2016 minus 40: war talk

Posted: 22 November 2015 in 2016minus

Winston Churchill. Not often I agree with the old bugger, but he did have a way with the words.

This, from My Early Years:

Let us learn our lessons. Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on that strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The Statesman who yields to war fever must realise that, once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.

Antiquated war offices, weak, incompetent or arrogant commanders, untrustworthy allies, hostile neutrals, malignant fortune, ugly surprises, awful miscalculations — all take their seat at the Council Board on the morrow of a declaration of war. Always remember, however sure you are that you can easily win, that there would not be a war if the other man did not think he also had a chance.

129 words, but it does kind of sum it up, doesn’t it?

It’s a quote I’m thinking of more and more in recent weeks, as the ramp up to military action in Syria takes hold of our government.

I’ve said any number of times that I’m very glad I’m not an elected politician, whether locally or on the national stage. Apart from me never standing a chance of being selected – my past wouldn’t pass even a cursory vetting* – the decisions they have to take? Well, I’m pleased that I don’t have to take those decisions.

[*Small sidebar: I recently saw the advert below; I was genuinely amused at the idea of applying, and then appalled at the idea of undergoing the necessary – and fairly deep, I’d imagine – vetting procedures that would accompany the role. Shudder.]


Back to the decision-making. A while back, when I lived in Barnet, I became friendly with a young local councillor. We weren’t friends at all; we only ever met each other because we shared two preferences: a particular coffee-shop in Whetstone, and cigarettes. But, every so often, we’d see each other, share a table and chat for a bit. It’s not a huge secret that North London is, basically, Conservative territory, and while I shared some political views with the councillor, we differed about far more. But since I’ve always been far more interested in the process of politics than in the policy areas, we got on well enough. Occasionally, he’d relate a war story or two from a local council meeting or sub-committee. If ever I had any doubts as to the devil’s alternatives that councillors face on a regular basis, he permanently cured me of it. 

And MPs, ministers and secretaries of state have to deal with bigger issues every day of the week. I’ve an enormous amount of respect for elected politicians, or at least the roles they occupy in our democracy. That some (I don’t believe it’s ‘many’, as some do) are in it for what they can get out of it says more about them than it does the system. That others enter parliament with the best of motives and are seduced into less savoury practices again says more about them.

A vote to authorise military action, to go to war, may not be the hardest decision a politician has to take, but it’s got to be up there in the top two or three. To send people to fight on the country’s behalf, in some cases to die for the country, while you sit in parliament, with the trappings of benefits of ‘power’? Yeah, that’s a decision I’m happy to leave to others, and if it’s cowardice to think like that, then yeah, I’m a coward.

 One of the stranger things about being an accountant, as I used to be, is that it was – it may still be – a ‘reserved occupation’. Business, and the managing of it, was regarded as so important that qualified accountants were exempt from national service, i.e. fighting in the war. That seems somehow… wrong. Many accountants presumably shared my view, as my former profession supplied many people to the military in both World Wars, but another thing I’m pleased about is that I never had to make that decision. Given a ‘get out of military service free’ card, would I have used it? I don’t know, and I’m glad I never had to find out.  
Today’s Sunday Express had the following front page:
I may not be the only person who, upon seeing that, was convinced that ether the generals misunderstood the question, or the newspaper misunderstood the answer. What’s next? That “it’ll be over by Christmas”? As Churchill said, “The Statesman who yields to war fever must realise that, once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”

I truly hope he was wrong. But I fear – and know – he was right.

  1. You’re almost certainly right. If that decision’s taken in that direction, it won’t end as easily and as well as that front page – and others like it over the decades of our lives, and of lives before our own. It never does, even when our respective nations can honestly claim some degree of victory.

    As for the vetting that accompanies standing as a candidate for political office within a party framework? I too have put that career option aside. If I run for office, it will likely require me to run as an independent.

  2. Funny thing is ISIL don’t expect to win, indeed they believe their defeat by “rome” at Dabiq will herald the end-times. They’re apocalyptic.

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