Posts Tagged ‘War’


December 22, 2013

Like many males at this time of the year, I feel compelled to address the great issues of the world. Fortunately there are only five:

1. Ensuring a properly functioning economy
2. Avoiding war
3. Creating good governance
4. Keeping balance in the environment
5. Managing migrations

There is some linkage. Economic achievement for example will be affected by success in avoiding war.

What about population growth? Important, yes, but it is likely to be regulated automatically by advances in prosperity. That in turn will be influenced by better governance, as is already happening in Africa.

Migration may not seem a top priority. However statistics indicate Africa’s population will probably rise to four billion. How will they interact with the richer but much smaller and declining population of Europe? If just one per cent decide to move to Europe, that’s forty million. If ten per cent come, that’s more than Europe’s whole present population. What are the implications?

I don’t have all the answers, but it’s a nice short list to work on. All the rest is media chatter, including the question whether Arsenal will win the English soccer Premiership, which I must confess does sometimes clutter my mind.

I trust some of the rest of you are working on the same list. If so, we can doubtless look forward to a better 2014. Good luck and Happy New Year.

Britons reluctant to go to war, complains minister. Quite right too.

January 14, 2010

British Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell complained in a speech yesterday of a growing public resistance to use of military power. Small wonder, in view of the limited success of Britain’s costly military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s not a question of being “risk-averse, cynical and introverted,” as the minister put it, but rather of a healthy scepticism whether wars really do any good. Britons should be proud of their reluctance to go to war unless absolutely necessary.

The nature of courage – by conscript H. Ferrar, 94

August 2, 2009

My father, 94, muses by the Cherwell river about the nature of courage. As a very civilian teacher, he was not pre-ordained to deal with such matters. He did not want to join the British Army. He had to. He was called up in World War II and sent to fight the Japanese in the jungles of Burma. Today’s lessons:

– The first time I came into physical danger, I had to pull myself together with a great effort. After that, it comes more easily. You are scared, but everybody else is too, so you are all in it together.

– My moment of weakness was when I was seized with panic about going into holes in the ground.

– I made up for this by bravely crawling out under fire to cut the telephone wires of Japanese attacking British headquarters.

– I thought my last moments had come when I was sent in an elderly plane to reconnoitre Japanese positions in caves overlooking a valley. The pilot was pissing himself with fear. I could hear bullets cracking past and thought sooner or later one would hit me. I returned safely, and the next day the commanding British general ordered a napalm attack and roasted the Japnese alive in their caves. I wish it did not have to be like that.

– The African troops I commanded relished hand-to-hand combat. The Japanese were scared stiff of them. But the Africans themselves were afraid of mortars raining down from the sky. On several occasions, I found myself alone in the line. They had  run away.

– What do I make of all this? War is wrong. Never again.

My father never thought  his exploits in Burma worthwhile. As a post-war intelligence officer, he questioned Burmese political leaders about their aspirations for the future. He received one surly answer: you British must go.

My father did his bit. He did not choose to make war. But when he had to, he stood up and met the challenge. He  discouraged me as a little boy from considering him as a hero. For Britain to make war in a place like Burma served little useful purpose. It did not add up.

Is Afghanistan much different?

Celebrate war or peace?

June 21, 2009

My old school in England recently asked for reminiscences marking the 100th anniversary of its Combined Cadet Force which provided pupils with military training. It still exists at the school today, but it is voluntary. In my day it was compulsory.

I enjoyed it well enough. I fired .303 bullets which ripped up imaginary targets on Field Days. I shot off anti-aircraft cannon over empty seas. I have vivid memories of steering a Royal Naval Reserve minesweeper on the midnight to 4 a.m. watch off the coast of France, navigating by charts and distant lighthouse beams.

We were nevertheless being trained to kill. We learned how to make war not peace. So what am I commemorating? In hindsight, the lesson the world had already learned by the early 1960s was that after WWII, war was no longer an option. In the half a century since then, I have not been conscripted to fight world wars, as my grandfather and father were. I have benefited from the fact that post-war leaders in Europe finally learned to make peace.

Now I have no wish to contribute anecdotes how I learned to make war. Instead of the compulsory military training of yesteryear, I suggest schools should give pride of place on their curricula to ways of making and preserving peace. It is a relatively newly-learned practice, and not to be taken for granted.

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