You know the war – the United Nations decided Saddam Hussein could be given more time, so George W. Bush put together his coalition of the willing to go in and eliminate the Iraqi dictator.
The play was excellent – I suspect a lot of the dialogue was just public statements from the players, and the closed door stuff had a ring of truth too. It got me thinking though about the nature of public information and what we know to be true.
The Americans justified their invasion by insisting that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and a nuclear weapons program, and if they didn’t invade and. stop him then we were all at risk. There was precedent. Israel had bombed an Iraqi nuclear plant in 1981, though it been condemned by much of the world for its actions.
Of course we know now that Saddam had no WMDs. The question remains whether the intelligence services deliberately lied to the politicians or whether the politicians lied to the people.
It is true that that Saddam had once had WMDs – he had used them on his own people. Which made the dialogue of the play more compelling. Politicians with incomplete and inconclusive information, making decisions with thousands of lives at stake. More than a decade later everyone has an opinion, but the truth remains murky. I suspect we will never know the whole story. What did they know and when? Did a political agenda overshadow the truth?
The production of Stuff Happens at the National Arts Centre provided a good chance to look back at some recent history. Admittedly, the play is a little biased in its approach to world events. George W. Bush and his advisors do not come off as very bright or honest. Of course there are those who would say that is an accurate portrayal, not a biased one.
That lack of clarity remains problematic when governments confront new evils. How serious a threat is the Islamic State to people living in Canada or the United States? Our leaders have ratcheted up the rhetoric, and there is no doubt that many atrocities are being committed in the name of ISIS. But do those justify intervention in a conflict thousands of kilometres from my home? I suspect I am at far more risk of being hit by a bus today than I am of being killed in a terrorist attack. But how does anyone know for sure; governments have been proven to have misled people in the past, how can they be trusted now?
Stuff Happens was written in the immediate aftermath of the Iraq War – it was first performed in 2004. A decade has given us a bit more perspective on those times, but not more answers.