Saturday, 5 December 2015

ISIS won't check the SNP's voting record

If you could replay May and June 1940, I think, nine times out of ten Britain would emerge defeated. If our armies had been destroyed at Dunkirk, we would have surrendered. It took an unlikely combination of German incompetence and something approaching a miracle that this did not occur. The result of this defeat would have been occupation and our only hope of liberation would have lain with the Red Army. History has the possibility to turn out very differently indeed.

Those few days, when realistically we had no hope at all and yet somehow remained undefeated, are now seventy five years ago. Only some people now in their eighties can even remember that period. Only a very few indeed in their late nineties can have been there. In the time since we have had it relatively easy. If you make a total of UK war deaths since 1945 it comes to comes to around 7500. We lost three times as many on one morning in July 1916. Somehow through this period of relative peace we have forgotten the lessons of war or perhaps rather drawn the wrong conclusions.

In May 1940, what percentage of Scots thought that the war had nothing to do with them? What percentage thought, if only we Scots don’t do anything nasty to the Germans, they will leave us alone? What percentage indeed thought that we were fighting England’s war or that it had been wrong to fight? Only a few Scottish nationalists plotting treason thought this, but their party was a joke and their cause was ridiculed if it was known about at all. At this point in our history virtually every Scot was equally proud of being British as Scottish. We had some of the best regiments in the British army and our soldiers had a reputation that few indeed could better. This reputation stretched back hundreds of years. It was a Scottish regiment which formed the “Thin Red Line” at Balaclava. They came to epitomise the spirit of the whole British Army. If it had been up to the SNP they would not have been there at all.

Even to look briefly at the history of warfare is to see that wars are frequently fought for reasons that look odd, or even trivial. The Crimean War was a dispute about access to churches in Jerusalem. The Franco-Prussian war was a dispute about who would occupy the throne in Spain together with a rather rude telegram from a town called Ems. Wars have been fought for far less sensible reasons than overthrowing dictators or freeing a country from evil.

Always call a thing what it is. We are plagued at the moment by an inability to agree on a name for our enemy.  I call them ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), because that is what they call themselves. It is hard to think of a regime that has behaved more barbarously in history. There would have been a time when the mere existence of such a power was enough reason for us to do all in our power to destroy it. This would be the case even if these people were no threat to us.  But they are. Every week it seems there are people who want to kill in the name of ISIS. What would it take for the SNP to decide that now is the time to do something, rather than what amounts to nothing? What if there were an attack on a Scottish city? The folly however is that if there were such an attack it wouldn’t be ISIS that was blamed. Guess who would be blamed.

We are all equally at risk. We are at risk whether we do something or we do nothing. As long as ISIS exists there will always be that threat. If on the other hand we could defeat ISIS militarily, there would be a chance that the threat would be at least diminished.

Why such reluctance to take military action? We have become weak and decadent and we have forgotten the true lessons of war. War at times is necessary. It is necessary when a problem cannot possibly be solved diplomatically. It is necessary when a threat is growing and when we can predict that it will become ever more dangerous if it is not confronted and destroyed. This is why we went to war in 1939.

The problem is that during the long period of relative peace since 1945 we have had a relentless message of pacifism. Children are almost exclusively taught about the horror and the futility of World War One. This may be part of the story, but it is not the whole story. Every film, every novel about war is described as anti-war.  Moreover, we have got to the stage where in order to walk down the street, primary school children need to wear fluorescent yellow bibs. We are adverse to all risk and go through our lives in fear of the most trivial danger. What became of the people that we once were? Where are the people of May 1940? They are all either dead or else they have been forgotten.

There are some people who are genuinely opposed to all war. There are some who think we should only use our military to defend ourselves and never for attack. Many people in Britain have seen the result of our wars in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and concluded that it’s not worth getting involved.  I disagree with the morality of non-resistance for there are circumstances when it allows evil to triumph. Neutrality frequently depends on collaboration with evil and anyway depends on the enemy respecting that neutrality. Sometimes in order to defend yourself, it’s necessary to attack. Few people however are morally opposed to war in all circumstances. The main reason for opposition to fighting ISIS is recent experience. Our interventions lately have not gone well. But the wrong lesson is being learned.

Due to the long period since 1945 when we have not fought a truly serious war we have forgotten how to win. No-one in Britain after May 1940 could have been mistaken about the seriousness of the threat that we faced. We therefore fought accordingly. Imagine if we had fought against the Nazis as we have recently fought against Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

Imagine if the BBC had refused to take sides during World War II and had given equal weight to what the Germans said as to what our side said. Imagine if they had interviewed the inhabitants of Hamburg after the fire storm raid of  July 1943. Well here we have little Otto, he has been badly burned and his Mummy and Daddy have been killed. Imagine if every British casualty was paraded through a town in England in a flag draped coffin. Imagine if every girlfriend, wife and mother was interviewed and allowed to complain about each death. Imagine if during the battle for Normandy each of our soldiers knew that if he killed a German soldier when he ought not to have done so, he would go to prison for murder. Imagine if every time more than two or three British soldiers died this was described as heavy casualties. Under these circumstances would we have emerged victorious or would we rather have been defeated?

It is the way we fight wars today that guarantees our defeat. We only fight in this way because we do not feel that we are really threatened. If the Cold War had become hot and a conventional battle had taken place, I assure you we would not have fought with one hand tied behind our back. We would not have had briefings every day where the only issue of consequence was enemy civilian casualties.  Faced with such a threat we would have done what it takes to win.

It is precisely because since 1945 we have felt more or less safe that we have lost the ability to fight. We have gradually lost the ability to accept even moderate causalities. Every military death is a tragedy for friends and family, but today we think that losing one soldier a week in a war amounts to unacceptable losses. If that is the case, we may as well disband the army. It is unrealistic. It is indeed childish to get involved in such conflicts if we cannot respond to them in a more adult way. At one point in the Battle of Stalingrad the life expectancy of a Soviet soldier was twenty minutes. It was frequently less than 24 hours. These are heavy casualties.

The problem with our recent conflicts in places like Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan has not so much been war as peace. We have been able to defeat the forces of our enemies reasonably easily, but we have left these places worse than we found them. Once more we have forgotten the lessons of 1945.

Imagine what would have happened if a town in Germany had continued to resist after the Red Army had conquered it. What would have happened? Imagine if Nazis had continued to fight without uniforms. What would have happened to them? This is how you win.

It is not accidental that there are almost no Nazis left in Germany today. We conquered Germany and we then ruled there until they had learned their lesson. We imposed democracy on our former enemy and turned him into our friend. He didn’t have any choice in this. This is how you win long term.

What is the level of threat today against Britain? I don’t know. No-one does. But I don’t think there is limit to what ISIS will try to do. If they could they would conquer our country and rule it as they do in Syria and Iraq. They couldn’t do so now, but if left unchecked, who knows what they are capable of. It is not May 1940, but it is perhaps 1935 or 1936.

Scotland is threatened simply because we exist. We can no more escape the threat now than we could in May 1940. The idea that ISIS will check the voting record of the SNP is frankly comical. They will however, be delighted that the UK is divided against itself and that so many Scots, even those who consider themselves to be patriots, have forgotten our reputation as the very best of fighters. We have a common enemy, we will need to unite to defeat it and we will have to fight to win.


  1. As always you have succeeded in expressing my own thoughts precisely and eloquently. I think you must have telepathic powers!

  2. Apologies for the above I needed to correct a couple of typos.
    You make some very pertinent comments, which makes me wonder about the relationship of the word war to the word policing.
    In recent years the UK military have been at the forefront of engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as serving in the Balkans and Sierra Leone. However it was not at war with any of these places as in a nation struggling against a nation. The end product was always to leave these places with stable democratic governments. I would argue that unlike the Second WW these actions were as much international ‘police’ events as war. There is an ongoing argument about the legality, reasons and methodology for the action against Saddam. But many of the motives even if the Intelligence was flawed were reasonable. There was even in that war a blurring of the boundaries of distinction between the traditional concept of war and the need for us to take responsibility to protect the interests of persecuted minorities.
    Do the SNP seriously think it is acceptable to allow the eviction of the Yasidi or invasion of Kurdish territory for example if we have the means to prevent it. Just because someone is a dictator of a nation does that mean we cannot treat him as if he were a mafia boss? In other words some redefinition of the concept of state is required, and the notion that its internal affairs have nothing to do with us must be wrong.
    Modern warfare is seldom mass army pitted against mass army. A drone strike on a car is not causing untold damage to thousands. The events in Paris, Tunisia, Ankara can perhaps be classified as acts of war, but last night a clearly deranged ‘combatant’ with a knife was stopped by a taser by otherwise unarmed police and a couple in San Bernadino stopped by armed police? So what is the distinction in their minds between the role of a private in the catering corps feeding RAF pilots in Akrotiri and a machine gun carrying police officer in a flak jacket at Heathrow airport?
    I would suggest that the SNP needs to clarify its thinking here. It simply has no coherent policy except to repudiate anything Westminster decides. At the very least it should let the voting public know whether it accepts any kind of just war theory or has it gone entirely supine in the face of aggression or can it accept responsibility for the containing, disarming, treatment for severe psychiatric disorder of Isil members and help with the eventual rebuilding of these shattered places. Just holding placards saying ‘refugees welcome’ ‘Stop bombing Syria’ when we are all at risk is naive in the extreme and downright dangerous without a comprehensive and thought through policy to safeguard our island.

    I believe that we are about to witness possibly decades of disruption and unrest on a huge scale in Europe. We have no narrative to counter the unrest caused by Salafist or ‘Wahhabiish’ Islam, having all but abandoned the notion that there can be anything wrong with it as a belief system. We would do well to listen carefully to women who have emerged from this far from homogenous but generally from a western perspective repressive culture. I am however greatly encouraged by the stance of many ex-Muslim women like Maryam Namazie with her #exmuslimbecause Twitter hashtag, and women like Bridgitte Gabrielle and Ayan Hirsi Ali in the States who are speaking out without condemnation of the totality of Islam but against the tyrannical aspects of its embedded world view. My hope is that they with support from secularists and members of other faiths alike, they will effect reformation within Islam. Without it this ongoing low grade ‘war’ of attrition against the culture and values of the west will be inevitable, and ‘policing’ it without a sincere and genuine political commitment to take the fight almost impossible.

    1. The comments about what the SNP find acceptable sound like a bit of a straw man Peter? Any right thinking person of any political persuasion would condemn what has happened to the Yazidis and the Kurds. Saying that because "we" have the means to do something to stop it doesn't amount to a coherent strategy however does it? Do we provide equipment, materiel, training? Intelligence & C3 support?Air support? Special forces? Boots on the ground? How long for? What's the exit strategy? Do we bomb Assad's forces? What about the Russians? How will the Turks react to us supporting the Kurds?

      More broadly, if we are "obliged" to support those in peril in Syria and Iraq...aren't we similarly obliged to extend such support to all peoples in any part of the world? If not...why not?

      I'm all for helping people establish western style, secular, liberal democracies particularly those who are being oppressed or in peril of their lives. Perhaps we could extend that help to those opposing brutal regimes in places like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, China, Central Asia....?

  3. Your points are well-made, but just one comment, if I may. Having spent more than thirty years in the Middle East, I suggest your hope of a reformation of Islam is a forlorn one. Deep schisms within Islam make reformation an unlikely goal. The goal needs to be for there to be no place for extremism within their ranks, but that too is an ambitious target. Triggers lie both within and outwith the religion itself. In their diaspora into Europe there exist Muslim ghettos with very high unemployment amongst disaffected and alienated youth -ripe fodder for radicalisation by extremist clerics. As long ago as the early 1970s within many countries in the Middle East the danger they posed was recognised. In Abu Dhabi by way of example there were laws in place banning proselytizing. Naively Christians believed it was aimed against their activities. In fact it was aimed equally against radical Islamist clerics, and the political movements in the region acting under the cloak of Islam. Daesh and other spawn of their ilk are no new phenomenon, but a reinvention of the worst nightmares of the rulers of an earlier era in that region.

  4. I find the analysis of the original article, and the response in the comments troubling. In the end the question comes down to one of "policing" the world order, at what cost, and to what end? People are perfectly free to argue that "we" in the West (let's leave aside for the moment who "we" would include...?)should be prepared to pay virtually any price to see the values of liberal democracy triumph across the face of the world. Such a maximalist view has consequences however; a virtually permanent state of conflict, the devotion of huge resources to defence and security spending irrespective of the needs of society in other areas, large numbers of direct military casualties, long term impacts on civil liberties domestically, and knock on effects of refugees and rebuilding in conflict zones.

    Call me a pessimist if you will, but I see little evidence from the post 1945 period that "we" (however defined) have the appetite, the means or the structures to act as global policemen to prevent or alleviate even relatively small scale conflicts, never mind impose our will and prevail long term wherever and whenever we chose.

    Many of the supposed analogous situations referred to above are spurious. The unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan and the fashioning of 2 liberal democracies from their ashes were of course huge achievements, but it is pure folly to believe that some combination of states can therefore do the same in the 21st century in Afghanistan, the Middle East or anywhere else.

    It is true that Militant Islamism and our foes in the Second World War cannot be negotiated with, and that they neither want to nor could co-exist with liberal democracy. In the end they must ultimately be brought to unconditional surrender, and reduced to a position that they pose no serious danger to our way of life. Nazism and authoritarianism still exist irrespective of the collapse of the Third Reich and the Japanese Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere of course, just as militant Islamism will no doubt continue in the future if we prevail in the long term conflict with that latest hateful ideology.

    Before we commit ourselves to a state of perpetual war however, let us at least be honest about who our friends are, what riches we are prepared to spend and for how long, how many casualties are acceptable, and what if any constraints on our freedoms and liberties we are prepared to accept in pursuance of the new World Order some of the proponents of military intervention appear to be advocating?

  5. I hope all the warriors on here will be volunteering