I have been opposed to war since my first political and moral instincts were awakened as a teenager. What I felt then – a deep, emotional aversion to suffering, death, aggression – still wells up in me now in these times of conflict. And each time, I ask myself what I can do to resist, if only to have some option other than sitting in front of the television helplessly watching people kill each other.
Notwithstanding this moment in history, I recall being at my most depressed during the first Gulf War. I was thinking then, as now, why the hell are we still at each others' throats?
In 1991, what we saw of what was happening in Iraq resembled nothing so much as a shooting arcade at a carnival. The antiseptic videos of "smart bombs" and the excited faces of the generals made the whole horrible exercise look like a video game. I thought then, and still do, that given such circumstances our cultural discomfort with violent films and video games seems a bit misplaced, if not downright hypocritical. Violence is not OK if it's fictional, but if real people are really dying, it's a matter of national pride and patriotism?
I decided then to take a stand against the Gulf War. And it almost cost me my company, The Body Shop.
It did not strike me as inconsistent to come out publicly against the Gulf War, or to enlist our shops in an anti-war campaign. After all, The Body Shop was founded on activism.
When the first bombs began falling, I put messages around my town, and worked with the managers of our shops to gather signatures against the war. But as our campaign gained momentum, I came up against the then-managing director of the company, who felt very differently. He was worried about a potential backlash. Like the war itself, we were at odds in a case of brinkmanship.
I wondered: Would I be able to convince anybody in the company about the stand I was taking? If I could not, could I ever feel like this company was really mine anymore? There was only one solution; we called a full debate of our Head Office employees - all 1,000-plus of them.
At the time, little public debate about that war had taken place. The media was gung-ho, everyone seemed war-crazy. I'd reached a moment when I felt alone. Before our meeting, I was unconvinced that I could prevail.
Then help came. In a massive crowd of employees, two who happened also to be war veterans spoke from the heart about how their experiences of war had altered their values. One man had served in Northern Ireland, the other in the Falklands. From them we heard what it was like to be on the front lines. Their participation in war had changed their very ideas about war in a way the rest of us - who have not seen combat - could not possibly understand. It is easy to think intellectually about war; these men had been baptized as pacifists by battle.
They were impossible to argue with, and they carried the day. The Body Shop got behind the anti-war campaign, and again I felt part of the company. Nevertheless I knew I'd been close to the brink. Strangely, I realized I had no choice. I'd taken an instinctive stand that was the most honest expression of who I was. A depressing situation that could have led to depression and dejection, had instead led to a renewed clarity of purpose.
I am hoping that some clarity can again come from this new war, although at the moment, I am having a difficult time being anything other than outraged and overwhelmed.