By Alan Clawley.
The documentary film ‘Rethink Afghanistan’ screened on Wednesday evening (22 June) at St Saviours Church Hall, Saltley by the ‘Stop The War Coalition’, made me realise how those who take us into war continually rethink their war aims when it becomes all too clear that they have failed to achieve them. This is known in the military world as ‘mission creep’.
In the case of Afghanistan, I recall that the aim of America and her western allies was to catch Osama Bin Laden who was said to be hiding in a remote cave in the Afghan mountains. So you would expect that after the world’s most notorious terrorist leader had been tracked down living not in a primitive hole in the ground but in comparative luxury in Pakistan and killed on the spot, the Americans would declare ‘mission complete’ and scuttle back home to a safer country.
We all remember that Tony Blair’s aim in invading Iraq was to remove Saddam Hussain’s weapons of mass destruction that were said to be capable of reaching Britain in 45 minutes. You would expect then that when his troops arrived in Iraq and discovered that there were no such weapons he would breathe a sigh of relief, bring back his troops without further ado and declare ‘mission complete’.
And now David Cameron, under cover of a United Nations resolution, has embarked on a military intervention in Libya to ‘protect its civilian population’. With such an aim you would expect that when news of the first civilian casualty of ‘Friendly Fire’ reached Downing Street, Mr Cameron might wonder if he was achieving his aim and call a halt to the whole project.
Going further back in history, Britain declared war on Germany in 1939 to uphold the right of the Polish people not to be occupied by a foreign power yet Britain did not stop fighting as soon as it became clear that it could not expel Germany from Poland or prevent it being occupied by the totalitarian Soviet Union afterwards.
The problem is that our leaders find it impossible to admit defeat so, despite all their fine words, their real aim is simply to ‘defeat the enemy’. And the enemy are those people, countries, regimes, religions and alien ideologies that they profoundly dislike. The minds of war leaders like Winston Churchill are as closely focussed on defeating their opponents as a top chess player or professional football team manager. Everything else is peripheral. They cannot afford to see their opponents as individual human beings or their racial equals, and will use all their oratorical skills to persuade their own people to think the same way. No-one would kill people if they were ‘just like themselves’.
Both sides in a war want the total defeat, unconditional surrender and humiliation of their enemy. America’s aim in Vietnam was to ‘hold back the tide of communism’, an unachievable aim which made ultimate failure hard to swallow. Her aim to ‘defeat militant Islam’ in Muslim countries is just as unattainable as militant Islam’s aim to ‘destroy western civilisation’.
In the face of failure war leaders never hesitate to invent new aims to justify keeping the war going. An American politician recently said that America must not leave Afghanistan yet because she will ‘lose ground’ that she has fought hard to gain. It seems that the memory of the trench warfare of the First World War lives in 2011.
So it seems we must listen to a litany of new reasons for continuing our current military adventures until our leaders and their armies run out of ideas, money, or public support. Sadly, no-one has yet come up with a way of stopping them getting us into wars in the first place.