War is a last resort - but it is one that must be taken

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War is a last resort - but it is one that must be taken

AND so it begins: the ground war in Afghanistan is underway. The campaign has reached a new and even more dangerous phase involving the committing of troops tasked with taking on the Taliban regime at close hand and taking out Osama bin Laden.

On Friday night US troops, at this stage in strictly limited numbers, were first in with what we are told were lightning raids. British troops will be next.

War is not being undertaken lightly; to commit troops is to take a momentous decision. To say so is not to dismiss the bravery of those who fly with the Royal Air Force or their American counterparts. Establishing air supremacy is a prerequisite for military success and it is work fraught with danger.

However, the sending in of land forces is an especially sobering moment, and always is in any war. Lives are being risked, fate is being played with.

We cannot forget the Afghan population. Some aid is being sent in their direction but a humanitarian crisis is escalating. As the Prime Minister says, one of our war aims should be the alleviation of their suffering and poverty after the Taliban and Bin Laden are dealt with.

The order of battle has been refined inside the Pentagon, White House, Ministry of Defence and Number 10. There is little more the military planners can do about the early stages of the land war. Having been given their orders it is now down to the men and women on the ground to do their best to implement them. In the heat of battle on the ground mistakes are made, improvisation is necessary and well-made plans can fall apart.

Generals far away from the frontline can do little to effect the outcome. Other commanders have long found that at the moment they release the attack in the field they themselves are, perversely, at their least powerful.

The experience in June 1944 of Eisenhower, the Allied Supreme Commander, is illustrative. In the early hours of June 5, uncertain of success, he gave the order to launch the invasion of western Europe the next day.

He went to Portsmouth to visit British soldiers preparing to embark and then to the Greenham Common airbase were he spoke to young US troops. He watched the last of the planes depart for Normandy and turned away with tears in his eyes.

Little was heard from the frontline until 7pm when Eisenhower’s aide found him sitting up in bed smoking and reading a western novel.

Throughout the rest of the 6th there was little for him to do. He had given the orders and had to wait. Churchill too felt the weight of responsibility and powerlessness which comes with the launch of a ground war. He told his wife on the night of the June 5: "Do you realise that by the time you wake up in the morning, 20,000 men may have been killed?"

The next day, addressing the Commons, he was "white as sheet" according to those who witnessed it. Success in Normandy and the course of the war was still in doubt.

Launching a war or engaging in conflict carries fearsome responsibilities. Uncertainties and very human fears may be prevalent, but as George Bush and Tony Blair are showing: they are no reason for inaction.

The engagements they have embarked on are at this stage much more limited than in previous conflicts, but then this is a very different kind of war.

Tony Blair, who has a taste for sweeping rhetoric on how (if only the right amount of effort is made) the problems of the entire world can be solved, has shown himself as impressive and determined in regard to the Taliban and Bin Laden.

If the Prime Minister is resolute about what needs to be done in difficult circumstances, some in his party have a bad case of the war jitters. They are entitled to their nervousness - who is not fearful of the unintended consequences of war? - but they are mistaken.

Labour in the time of Eisenhower and Churchill was a pivotal part of the coalition which opposed tyranny and those who stood for terror.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, put it well in an article for last week’s edition of that bible of the soft left - Tribune.

"As great figures in the Labour movement recognised in the 1930s, decisions may be tough and difficult but they are certainly necessary."

So the leaders in our two countries appear to have the stomach to see it through. Amidst the cacophony of commentators in Britain expressing their anguish about the difficult nature of what faces us we should not forget why this war is being waged.

Almost six weeks have passed since the assault on the Twin Towers of Manhattan. It was an attack on innocent civilians going about their everyday business. Previously unthinkable in its scale, it was also a direct assault on the West, its values and security.

If all that was true six weeks ago, then it is just as true now. Action was required against state sponsored terrorism and Osama bin Laden and it is being taken with a heavy heart and an understanding of the risks. After all, British men and women are going into battle in Afghanistan and lives will be lost.

Eisenhower, one of the greatest war leaders, was asked on the 20th anniversary of D-Day what struck him most about those who fought. "It’s a wonderful thing to remember what those fellows were fighting for and sacrificing for. Not to conquer any territory, not for any ambitions of our own. But to make sure that Hitler could not destroy freedom in the world."

It might be fashionable in some quarters to laugh at such a simple statement. Bin Laden does not have the resources or ambitions, yet, of a Hitler. But he is trying to acquire chemical capability and would move into the nuclear arena if he could.

War is not sport or entertainment for the ever-hungry 24-hour news media. It is the last resort of civilised human beings when there is, regrettably, no other way to guarantee security. It must be done.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), October 20, 2001


Bin Laden does not have the resources or ambitions, yet, of a Hitler. But he is trying to acquire chemical capability and would move into the nuclear arena if he could.

This fact is obvious, but not considered enough by many. People say that if we stopped, they would stop. If we left Saudi Arabia, they would stop. If we stopped our support of Israel, they would stop.

IMO, this is wishful thinking at best.

Bin Laden, his allies and "kinsmen", are just as much about world domination, totalitarianism, and the destruction of freedom as Hitler, Stalin, or the like...and just as brutal...even (especially!) to their own people.

As the Guardian put it.

It is quite hard to idolize or extenuate Osama bin Laden, but some are doing their best. In response to the atrocity of September 11, a false syllogism was proposed: we should attack poverty and injustice because they are "the causes of terrorism", and "the west should take the blame for pushing people in developing countries to the end of their tether". Poverty and injustice should be righted because they are wrong, but they did not breed this latest horror. Bin Laden was brought up in luxury, and his zealous recruits were educated, middle-class men.

Caution is still a valid principle -- against the excessive use of American force or Tony Blair's millenarian rhetoric about changing the whole world. And yet history is tragic, human nature is not essentially benign, the Boers were not noble heroes, the Kaiser and Hitler were not much-maligned men pushed to the end of their tether. And Bin Laden and his followers are not Fanon's wretched of the earth avenging injustice, they are bloodthirsty religious maniacs. The world is not as simple - or as lovable - as liberals would sometimes wish.

There are necessary wars and uses of the military.

At this time, with this enemy, no amount of recounting of the US's share of the many, past, contemptible acts committed by every country in the industrialized (and most of the third) world's history is at all relevant until we have survived this crisis, and the threat to our survival is over.


-- Jackson Brown (Jackson_Brown@deja.com), October 21, 2001.

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