Sunday, March 04, 2007

Blundering Along

An Angel of Death has been abroad throughout the land: you may almost hear the
beating of his wings…

--John Bright
I recently spent some time reading about the Crimean War, frequently and quite accurately referred to as the Crimean Blunder. In the essentials there are some striking parallels between the Crimean Blunder and the current Iraq Blunder.

(1) The pretences for the wars were lies.
In the case of the Crimean War, the British claimed that a victory by Russia over the Turks would upset the balance of power in Europe; and if you didn’t like that reason, the British warhawks countered with the humanitarian reason: “We are helping the hapless and helpless Turks.”

Russia was a third-rate power at best, which their defeat forty years later in the Russo-Japanese war revealed, and incapable of “upsetting” the balance of power in Europe. And as regards the second claim, it was not Britain’s business to go to war for anything other than national interest. And the additional kicker, which was not the case in the Iraq war, was that Russia’s cause was the humanitarian cause.

The stated reason for our involvement in the Iraq war was to eliminate the weapons of mass destruction. The secondary reason, which became the only reason, was to bring the blessings of democracy (whether they wanted them or not) and megatons of bombs to the Iraqi people.

(2) "God wants this war."
It was a bit of a stretch to make the claim that the Crimean War was a Christian crusade, but the British did it, although Russia, a Christian nation, was fighting for the right to protect Orthodox pilgrims in Turkey, while Turkey was fighting for the right to deny Orthodox pilgrims any rights at all in the Holy Land. In order to make the stretch, Russia was demonized. The British war faction claimed that Russia’s Christianity was only on the surface (there was some justification for that allegation, but Turkey had not even a surface Christianity) and that the Russians were in reality a barbarous people much worse than the humble, peace-loving Turks. It seems like a ludicrous argument, but that is what Lord Langford and others advanced.

In our own Iraq war (in the eyes of the Christian evangelicals), we are fighting a Christian Crusade because the enemy is Muslim. But a genuine Christian knows that killing Muslims just for the sake of killing Muslims is not Christianity, it is murder. And secondly, we are not a Christian nation fighting for Christian principles.

It is easier for us to demonize Saddam Hussein than it was for the British to demonize Russia, but even if it is proved that Saddam Hussein was a demon, does it follow that we have a moral right or a national interest in removing him?

(3) The Press supported the war and those who opposed it were deemed unpatriotic and cowardly.
There were many newspapermen in Britain who had misgivings about the war, but when public opinion seemed to be in favor of the war, they joined the cry for war. The British Quakers opposed the war, but they were largely ignored because they opposed all wars. Two public men, John Bright and Richard Cobden, opposed the war. Cobden believed in a non-interventionist policy in all foreign disputes, but once the fighting had begun, like our own Patrick Buchanan, he thought all criticism of the war should stop.

John Bright’s criticism of the war did not cease with the war, for he, quite rightly, did not think support for an impolitic and an immoral war was patriotic. Although Bright was a Quaker, he did not base his opposition to the war on Quaker doctrine; he based his opposition on the conviction that the war served no particular national interest and that to go to war for any other reason than that of national interest was immoral.

Although no one, some twenty years after the war, would have disputed the fact that Bright was correct, he was, at the time, vilified as unpatriotic and cowardly. He was burned in effigy and deprived of his Manchester seat in the general election.

The hard left, represented by such people as the late John Paul II and the Quakers again, were our irrelevant critics of the war. The late Samuel Francis was the patriotic voice of reason that was vilified and called unpatriotic by the liberal and neo-con press.

(4) All citizens were enjoined to support the troops’ bravery no matter what they thought of the war.
Tennyson wrote his famous poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade” in praise of the famous disastrous charge of the same regiment. What are we to make of it? I think courage should always be given a certain respect, but courage in a cause that is wrong is not the type of courage that makes us think of the higher things. William Tell, standing in the mountain pass and firing the arrow that kills Gessler, and the men of the original Ku Klux Klan, standing between the helpless men and women of the South and the Haitianization of the South, demonstrate the type of courage that takes us to a transcendent realm.

Like the Crimean War, the Iraq war does not elevate the participants beyond a certain degree of respect when they perform their duties with courage. The participants are mainly tragic figures, the victims of someone else’s blunder.


This is war, -- every crime which human nature can commit or imagine, every horror it can perpetrate or suffer; and this it is which our Christian Government recklessly plunges into, and which so many of our countrymen at this moment think it patriotic to applaud!

You must excuse me if I cannot go with you. I will have no part in this terrible crime. My hands shall be unstained with the blood which is being shed. The necessity of maintaining themselves in office may influence an administration; delusions may mislead a people; Vattel may afford you a law and a defence; but no respect for men who form a Government, no regard I have for “going with the stream,” and no fear of being deemed wanting in patriotism, shall influence me in favour of a policy which, in my conscience, I believe to be as criminal before God as it is destructive of the true interest of my country.

-- John Bright