"If there are 500,000 on that march, that is still less than the number of people whose deaths Saddam has been responsible for.
"If there are one million, that is still less than the number of people who died in the wars he started."
In other words, if it's a numbers game, those are the ones that matter. I'm tempted to leave it there and go skiing, but let me come back to it in a roundabout sort of way. The other day I got a copy of Andrew Roberts' new book, Hitler And Churchill: Secrets Of Leadership, which sounds like some lame-o management techniques cash-in, but is, in fact, a very useful take on very familiar material. Most of us have read a gazillion books about the Second World War (when I say "most of us," I exclude the fellow in Hyde Park on Saturday holding a placard with the words "PEACE IN OUR TIME," and even then I kind of hope he was some waggish saboteur, since the notion that the peaceniks, though deluded, are that ignorant is a little mind-boggling). But, comparing Britain's and Germany's wartime leaders directly, you can't help feeling that victory and defeat were predetermined: As Philip Hensher neatly put it in his review of Roberts' essay, "Churchill knew very well what Hitler was like, but Hitler had no idea what sort of man Churchill was."
Just so. When you read Hitler's private assessments of the man who stood between him and world domination, they're just silly: Churchill was "that puppet of Jewry." OK, that's fine as a bit of red meat tossed to the crowd when you're foaming at Nuremberg, but as a serious evaluation of your opponent made in the quiet of your study it's simply ... inadequate. This failure to engage with reality is particularly telling when you look at how each leader dealt with setbacks: During the Blitz, Churchill would stand on the roof and watch the Luftwaffe bombing London; in the morning, he would walk through the ruins. Hitler, by contrast, never visited bombed-out areas and, just in case the driver should take a wrong turn, he drove the streets with his car windows curtained. His final days were spent in a bunker -- the perfect ending for a man whose worldview depended on keeping reality at bay no matter how relentlessly it closed in on him.
Hitler's problem was that he was over-invested in ideology. He'd invented a universal theory -- the wickedness of the international Jewish Conspiracy -- and he persisted in fitting every square peg of cold hard reality into that theory's round hole. Thus, Churchill must be a "puppet of Jewry." As a general rule, when it's reality versus delusion, bet on reality. That held true in the Cold War. Moral equivalists like Harold Pinter insisted that America and the Soviet Union were both equally bad. But the traffic across the Berlin Wall was all one way. East German guards were not unduly overworked trying to keep people from getting in. The Eastern bloc collapsed because it was a lie, and the alternative wasn't.
Well, the Soviet Union's gone now so Pinter no longer has to observe the pox-on-both-their-houses niceties. Addressing the demonstrators on Saturday, he declared that the U.S. is "a country run by a bunch of criminals ... with Tony Blair as a hired Christian thug."
Got that? It's not Saddam who's the thug, it's Tony. It's not the Baathist killers from Tikrit who are the bunch of criminals, it's the Republican Party. It's not the million-man murderer of Baghdad who's the new Hitler, it's George W. Bush. It's not the Iraqi one-party state with its government-controlled media that "crushes dissent," it's the White House. It's not the Wahhabis who are the fundamentalists, it's Bush, Blair and the other Christians. It's not Osama bin Laden who's the terrorist, it's American foreign policy. Supporting the continued enslavement of the Iraqi people is "pacifist," but it's "racist" for America to disagree with the UN, even though it's Colin Powell and Condi Rice doing the disagreeing and the fellows they're disagreeing with are a bunch of white guys from Europe.
The new Universal Theory, to which 99% of Saturday's speakers and placards enthusiastically subscribed, is that, whatever the problem, American imperialist cowboy aggression is to blame. In fact, it's not so different from the old Universal Theory, in that the international Zionist Conspiracy is assumed to be behind the scenes controlling the cowboys: Bush is a "puppet of Jewry," just like Churchill was -- notwithstanding the fact that America's Jews voted overwhelmingly for Gore. But, if you believe that the first non-imperialist great power in modern history is the source of all the world's woes, then logic is irrelevant. "It's all about oil"? Yes, for the French, whose stake in Iraqi oil is far more of a determining factor than America's ever has been or will be. "America created Saddam"? No, not really, the French and Germans and Russians have sold him far more stuff, and Paris built him that reactor which would have made him a nuclear power by now, if the Israelis hadn't destroyed it in the Eighties.
But, as Colin Powell and Jack Straw have surely learned by now, there's no real point doing the patient line-by-line rebuttal: Nobody's interested in French oil contracts or German arms sales or even Saddamite corpse tallies because it doesn't fit into the Universal Theory which insists that everything can be explained by the Evil of America. On the other hand, the indestructible belief that "over 4,000" civilians were killed by U.S. bombs in Afghanistan is impervious to scientific evidence because it accords perfectly with the Universal Theory.
How far are the "peace" crowd prepared to go? Well, they've stopped talking about their little pet cause of the Nineties, East Timor, ever since the guys who blew up that Bali nightclub and whoever's putting together those "Osama" audio tapes started listing support for East Timor's independence as one of the Islamist grievances against the West. But why be surprised? In fall 2001, being pro-gay and pro-feminist didn't stop the left defending an Afghan regime that disenfranchised women and executed homosexuals. Yet these are the same fellows who insist that a secular regime like Iraq's would never make common cause with Islamic fundamentalists, apparently requiring a higher degree of intellectual coherence of Saddam than of themselves.
You can believe all this if you want, just as Harold Pinter believed that the Iron Curtain was only there to prevent fleeing Westerners from swamping Warsaw Pact social services. But it depends on keeping reality at arm's length or beyond: You're metaphorically driving around with the curtains drawn. Perhaps that's why so many of the "peace" crowd get ever so touchy if you question their slogans. If you ask a guy with an "It's All About Oil" sign what he thinks of the recent contracts signed between Iraq and France's Total Fina Elf, he looks blank for a moment and then accuses you of wanting to crush dissent. It's not fair, you're trying to pull back his curtain.
I bet on reality. The defining difference between Hitler and Churchill is that, while the former presided over a court of sycophants, the latter thrived on argument and antagonism. (Lord Alanbrooke's diaries are especially recommended in this regard.) He had a not untypical background for an Englishman of his time and class -- an unexceptional public school education, a bit of colonial adventuring. It's what the multiculturalists would have us believe was a narrow and blinkered upbringing. Yet an English public-school debating-society approach to life served him in good stead: He was utterly at ease with disagreement, quite happy to have any assertion tested. In Saturday's demonstrations, the heirs to Churchill's Harrow schoolmasters were well represented -- lots of teachers and professors. Yet the difference between now and then is their reluctance to expose their assertions to debate -- these days few institutions are as aggressively protective of their fragile little pieties as the academy.
Well, so be it. If everybody thought like Saturday's marchers, it would be curtains for all of us. But we're not quite there yet, and reality will be breaking in very soon. Saying that Bush is the real "weapon of mass destruction" is awful cute the first nine or ten thousand times, but only if you live in Toronto or Paris or Madrid. Viewed by an Iraqi from the reality of Basra, it's pathetic.