It's been four days now, and still it hasn't let up. In the wake of the largest demonstration on Australian soil - last Sunday's peace rally at Hyde Park, which I attended - the critics have lined up with an awesome variety of baseball bats to give us pathetic peaceniks the earnest thrashing we so desperately deserve. 'Cos this time we've gone and done it, haven't we? We've played right into Saddam Hussein's hands, when any dummy can see that what the world is crying out for right now is more guns, more soldiers, more bombs, more violence, and more attempts to completely nobble the one institution charged with preventing wars, the United Nations.
Once we've got rid of the UN and abolished all form of international law, the world will be a much safer place. Why can't we see what is so blindingly obvious to them?
The other stinging line of attack is: where the hell were we when Saddam was killing tens of thousands of his citizens? Why weren't we marching then?
Hang on, where the hell were you lot? Show us the columns you wrote calling for a Western invasion of a sovereign Arab country at the time Saddam's mass atrocities first became known. Point to the speeches, please do, where John Howard and Alexander Downer called for the same. I may have missed it, but I do not recall a single peep out of either man on the subject until such time as George Bush with his closest cohorts decided that Saddam had to go.
Suddenly, Australian political leadership felt the same, and was immediately joined by the chorus of conservative choirmasters we've come to know and love. Then, no sooner had George decided that North Korea also needed a whiff of the grape than, suddenly, this was equally obvious to the aforementioned. The Australian line: "What George said, except for us it goes double!" And that will bloody well learn Saddam and Kim-il Whatsit, that will.
And once that position is taken, it immediately means that those of us who do not believe in war as a solution must be painted as a collection of infantile, weak-kneed, appeasing Neville Nobody Chamberlains, lost from our natural moment in time of the late 1930s.
The real problem for the critics, though, was that this was no easy crowd to stereotype. For anyone who was there knows, this was not the usual suspects of greenies, lefties and ferals chanting along the road while Sydney cast a bored glance over them and got on with its business.
This was Sydney, in all its wonderful diversity and stripes. Right in front of an elderly and well-heeled group carrying a banner saying North Shore Against the War was a group of young Iraqi-Australians with a flag, and in front them some students with the banner "Somewhere in Texas, a Village Is Missing Its Idiot".
We were lads, ladies, locals, chardonnay swillers, beer-guzzlers, abstemious, Jews, gentile, jivers, gays, goths, very old, very young, the rich, the poor, the lot. We were simply uncategorisable, other than "Australians who have had a gutful" - Australians who simply cannot believe that our Government has got us into the middle of this mess, and who wish to register our protest.
And because of our very diversity, it is very difficult to be more specific than that as to our motivation for attending the marches. But extremely broadly I believe it runs something like this ...
We believe that of all the lessons the tragedy of September 11 demonstrated, the most salient is that just one person with enough white-hot hate in him can become a weapon of mass destruction all on his own.
We believe that in the wake of September 11, the only sane foreign policy for the US and all its allies to pursue is to examine just what caused that level of extreme hate, and act in a manner which will reduce it. While the range of possible policy options will vary widely - though hopefully led by the need to lessen tensions in the Israel-Palestine conflict - it most definitely does not include bombing Baghdad.
We believe the whole conflict has, yes, many nuances, and while Bush might not believe in nuances - preferring to continue with the absolute black-and-white view that "they attacked us because we are the brightest light of freedom etc" line - Australia should have no part of this.
We finally believe that of all the wars and potential wars of our time, the distinguishing feature of this one is that it is driven by political leadership with little backing from their populations. And in New York, London, Barcelona, Paris, Rome, Melbourne, Adelaide and Armidale last weekend, a large tranche of those populations had the will to say, "NO! Stop this madness, now, while there is still time." And our only hope now is that there really is still time.
Copyright © 2003. The Sydney Morning Herald.