Saturday 11 November 2023

Peace is always hard won


November the 11th and the Remembrance Sunday that follows it are important because we value peace. In 1920 when people queued to lay flowers many feet deep at the newly built Cenotaph, they had more reason to hate war than any of us living today. Most of them would have lost friends, or husbands or sons in the Great War. We have only experienced relatively small wars since 1945. There is very little chance indeed of young men being conscripted and sent to die today. But the peace we have enjoyed was hard won.

It's worth remembering that the Great War began with an act of terrorism. Two people died, because Serbians claimed territory that they considered to be occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. These two deaths led to the deaths of between 15 and 22 million people.

The similarity with the conflict in Israel is obvious. Imagine how the Austro-Hungarian Empire would have responded if 1400 people had been raped, murdered and mutilated. Imagine how any country would respond.

The cost of defeating the Central Powers in 1918 was high indeed. It cost each side involved four years of trench warfare. Defending trenches was far easier than attacking them because of the invention of the machine gun and the modern rifle. It took the development of new forms of warfare to bring about breakthrough in 1918. It cost millions of lives to learn the lessons of the Somme and Verdun. It also cost us the Russian Revolution, the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the end of the Second Reich, the partition of Ireland, the genocide of the Armenians and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Was it worth it? In terms of self-interest there are good arguments for Britain not getting involved in either the First or the Second World Wars. The UK was in an incomparable worse position in 1945 than in 1914. But it is impossible to know what would have happened if we had not declared war. Perhaps there would have been no Russian Revolution. Perhaps if Germany had defeated France in 1914 there would have been no rise of Nazism. But also, perhaps something worse would have happened. All we know is what did happen.

It wasn’t enough to defeat Germany in 1918. The peace that was so hard won had to be won again. We hoped that the Great War would be a war to end war, but small wars continued and then an even Greater war.

This too is the lesson of Arab Israeli conflict. Israel hopes after each war that it can also lay flowers round a memorial so high that they symbolise the loss and also the hope that there will be no more wars, but each time it defeats one enemy the enemy it has to face is worse.

The Great War was despite its horrors fought in a reasonably civilized way. The Germans committed atrocities in Belgium in 1914, but on nothing like the scale during the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Prisoners of war were usually treated well. There were no death camps. There was no mass murder of civilians.

But having defeated one Germany in 1918 we found ourselves fighting an incomparably worse Germany in 1939.

So too Israel faces an incomparably worse enemy in Hamas and Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad than the forces it defeated in 1948, 1967 and 1973. Where previously Israel was fighting a Sadat or even Arafat, with whom it was possible to negotiate, now it is fighting psychopaths, religious fanatics and maniacs.

While we were fighting Kaiser Wilhelm II, Hindenburg and Ludendorff we were likewise dealing with people who were still rational and who fought according to the rules. Later in 1939 we too were fighting maniacs.

Germany is today a friend and an ally. It is a democracy. It probably the least militaristic major country in Europe. Its people are frequently pacifists. What changed between 1939 and 1945?

Peace was hard won again. What changed Germany was that we showed the German people the consequences of fighting two world wars and invading France three times since 1870. The consequences were as follows. Millions of German soldiers died. Most major German cities were destroyed. Germany was partitioned and lost forever the whole of Eastern Germany that once stretched as far as Lithuania. The Red Army repaid the savagery with which Germany invaded the Soviet Union.

Germany learned its lesson.

It took two world wars to make Germany peaceful. Was it worth it? Yes. We have a peaceful neighbour that will never attack anyone ever again. But it didn’t occur because of pacifism, it didn’t occur without civilian casualties and the horrors of war. It would be childish to suppose we could have defeated Germany otherwise.

The attack on Israel that took place on October 7th was far worse than anything that took place in the Second World War. I have never read of anything remotely as savage.

Hamas are religious maniacs and psychopaths. If they were to defeat Israel as the demonstrators in London want, there would be a second Holocaust that might surpass the first in its cruelty.

How do you stop this? How do you bring about peace to the Middle East. Negotiations are one way, but only if you have an opponent that wants to negotiate. You can’t have a two-state solution if Hamas wants to wipe Israel from the map.

Israel has gone through its Great Wars. It was fighting states like Egypt, Syria and Jordan until 1973. It was dealing with people with whom it was possible to negotiate. But now Israel is in a war like the one that began in 1939. It’s a fight for existence against a foe that hates Jews and wants to finish the job started at Wannsee, continued at Treblinka and which all but wiped out European Jewry at Auschwitz.

Well, the lesson of the Second World War is clear. Hamas, the Palestinians, and the Arab World in general have not learned their lesson yet. Israel must show the consequences of war to be such that Palestinians give up war and embrace peace.

More generally the world since 9/11 has discovered in radical Islam sometimes called Islamism an opponent which is willing to use terrorism indiscriminately. The people who flew planes into the Twin Towers or who cruelly ran the Islamic State (ISIS) or who carried out terrorist attacks in many European cities are ideologically identical with those who attacked Israel on October 7th.

Imagine in 1940 there were a march of Blackshirts through London telling us how wonderful the Nazis were and how just it was for Germany to regain the land that it lost to Poland in 1918. This is the moral equivalent today.

Israel’s fight is our fight because it is the same fight. It is not a fight against ordinary Muslims who want peace just like we do. There are Muslims in the IDF fighting terrorism, just as there are Muslims in the British Army as there have been for centuries.

We will tolerate the marching. Better by far to let them march than one drop of blood be spilled. But part of the lesson that must be learned by radical Islam worldwide must be learned here too.

We gained peace after two world wars because we had unity as a British people. We were willing to defeat evil in the Great War and a still greater evil in the Second World War, because we understood that it was our duty to do so and that the sacrifice was worth it.

We have a new evil it is if anything worse and more dangerous than the one we fought in 1939. If hundreds of thousands of people think they can march through London in support of terrorism with no negative consequences I think and certainly hope that they will in time learn that they are mistaken.


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