If you could replay May and June 1940, I think, nine times out of ten Britain would emerge defeated. If our armies had been destroyed at Dunkirk, we would have surrendered. It took an unlikely combination of German incompetence and something approaching a miracle that this did not occur. The result of this defeat would have been occupation and our only hope of liberation would have lain with the Red Army. History has the possibility to turn out very differently indeed.
Those few days, when realistically we had no hope at all and yet somehow remained undefeated, are now seventy five years ago. Only some people now in their eighties can even remember that period. Only a very few indeed in their late nineties can have been there. In the time since we have had it relatively easy. If you make a total of UK war deaths since 1945 it comes to comes to around 7500. We lost three times as many on one morning in July 1916. Somehow through this period of relative peace we have forgotten the lessons of war or perhaps rather drawn the wrong conclusions.
In May 1940, what percentage of Scots thought that the war had nothing to do with them? What percentage thought, if only we Scots don’t do anything nasty to the Germans, they will leave us alone? What percentage indeed thought that we were fighting England’s war or that it had been wrong to fight? Only a few Scottish nationalists plotting treason thought this, but their party was a joke and their cause was ridiculed if it was known about at all. At this point in our history virtually every Scot was equally proud of being British as Scottish. We had some of the best regiments in the British army and our soldiers had a reputation that few indeed could better. This reputation stretched back hundreds of years. It was a Scottish regiment which formed the “Thin Red Line” at Balaclava. They came to epitomise the spirit of the whole British Army. If it had been up to the SNP they would not have been there at all.
Even to look briefly at the history of warfare is to see that wars are frequently fought for reasons that look odd, or even trivial. The Crimean War was a dispute about access to churches in Jerusalem. The Franco-Prussian war was a dispute about who would occupy the throne in Spain together with a rather rude telegram from a town called Ems. Wars have been fought for far less sensible reasons than overthrowing dictators or freeing a country from evil.
Always call a thing what it is. We are plagued at the moment by an inability to agree on a name for our enemy. I call them ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), because that is what they call themselves. It is hard to think of a regime that has behaved more barbarously in history. There would have been a time when the mere existence of such a power was enough reason for us to do all in our power to destroy it. This would be the case even if these people were no threat to us. But they are. Every week it seems there are people who want to kill in the name of ISIS. What would it take for the SNP to decide that now is the time to do something, rather than what amounts to nothing? What if there were an attack on a Scottish city? The folly however is that if there were such an attack it wouldn’t be ISIS that was blamed. Guess who would be blamed.
We are all equally at risk. We are at risk whether we do something or we do nothing. As long as ISIS exists there will always be that threat. If on the other hand we could defeat ISIS militarily, there would be a chance that the threat would be at least diminished.
Why such reluctance to take military action? We have become weak and decadent and we have forgotten the true lessons of war. War at times is necessary. It is necessary when a problem cannot possibly be solved diplomatically. It is necessary when a threat is growing and when we can predict that it will become ever more dangerous if it is not confronted and destroyed. This is why we went to war in 1939.
The problem is that during the long period of relative peace since 1945 we have had a relentless message of pacifism. Children are almost exclusively taught about the horror and the futility of World War One. This may be part of the story, but it is not the whole story. Every film, every novel about war is described as anti-war. Moreover, we have got to the stage where in order to walk down the street, primary school children need to wear fluorescent yellow bibs. We are adverse to all risk and go through our lives in fear of the most trivial danger. What became of the people that we once were? Where are the people of May 1940? They are all either dead or else they have been forgotten.
There are some people who are genuinely opposed to all war. There are some who think we should only use our military to defend ourselves and never for attack. Many people in Britain have seen the result of our wars in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and concluded that it’s not worth getting involved. I disagree with the morality of non-resistance for there are circumstances when it allows evil to triumph. Neutrality frequently depends on collaboration with evil and anyway depends on the enemy respecting that neutrality. Sometimes in order to defend yourself, it’s necessary to attack. Few people however are morally opposed to war in all circumstances. The main reason for opposition to fighting ISIS is recent experience. Our interventions lately have not gone well. But the wrong lesson is being learned.
Due to the long period since 1945 when we have not fought a truly serious war we have forgotten how to win. No-one in Britain after May 1940 could have been mistaken about the seriousness of the threat that we faced. We therefore fought accordingly. Imagine if we had fought against the Nazis as we have recently fought against Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
Imagine if the BBC had refused to take sides during World War II and had given equal weight to what the Germans said as to what our side said. Imagine if they had interviewed the inhabitants of Hamburg after the fire storm raid of July 1943. Well here we have little Otto, he has been badly burned and his Mummy and Daddy have been killed. Imagine if every British casualty was paraded through a town in England in a flag draped coffin. Imagine if every girlfriend, wife and mother was interviewed and allowed to complain about each death. Imagine if during the battle for Normandy each of our soldiers knew that if he killed a German soldier when he ought not to have done so, he would go to prison for murder. Imagine if every time more than two or three British soldiers died this was described as heavy casualties. Under these circumstances would we have emerged victorious or would we rather have been defeated?
It is the way we fight wars today that guarantees our defeat. We only fight in this way because we do not feel that we are really threatened. If the Cold War had become hot and a conventional battle had taken place, I assure you we would not have fought with one hand tied behind our back. We would not have had briefings every day where the only issue of consequence was enemy civilian casualties. Faced with such a threat we would have done what it takes to win.
It is precisely because since 1945 we have felt more or less safe that we have lost the ability to fight. We have gradually lost the ability to accept even moderate causalities. Every military death is a tragedy for friends and family, but today we think that losing one soldier a week in a war amounts to unacceptable losses. If that is the case, we may as well disband the army. It is unrealistic. It is indeed childish to get involved in such conflicts if we cannot respond to them in a more adult way. At one point in the Battle of Stalingrad the life expectancy of a Soviet soldier was twenty minutes. It was frequently less than 24 hours. These are heavy casualties.
The problem with our recent conflicts in places like Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan has not so much been war as peace. We have been able to defeat the forces of our enemies reasonably easily, but we have left these places worse than we found them. Once more we have forgotten the lessons of 1945.
Imagine what would have happened if a town in Germany had continued to resist after the Red Army had conquered it. What would have happened? Imagine if Nazis had continued to fight without uniforms. What would have happened to them? This is how you win.
It is not accidental that there are almost no Nazis left in Germany today. We conquered Germany and we then ruled there until they had learned their lesson. We imposed democracy on our former enemy and turned him into our friend. He didn’t have any choice in this. This is how you win long term.
What is the level of threat today against Britain? I don’t know. No-one does. But I don’t think there is limit to what ISIS will try to do. If they could they would conquer our country and rule it as they do in Syria and Iraq. They couldn’t do so now, but if left unchecked, who knows what they are capable of. It is not May 1940, but it is perhaps 1935 or 1936.
Scotland is threatened simply because we exist. We can no more escape the threat now than we could in May 1940. The idea that ISIS will check the voting record of the SNP is frankly comical. They will however, be delighted that the UK is divided against itself and that so many Scots, even those who consider themselves to be patriots, have forgotten our reputation as the very best of fighters. We have a common enemy, we will need to unite to defeat it and we will have to fight to win.
The post was originally published by the author on her personal blog on 5 December 2015. http://effiedeans.blogspot.com/2015/12/isis-wont-check-snps-voting-record.html