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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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The Agamemnon Sanction
Those of us old enough to remember it are no doubt still feeling a bit queasy from watching John Gummer feed his young daughter a beefburger in order to demonstrate the safety of British beef at the time of Mad Cow Disease. Even so, the idea does have some attractions. Having seen that Tony Blair, the well-known Peace Envoy, is doing a Ginger Baker on his war-drums yet again, I wonder whether we'd have left quite such a trail of devastated countries in our wake over the last dozen years if political leaders were obliged to sacrifice one of their own children before ordering their armed forces to go and kill other people's.

They used to, you know. Both Prime Ministers during World War I had sons in the Army, and Asquith's eldest was killed in action.

True enough: "If any question why we died/ Tell them, because our fathers lied." One of the few disadvantages of a professional armed forces is the further distancing of those who give the command for war from those who suffer because of it.

That their sons would suffer didn't prevent them from doing a lot of ill-advised or precipitate things, however. Perhaps if Tony Blair had a son who would be sent to Syria, he might still feel the same way.

Or to have ill-advised or precipitate things done in their spite. I've read somewhere (if true, this story ought to be more widespread) that Lloyd George was appalled at the senseless waste of repeated over-the-top attacks that got mowed down and slaughtered, but he couldn't make the generals stop doing it, eventually hitting on the technique of scaling way back on the draft, thus starving them of cannon fodder. (Was this really the only relevant power at his disposal?)

Well, Agamemnon did kill Iphigenia, too - but it came back to bite him.

I hadn't heard that about Lloyd George, though it seems possible. And the generals might have been able to point to the less-than-glorious record of politicians in dictating military strategy (c.f. Churchill and the Dardanelles campaign).

Give or take Ian Duncan Smith (according to those in the know a bloody useless officer) and, if my memory serves, one other, there's no one in the present goverment or opposition who has military experience, which really tells you all you need to know.

But what would I know? I'm a convinced pacifist.

There's no bad situation that can't be made better by lobbing in high explosives, seems to be the line.

In the case of the current Cabinet, I might be prepared to make an exception to my normal rejection of that as a workable or ethical plan.

Once upon a time, everyone had military experience because there was thing called National Service, which had been invented for precisely that reason. However, it was eventually given up, because it turned out to be a waste of everyone's time. I suggest the novel Ginger, You're Barmy by David Lodge for an explanation of why this was.

I read a study of national service recently, 'The Best Years of Their Lives' by Trevor Royle and the attitudes of most of those put through it seems to be pretty much as you suggest, but I don't think it hurts that a government might at contain a few people who might at least have some inkling of what war actually means to those at the sharp end. I'm a pacifist and a military historian and some of the local squaddies tell me (this is a barracks town and I'm a bootneck's daughter) that at least I 'understand the bullshit'.

Edited at 2013-08-27 03:52 pm (UTC)

Leaving aside the fact that National Service didn't usually give experience of war, only of the military, experience of war seems to drive veterans into one of two camps: those who exercise due caution in recognition of the horrors they could unleash, and those who seem only ravenous for more. The US's most fervent proletariat defenders of the Vietnam War could be found in the halls of the VFW, the veterans' union and social club.

(no subject) - cmcmck, 2013-08-27 04:53 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kalimac, 2013-08-27 05:18 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - ashkitty, 2013-08-27 06:29 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - tekalynn, 2013-08-28 12:13 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - cmcmck, 2013-08-28 07:24 am (UTC)(Expand)
Of course, that was at a time when "everyone"="able-bodied men". (It's a tangent, but it never ceases to amaze me that of all the countries that still have compulsory national service - and there are many, including the super-liberal Nordic ones - only Israel includes women.)

As the universe of discourse is senior politicians, that did, in those days, pretty much limit it to able-bodied men, the occasional Thatcher or Castle aside. (Were there any disabled persons in senior office before Blunkett?)

(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-08-27 04:52 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - cmcmck, 2013-08-27 04:59 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kalimac, 2013-08-27 05:08 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - cmcmck, 2013-08-27 05:18 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kalimac, 2013-08-27 05:22 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - cmcmck, 2013-08-28 07:25 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kalimac, 2013-08-27 05:16 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - cmcmck, 2013-08-27 05:23 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kalimac, 2013-08-27 05:27 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - ethelmay, 2013-08-31 06:59 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - cmcmck, 2013-08-27 04:55 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-08-27 06:15 pm (UTC)(Expand)
The Agamemnon Sanction would make an excellent title for a political thriller.

That or a geezer garage band.


You saw it here first.

And I expect to see it hitting the shelves in, oh, I'll be patient and wait for next year.