Monday, September 19, 2005

How Things Change

Two years ago, British Army Lt. Colonel Tim Collins was a conservative hero for the stirring talk he gave his troops on the eve of the Iraq war:

"We go to liberate not to conquer. We will not fly our flags in their country," he said.

"We are entering Iraq to free a people and the only flag which will be flown in that ancient land is their own. Show respect for them.

"There are some who are alive at this moment who will not be alive shortly. Those who do not wish to go on that journey, we will not send.

"As for the others I expect you to rock their world. Wipe them out if that is what they choose. But if you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory."

Well, Colonel Collins, now retired from the Army, at present sees things rather differently:

One cannot help but wonder what it was all about. If it was part of the war on terror then history might notice that the invasion has arguably acted as the best recruiting sergeant for al-Qaeda ever: a sort of large-scale equivalent of the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry in 1972, which in its day filled the ranks of the IRA. If it was an attempt to influence the price of oil, then the motorists who queued last week would hardly be convinced. If freedom and a chance to live a dignified, stable life free from terror was the motive, then I can think of more than 170 families in Iraq last week who would have settled for what they had under Saddam. UK military casualties reached 95 last week. I nightly pray the total never reaches 100.

The consequences of this adventure may run even deeper. Hurricane Katrina has caused a reappraisal of the motives and aims of this war in the US. The storm came perhaps in the nick of time as hawks in Washington were glancing towards Iran and its newly found self-confidence in global affairs. Meanwhile, China and India are growing and sucking up every drop of oil, every scrap of concrete or steel even as the old-world powers of the UK and US pour blood and treasure into overseas campaigns which seem to have no ending and no goal.

It is time for our leaders to explain what is going on. It was as a battalion commander trying to explain to his men why they would embark on a war that I came to public notice. The irony is that I made certain assumptions that my goodwill and altruistic motivations went to the top. Clearly I was naive. This time it is the role of the leaders of nations to explain where we are going and why. I, for one, demand to know.

As do we all, Colonel.

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