Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Silent Service

The Iran hostages crisis was the only UK story which registered on US television or in newpapers. The decision to allow the sale of the stories got a poor press - when the LA Times and SF Examiner are aghast you wonder what Fox News will say. A lot of the US coverage focused on how they could have been captured in the beginning, a subject EU Referendum won't let go of.

Mick Hartley isn't impressed with the abuse being handed out to the "frightened fifteen", on the not unreasonable grounds that those handing out the stick haven't walked in their shoes. But it's impossible not to compare the hostages behaviour with that documented in a thousand WW2 tales. Whatever happened to name, rank, number and the stiff upper lip ? As the Dumb One says, take a look at the hostages and tell me we don’t have a Navy that 'looks like modern Britain'.

Iran has done us over neatly, humiliating our armed forces in the eyes of the world and making further attacks more likely - while the First Sea Lord tells us they are 'not an enemy'. We've then added to the humiliation with the decision to allow the hostages to sell their stories.

British sailors and Marines were previously kidnapped a few years ago by Iran - and our response was non-existent. Mark Steyn's Telegraph piece from 2004 strikes a puzzled note.

The curious thing is the lion that didn't roar. Tony Blair has views on everything and is usually happy to expound on them at length - if you'd just arrived from Planet Zongo and were plunked down at a joint Blair/Bush press conference on Iraq or Afghanistan or most of the rest of the world, you'd be forgiven for coming away with the impression that the Prime Minister's doing 90 per cent of the heavy lifting and the President's just there for emergency back-up. Yet, on an act of war and/or piracy perpetrated directly against British forces, Mister Chatty is mum.

Likewise, Jack Straw. The Foreign Secretary goes to Teheran the way other Labour grandees go to Tuscany. He's got a Rolodex full of A-list imams. When in the Islamic Republic, he does that "peace be upon him" thing whenever he mentions the Prophet Mohammed, just to show he's cool with Islam, not like certain arrogant redneck cowboys we could mention. And where did all the ayatollah outreach get him? "We have diplomatic relations with Iran, we work hard on those relationships and sometimes the relationships are complicated," he twittered, "but I'm in no doubt that our policy of engagement with the Government of Iran... is the best approach."

Even odder has been the acquiescence of the press. If pictures had been unearthed of some over-zealous Guantanamo guards doing to our plucky young West Midlands jihadi what the Iranian government did on TV to those Royal Marines, two thirds of Fleet Street (including many of my Spectator and Telegraph colleagues) would be frothing non-stop.

Instead, they seem to have accepted the British spin that there's been no breach of the Geneva Conventions because the Marines and sailors weren't official prisoners of war, just freelance kidnap victims you can have what sport you wish with.

Why didn't Bush think of that one?

We're seeing here the Blair phenomenon noted by Libby Purves in the early days of his premiership.
She was discussing Blair with "a friend, a retired military man of mild and amiable disposition", who told her "you see, the trouble with Tony Blair is that he's terribly good when it isn't his problem". The more Libby pondered this, the truer it seemed. She thought of his support for GWB after Sept 11, his Labour Conference speech when he abolished world poverty, saved Africa, built the New Jerusalem and caused the lion to lie down with the lamb, the graceful way he dealt with Prescott's pugilism - when the problem wasn't his he was assured and competent. She thought then of the fuel protests and his dealings with Sinn Fein/IRA over decommissioning, concluding that the only time he dithers is exactly when he shouldn't - when the buck stops on his desk.

UPDATE - Rod Dreher has a thoughtful post.

What does the apparent fact that so many today look upon traditional notions of honor as quaint customs from the past say about our collective moral imagination? The relative ease with which those soldiers violated the taboo against participating in propaganda broadcasts of the enemy -- and the decision of the Royal Navy to ignore the violation -- strikes me as a "canary in the coal mine" moment.

UPDATE2 - Max Hastings writes of "a world we have lost - of unreasoning, lifelong devotion, of love for an institution above self. If you don't have that, it is only a matter of time before you don't have a navy." I'm reminded of the comment of the WW2 Admiral Cunningham, when told of the risks attending the further evacuation of British and New Zealand troops from Crete in the face of German air superiority. As Churchill wrote, to abandon the Army went against all the Navy's traditions. Cunningham's reply was :

"It takes the Navy three years to build a new ship. It will take three hundred years to build a new tradition. The evacuation will continue."


Ross said...

{ But it's impossible not to compare the hostages behaviour with that documented in a thousand WW2 tales }

There was a story in one of my local papers about a British POW on the Burma railway who was rather unimpressed with the behaviour of the MOD in allowing the stories to be sold:

"I am naturally pleased that after 13 days the Naval party were safely released.
However, on behalf of the 16,000 Allied men who died in simply atrocious conditions on the River Kwai Railway in Burma, I am disgusted the Navy is selling their much-photographed 'ordeal'.
I was a paramedic on that railway, trying without medicines and food to help my fellow sufferers. We together shared unimaginable horrors and had to burn our uncountable dead on huge fires – we were too weak to dig graves.
They cut off my best friend's head in front of me. Of all the times I was a prisoner that moment will stay with me forever. "

But the Japanese probably didn't call him Mr Bean, so who's to say who suffered more?

Anonymous said...

The past had "ties that bind". Ties of village, town, pit, factory, class solidarity and an officer class with a sense of leadership.

People were essentially Protestants whether Church, Chapel or Meeting Room.

There was a sense of being and a purpose. There was no multicultural twaddle, derogatory attitudes towards truth and honesty and sacrifice.

What Britain has today is exactly what happened in Interwar France as the Left spread defeatism

Anonymous said...

A book for y'all


Anonymous said...

When there's nothing worth more to you than your life, when the whole chain of command can't imagine asking you to think any other way, the rest of it follows naturally.

That's what decadence is, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

...and that, I suppose, is the survival value of religion to a culture.