At least Adolf Hitler had some combat experience, even being decorated on the recommendation of his Jewish Company Kommandant.
As he presides over the "war-in-Libya" but not "war-with-Libya", British Premier Dave Cameron, a man who has never served in a war but happily makes one, yesterday gave vent to his frustration with military commanders who have expressed concern that British forces are overstreteched between their commitments in Afghanistan, Germany and now Libya.
"You do the fighting and I'll do the talking", he admonished them bravely via the living hell of a Downing Street press conference. His ire came as it was revealed that the Libyan adventure - very much his initiative back in February when he rushed round Europe lobbying for a euphemistically titled "no-fly-zone" - has. so far, cost over quarter of a billion pounds of UK taxpayers' money. Each £800,000 Tomahawk missile fired by UK forces at Gaddafi's forces on behalf of the shadowy rebel alliance is the equivalent of a full-equipped NHS hospital ward being lobbed into downtown Tripoli.
Not a sum to be sniffed at, and our Dave has the guts to make clear that this must be seen through to the end. He's ready to have Our Boys get on with the shooting and killing (and being killed) around the globe if needs be. While he will chip in with his gaseous utterings to anyone unfortunate enough to have to listen.
It is fortunate to be alive in Britain now: for 60 years we have been spared a major war. Unlike previous generations, slaughtered in the trenches or mowed down on the beaches of Normandy, relatively few of us have tasted real combat. And even fewer among our political class, most of whom have not even changed a light bulb let alone a bayonet during their graceful ascent from public school via Oxbridge to the Boardroom and Cabinet Office.
It is a well-observed nostrum that in the annals of peacemaking many of the most fervent advocates of peace are former soldiers. Few who have been in a war will willingly entertain another one for any but the most necessary reasons. Notably, in the conflicts in the Gulf in 1991 and 2003, it was politicians rather than military who were the strongest advocates of war - "Stormin" Norman Schwarzkopf, the US commander in Desert Storm, argued that the military could and should wait for up to two years for UN sanctions to force Saddam out of Kuwait. But President Bush Snr wanted his glory, as did Junior a decade later, in spite of his own draft-dodging past. And let's not even think about Blair, who wouldn't know one end of a gun from another, but seemingly just loves the smell of gunpowder in the morning.
Yet aren't they so tough, these proud men? Like the later Roman Empire in its sharpest decline, where the bureaucracy and senatorial class adopted military uniforms but simultaneously banned themselves from army service, our politicians are full of other men and women's bravery, ready to take the toughest of decisions from the safety of their offices, the bloody consequences of their actions far out of sight and out of their timid minds.
They are of course put in power and sustained by a massive military-industrial complex, as brilliantly covered by Simon Jenkins in a recent Guardian article here. This shows how, in spite of the removal of the Soviet Bloc and the comparatively fewer threats to national security in recent years, the West continues to spend more and more on weapons and, having acquired them, can't quite fight the urge to find somewhere, even anywhere, to use them. And with the rise of automatic weaponry like drone planes, the ease with which these can be deployed is increasing exponentially.
We were warned, sixty years ago. By a politician, yes, but one with spades of military combat experience in the Second World War. President Dwight Eisenhower spoke darkly of the rise of a military machine that, in time, would consume both the industrial and political classes, suborning them to the objective of war.
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.
~Dwight D. Eisenhower, speech, American Society of Newspaper Editors, 16 April 1953
As Dave Cameron contemplates his next brave speech, ducking the slings and arrows of verbiage hurled by his suited and sitted opponents across the floor of the Commons, he might do well to reflect, when he does the talking, on just how empty his own words really are.
|GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,|
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time. (W. Owen)