Monday, August 07, 2006

Birdsong

The other day I came across a graph I had drawn of the number of live births in England and Wales during Twentieth Century. What was even more noticeable than the post-war baby boomers and the drop in live births after 1966, when the combined effect of the Pill and the Abortion Act cut births by a third, was the fall in the number of births during and after the First World War

Birdsong is a novel by Sebastian Faulks. If you saw the film, Charlotte Gray, it was based on another book by Faulks. Birdsong recounts the story of Stephen Wraysford during World War 1. As a doctor I am not squeamish about injuries, body parts or even mutilation; but as I read the description of the Battle of the Somme I found tears leaking from my eyes. The horror and stupidity was so great that Generals were shooting themselves in their guilt.

The book cleverly contrasts the modern day attitudes to life with the fear, then resignation, then indifference shown by the men in the trenches.

The other day I had an MRI. As I moved into the tunnel I had feelings of claustrophobia, but I really began to sweat when I read about the tunellers in the front line who dug tunnels 70 feet below the surface with the intent of blowing up the enemy above them. The enemy dug counter tunnels with the aim of collapsing their tunnels and burying them alive.

This is a book with the power to reveal the unimaginably horrid. Anyone whoever supported a war anywhere should read it. Yet 21 years later they started all over again.

There is nothing glorious in war. As our television screens show us yet again buildings that have collapsed under rockets or bombs, and reporters tell us of people crushed beneath them you have to wonder why it continues.

When was it ever decided that might was right? Suppose the whole thing was to be decided on a football match? Would the result make one side right and the other wrong?

Sure, every nation that is attacked has the right to defend itself. Sure, unfairness abounds. Sure, some countries are run by criminals.

I remember being told a fable when I was very young about the sun and the wind trying to get a man to remove his overcoat. The wind blew as hard as it could but although it almost flew from his shoulders, he pulled it all the tighter and it would not dislodge. The sun simply shone and shone, and the man took his own overcoat off.

The intractable war in Ulster that began with the Romans and continued off and on for 2000 years, ended not because of military success, but because Eire became more affluent.

The rights and wrongs of the war against Israel, which some say began in 1948 and has continued off and on for nearly 60 years, and some say began with Abraham and has continued on and off for 4000 years, are impossible to resolve. A compromise will, in the end, have to be reached and continued killing only delays the inevitable and makes the compromise more difficult to swallow.

In Europe there has been war between France and Germany since records began. The Rome Treaty in 1961(?) was, in part, designed to put a stop to war. By and large it has succeeded in this (though not in much else). The point I am trying to make is that the bitterest enemies can become friends. If they don’t blood feud heaps upon blood feud and vengeance is never done. To end it someone has to accept less than they deserve.

Difficulty arises when one side won’t listen to reason. Alas, I suspect that in this war at lest one of the sides will not listen, because it will not relent on its premise that the other side should not be allowed to exist. But no amount of bombing will make it see reason. However, if people in that country attained the affluence of some in that country, then support for the criminal terrorist would leak away.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness! You seem to have gone soft on evil!

Many people (Cindy Sheehan and her sad, pathetic ilk) think that everyone loves life and will listen to reason, if we just ask for peace humbly.

Not so!

The suicide bombers of the current war against Islamo-fascism remind one of the kamikaze of World War II.

Should we have surrendered to the Germans and the Japanese?

Of course war is 'all hell' as Sherman put it.

I liken the world situation to living in a very tough neighborhood with mainly decent people, but a few families who hate you and want to hurt or kill you.

You can make your peace with them by surrendering to them, and giving them whatever they want, your money, your car, your daughter, anything so that you are not hurt.

You could just go out and buy lots of guns and go into the bad guy's house with guns blazing. Whoever wins, wins.

Or, you can arm yourself to the hilt and make no secret that you will defend yourself by whatever means possible. Let them know that you will kill without mercy if attacked or threatened, and the bad guys will likely leave you in peace, out of fear.

The last option is the best one.

Cindy Sheehan would just lay down and let the enemy kill her and her family.

God certainly had no objection to believers defending themselves from the enemy.

Until history ends or the Second Coming, we are stuck in a very, very dangerous world.

My solution to the current problem is to destroy Iran's nuclear weapons factories while we still have a chance. Let's show them we still have some backbone left.

Thank goodness we are re-arming Israel as she requires it.

Terry Hamblin said...

No, I'm not soft on evil. For example, I believe in capital punishment for certain criminals - the only cogent argument against it is the uncertainty that you have got the right man.

I believe that Saddam Hussain will be found guilty in Iraq and if he is I believe he should be hanged.

I certainly believe in the right of a country to defend itself and I believe it is the duty of strong countries to defend weak ones against bullies.

But the conflict in the Middle East is much more complicated than is being portrayed.

In retrospect, although World War 2 was an honorable one, it could and should have been prevented had there been leaders with more backbone in the 1930s. On the other hand World War One is difficult to justify and certainly should not have been allowed to produce the carnage that it did. The habit of the US of propping up tin-pot dictators because they were anti-communist even though they were criminals is a stain on America's reputation, just as resistance to freedom movements in the Empire is a stain on Britain's.

The idea that right can be determined by who has the better bombs or in the street by resorting to fisticuffs is a bizarre one. It only determines who is the most powerful.

We would never settle a boundary line on our property by dualing with our neighbor or staging gunfights like Lee J Cobb and Kirk Douglas. We would take the matter to court - though we would expect there to be a court where the judges obeyed the law and could not be bought. It is probably because Supreme Court appointments tend to be so partisan in America that American do not trust courts.

There may come a time when we will have to confront Iran, but we should not allow them to pick little by-proxy wars in which to fight a propaganda war. That is a tactical error.

Perhaps when both sides have killed a few more people there will be negotiations over the northern border of Israel. I supect that the eventual agreement will involve an exchange of prisoners, the settlment of the Shebbah farms, the incorporation of Hezbollah into the Lebanese army which will then be deployed north of the Litaani River and the cessation of hostilities guaranteed by French and Turkish troops.

There will then be massive aid from the US and the EU to rebuild the shattered infrastructure.

This solution or something like it would have been available without the killing. What there will be now will be longstanding suspicion and resentment on both sides.

Anonymous said...

World War I was principally a European affair, and precipitated by the complex treaties that obligated country after country to go to war. It was a horribly messy affair, solved only by the invention of the tank and more effective air power. The machine gun cut down hundreds of thousands, and poison gas, ditto.

Treaties will not solve the problem of islamo-fascists and Jews and Christians. Nothing will solve the lies and the hate that fuel the Moslem masses. Didn't you see the photos of the Palestinians who were dancing in the streets after September 11, 2001?

Christians don't suicide bomb, Jews don't suicide bomb, Moslems suicide bomb.

The war with Islam started with the creation of the Moslem religion, carried through the Crusades, and continues to this day.

BTW, the 'propping up of tin-pot dictators' was an effort to contain Communism, as you well know. The United States could not change the governments of important countries by invasion or wishful thinking.

I don't apologize for those actions. Britian and other democracies have been extremely well-served by the projection of American power since WWII.

In hindsight, OF COURSE mistakes were made, poor decisions were implemented.

Do you expect absolute perfections from America?

If China hadn't intervened in the Korean conflict, millions of North Koreans would be alive today. Political prisioners would not be imprisoned in Cuba today. Thousands or millions would have been saved if Americans hadn't lost their nerve (helped along by a liberal media) in Vietnam.

What the heck to do expect from America? Look elsewhere for evil in the world.

We invaded Iraq to free the people from a terrible dictator (though Howard Dean thinks Iraqis would be better off under Saddam), not to colonize the country, not to seize their oil, and not to prop up a tin-pot dictator.

Please read my post carefully. No where did I say 'might makes right'. I'm talking about defending my country. Did you not understand that?

I can't believe you'd think we don't live in a dangerous world full of people who would do us harm.

I suppose England isn't the same country it was under Churchill, who remains popular in the US.

The world court is a joke, and the day America lets some bureaucrat from France rule that our military did something illegal is the day America ceases to exist.

The Israelis made a mistake by ceding control over the Sinai peninsula and the West bank. They paid for every inch of soil with their own blood. I would not give an inch back.

I can't believe you're serious about incorporating Hezbollah forces into the Lebanese army! Why don't we let the Chinese take over 30% of your army? Hezbollah is the enemy, for goodness sake! They'd be running the military in six months or less.

Of course borders are set by military action! Ask the Germans what happened to the 1939 German border.

Terry Hamblin said...

I don't favor Hezbollah being incorporated in the Lebanese army; I am predicting that that is what will happen. It might not have happened without this war.

What broke communism was not a war, but market forces. People all over the world want the same things that Americans want - peace, prosperity and freedom. The power of the internet will eventually defeat totalitarianism.

I agree that certain forms of Islam are horific and represent a danger to Western democracies. I remember the expression "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church". Making war against Muslims only strengthens them. What they are vulnerable to is internet pornography. I'm not sure whether it is true, but a story in the blogs tells of Shiites in Iraq executing farmers for not putting napkins on their she-goats. Muslim women must be covered up from head to toe so as not to inflame their men. I can't believe that such a religion stands a chance in the real world. Read the Screwtape letters on how to undermine a religious person. I can tell you that you won't do it by force.

Christians and Jews do not stone adulterers but once they did. Maturity has set in. I have many Muslim colleagues who are appalled at what Hezbollah are doing. Muslims can mature too.

I don't criticise America. I think that America has been the guarantor of freedom over the past 60 years. I support the nuclear deterrent. I was in favor of the Iraq invasion.

I just don't believe America is perfect any more than the UK is or Sweden is. I do think that Western democracy is the most effective and acceptable form of government. I think that much of the criticism of President Bush has been unfair. but it is probably true that the post-war situation in Iraq could have been better handled. But, hey, it's a difficult job.

Doctors have respect for human life. War kills people. I don't like war. If it is truly in self defence then war is sometimes inevitable. If it is to rescue weak people from a bully, then war is sometimes justified. But no doctor enters a war willingly; it has to be a matter of nothing else will do.

Once Israel had taken the decision that no alternative was available but to respond to Hezbollah attacks then the present crisis was inevitable. I have no criticisms of Israel's conduct of the war. How else can Israel defend itself against an enemy that does not wear a uniform and hides behind the skirts of women?

What I question is was this response necessary? I am not there, so I cannot judge. I suspect that a more measured response would have secured the sympathy of the media rather than its antagonism. These wars are fought on television. Israel could have handled the press better.

The rule of law is what we aspire to. We have the advantage in the UK that our judges are not political appointees, but professionals whose duty is to the law. They cannot be bought and are incorruptable. We tend to regard them as trustworthy. The judges that I have met have all been extremely clever people with a very good understaning of the world.

Anonymous said...

Your last post I largely agree with.

The one thing I'm a bit puzzled by is the interest in 'world opinion'. Israel, and by extension, the Jews, have been the subject of severe discrimination for hundreds if not thousands of years. I think by now they aren't so worried about what the rest of the world thinks, since much of the world just wants all Jews killed, and the sooner the better.

America is along the way to the same belief. Personally, I care more about a cigarette butt in the road than I do about what the French think about the United States.

Of course the US isn't perfect. However, as you imply, America is largely a force for good in the world. We want no other land to conquer and occupy. We do want to get out of Iraq as soon as we can leave the country in decent shape.

The backward-looking Moslems are not a threat unless they try to impose their beliefs on others, which is exactly what they are trying to do in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, etc.

It IS a dangerous world out there.

Deb said...

I must say I have read every word each of you has written and I wish we could have this going on with the cable TV opinions. Each of you is writing eloquently and thoughtfully. When you disagree, it isn't a personal attack. This identical conversation could be on TV but the two would interupt, yell, cut-off and generally behave very rudely which is why I hit "off" more often than listen to the pundits. In the meantime, I'll gladly listen to you two anytime.