December 19, 2005
Tony Benn, was born in London on April
3rd 1925, the son, grandson and father of Members of Parliament.
He entered Parliament in 1950 at the age of 25 and retired from
the House of Commons in May 2001. He is the longest serving Labor
MP in the history of the party. He was a Cabinet minister in
the Wilson and Callaghan governments from 1964 ş 79 and
President of the Council of European Energy ministers in 1977.
Since leaving Parliament in
2001 to "spend more time in politics," he has mostly
devoted himself to public speaking and anti war advocacy as the
President of the Stop the War Coalition. In February 2003 he
went to Baghdad to interview Saddam Hussein in an effort to avoid
the current Iraq War. Regarding the interview he said: "In
the House of Commons I've attacked Saddam time and time and time
again, but I'm not going to be party to killing up to half a
million innocent Iraqis, many of whom dislike Saddam, just to
see that America gets the oil it needs." In the BBC Millennial
Poll of the Top 100 Greatest Britons of All Time, he ranked No.
In 1949 he married Caroline
Benn, educationalist and author of the biography of Keir Hardie,
who died in 2000 and they have four children and ten grandchildren.
Kevin Zeese: You are well
known as a peace advocate over many years. How long have you
been involved in such work and how did you get involved?
Tony Benn: My dad was a Labor
MP and from childhood I became interested in politics, meeting
Mr Gandhi in 1931, campaigning in the 1935 general election for
Labor candidates,seeing Fascists in action here and was in London
during the Blitz in 1940.
I was an RAF pilot in the war
and so was my brother who was killed in 1944. I came back as
a pilot in a troopship in the Summer of 1945 and I heard the
words of the preamble to the Charter of the UN.: 'We the peoples
of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations
from the scourge of war which twice in our lifetime has caused
untold suffering to mankind...' those words are imprinted in
my heart. I'm not going to live in a world where the United States,
which has bombed 19 countries since the war, and has weapons
of mass destruction in the empire, the biggest the world has
ever known, be allowed to impose its will wherever it likes in
the name of humanitarianism.
I mean after all I know about
this, because I was born in an Empire, and at the end of the
war when I was in Egypt as a young RAF pilot; I've still got
my identity card and it says 'This man is exempt from Egyptian
law.' Why? Because Britain occupied Egypt in 1882 and we were
still there in 1945. You know, you have to know a little bit
of history to understand what's happening.
Elected to parliament in 1950
I have been active in the anti-colonial movement and peace movement
all my life, opposing the Cold war, the Suez, Falklands, 1900
Gulf and now the Iraq wars and nuclear weapons, being a strong
believer in the UN.
KZ: You said at a recent
conference in London that the peace movement was "the most
powerful political movement of my lifetime as it represents the
desires of a majority of the people." Can you explain your
views on that? How should we use this power?
TB: The Peace Movement now
has more members and is engaged more actively across the world
than any other movement I can remember and thus has more influence
nationally and internationally as we can see from the growing
opposition to the war in the US and Britain. The Peace Movement
represents 60% of US opinion now and the same in Britain. It
is a very positive movement and has support right across the
political spectrum. Opposition to the Iraq War worldwide is almost
All the crimes committed in
the Iraq War are crimes that will be committed by a government
that we have elected and which is accountable to us and the question
for us now is what do we do now to stop them doing what they
are planning to do now. That is to say, the people here in Britain
and the people in the United States who oppose the war -- the
responsibility belongs to all of us to demand an end to the war.
There are tens of millions,
maybe hundreds of millions of people in Britain and America,
in Europe and worldwide, who want to see a peaceful outcome to
this problem, and they are the real Americans in my opinion,
the real British, the real French, the real Germans, because
they think of the world in terms of their children. There are
literally millions of good people working for progress whose
courage and persistence should give us the hope and confidence
we need to carry on with the work we have to do.
KZ: You also say something
akin to "these are the best of times, these are the worst
of times" -- as we have the power to destroy ourselves and
the resources to save ourselves. Can you elaborate?
TB: It is true that with modern
weapons- Nuclear, Chemical and Biological the human race could
obliterate itself which has never been true in history but it
is also true that we now have the money, technology and resources
to transform the world if we use them wisely and that is the
choice we have to make. We need to use the resources of the world
for the benefit of the people of the world.
KZ: So often God is invoked
and there is a religious basis for war -- you mention this as
very risky for seeking peace. How do you see religion affecting
our efforts at seeking a peaceful world?
TB: My roots come from the dissenting tradition in religion,
that's to say what my Mother used to call 'the priesthood of
all believers;' you do not need a Bishop to help you. Everybody
has a hotline to the Almighty and that of course was a tremendously
revolutionary idea because out of that sort of Methodist, Congregationalist
tradition, came the idea that we had the right to build our
own world, to meet our own needs and not just wait to be patted
on the head by a Bishop and told by the Bishop, 'If you do what
I tell you to do, you'll go to heaven; if you don't you'll go
You know, it's a very, very
different and very important and very radical idea. My Great-grandfather
was a Congregational Minister and my Mother was a Bible scholar,
and I was brought up on the Bible, that the story of the Bible
was conflict between the kings who had power, and the prophets
who preached righteousness. And I was taught to believe in the
prophets, got me into a lot of trouble. And my Dad said to me
when I was young, 'Dare to be a Daniel, Dare to stand alone,
Dare to have a purpose firm, Dare to let it (be) known.'
The use of religion to justify
war is a complete denial of what all the great teachers in history
have told us - which is how we can live in peace with our neighbors
and when Bush, Osama bin Laden or Sharon use religion they use
it to boost their political power and create a situation whereby
God is seen on both sides - which makes peace impossible.
KZ: The Iraq War is the
greatest conflict we are facing today. How do you think that
should be handled?
TB: The Iraq war was sold to
us by using a pack of lies. The Prime Minister has been telling
people at different stages why he went along with President Bush
because of weapons of mass destruction, then that it was about
bringing democracy to Iraq, then it was about all sorts, regime
change. But the reality is when Bush was elected in 2000, O'Neill
was his first Treasury Secretary, and he said the President decided
then to invade Iraq, because he wanted the oil and bases because
of the wobbly nature of the Saudi regime, which had always been
previously very friendly.
The Iraq war has been a defining
moment in that a sovereign member of the UN has been overthrown
and occupied, and its natural resources seized. The conflict
in Iraq as illegal, immoral and unwinnable. We must set a date
for final withdrawal, evacuating all our troops and liberating
the Iraqi people without foreign bases left in their midst.
KZ: Regarding nuclear weapons,
how do we rid the world of these weapons of devastating mass
destruction? And, what about the current threats regarding Iran?
TB: I am opposed to nuclear
weapons everywhere and they are useless against suicide bombers
but the Nuclear states have made no effort to reduce their massive
armed nuclear forces as provided for in the non-proliferation
treaty and that task must be tackled. There is a depth of western
hypocrisy regarding nuclear weapons when it comes to Britain
and the United States. the Americans have launched a program
that would allow them to use nuclear weapons in space, nuclear
bunker-busting bombs are being developed, and depleted uranium
has been used in Iraq - all of which are clear breaches of the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Israel, which has a massive
nuclear weapons program, is accepted as a close ally of the US,
which still arms and funds it. The prime minister himself is
determined to upgrade Trident and appears to be committed to
a new series of nuclear power stations, it makes Blair and Bush's
position as the defender of the non-proliferation treaty when
it comes to Iraq as not very credible.
As I am strongly opposed to
nuclear weapons and civil nuclear power, these comments should
not be taken as endorsing what Iran is doing; but Britain and
the United State's past nuclear links with Iran should encourage
us to be very cautious and oppose those whose arguments could
be presented as justifying a case for war, which cannot be justified.
KZ: What other conflicts
in the world are of particular concern to you?
TB: The real conflicts in
the world are not between black and white, Americans and foreigners
or even men and women but between rich and poor, powerful and
weak as has always been the case, and with a rising population
and shrinking resources the likelihood of war becomes greater.
These are not only my views,
for example on leader has said:
"The way chosen by the
United States was plainly marked by a few clear precepts. . .
. all humanity shares a common hunger for peace and fellowship
and justice. . . . no nation's security can be lastingly achieved
in isolation, but only in effective cooperation with fellow nations
. . . any nation's attempt to dictate other nations their form
of government is indefensible . . . a nation's hope of lasting
peace cannot be firmly based upon any race in armaments but rather
upon just relations and honest understanding with all other nations
. . . . faithful to the spirit that inspired the United Nations
. . . to control and to reduce armaments . . . to allow all nations
to devote their energies to the tasks of healing the war's wounds,
of clothing and feeding and housing the needy, of perfecting
a just political life, of enjoying the fruits of their own free
Those were not the words of
some young left-wing idealist but of General Dwight D Eisenhower,
a Republican President who was in the White House nearly fifty
years ago, and who knew from experience what war meant.
As inhabitants of the planet
which we share it becomes our duty to protect it, its climate
and its produce since coping with nature is our greatest long-term
KZ: At the recent conference
you also expressed the power of hope. What did you mean?
TB: In every nation there are
progressive people writing and campaigning for exactly the same
causes which bind us together in the labor, trade union and peace
movements here, and we are told very little about them because
the people at the top are becoming anxious at the growing rejection
of their system and the brutality it uses to enforce its will
to maintain its power and privileges.
I am an optimist because I
do not believe for a moment that such injustice and horror can
go on for much longer without it being challenged and overturned
since it is only able to persist because we have been told we
must accept it and once that acceptance is withdrawn and replaced
by determination to build something better it will all crumble.
That is the hope that has kept
the Left alive over the centuries and we need it more than ever
Kevin Zeese is director of Democracy