shameless, a danger to the public interest.
Major-General Julian Thompson, Falklands commander
I am not persuaded of the case for war. We have not had much evidence. My concern is that the British people won't support the operation unless there is more proof. I also don't think Saddam is necessarily the right target.
Anita Roddick, Body Shop
Shame on Bush and Blair for threatening their illegal and immoral war. The UN Charter, which authorizes war in "self-defense if an armed attack occurs", is like so much dust in the wind against the oil-slicked, aggressive greed of an arrogant superpower and its shameless British lackeys.
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd