Once More Into the Breach, Dear Friends?

On 26 September 1580, a ship docked in Portsmouth, England. That wasn’t unusual, then as now it was one of England’s great ports. But this particular docking would echo through history. For this was the Golden Hind, returning from the first circumnavigation of the world by a non-Spaniard. Soon the captain, Francis Drake, would be knighted on the ship’s deck, by Queen Elizabeth I, and in a few years he would play a key role in the Battle with the Armada.

Elizabeth’s father Henry VIII, did some things that are important to this story, he established the Royal Navy, for the first time it became a force that was always ready. And he took England out of the Roman Church, which allowed her to go her own way, mostly looking outward, and not being involved with European politics as much as before.

But the reason this echoes so loudly in history wasn’t evident that day or even after the Armada had been stood off. It started to become apparent when England went to war with its King in the Civil War and even more so when the second chapter of that war saw the end of the first Empire, and the establishment of the United States.

Because what Sir Francis Drake accomplished that day in Portsmouth, was nothing less than the founding of the modern world, with all its freedom. If you look around at the world we live in. A world without legal slavery, where we are governed by our consent through objective law, and all the rest, you will find something surprising. It is all an English invention. It took England about 800 hundred years to put it together, and the rest of us in western civilization mostly copied it. Too often we forget that as Lady Astor somewhat unfairly said, our revolution was simply, “English freemen fighting against a German King for English rights”.

But now, in 2014, we are watching in horror as an evil group of thugs, misappropriate a religion, Islam, for the purpose of enforcing their will on the world. Nobody can claim they don’t aim high, at any rate.

anglosphere1But once again, the main obstacle between these thugs and their victory are the English Speaking Peoples. We are the ones that could have stopped Hitler easily in say 1934, but we were tired and worried about making a living. We paid for that mistake later, but Hitler and his henchman caused a holocaust of unparalleled scope in Europe. We learned from that and managed to face down Stalin and his successors without ending the world. But as the Soviet Union self-destructed, we declared it the end of history. We should have known better, evil never sleeps, it always looks for room to expand.

And so, we were attacked, in New York, and in London as the new century started, and we responded, as we always have. But this time we tried a kinder, gentler form of war, and attempted to make it easy on the local population, and to help them become like us. It seems as if it may have been a mistake.

The Hollow Men 5And so, here we are, with the weakest leadership our country has had since we entered the world stage in about 1900. They seem to have no clue what to do next.

That’s not surprising, the president has spent his entire life voting present while denigrating the military. Nor has he ever either led or managed anything. And yet, we elected him, twice. I guess we were/are tired of war.

But is war tired of us?

In business, as in war, one must have a strategy (an overriding plan). It seems to me, with an enemy as close to pure evil as ISIS, the only reasonable objective is to destroy it, root and branch, as we did the Nazis.

One level down from that is how are you going to accomplish your goal. Well, kids that’s why we have a military, and all its planners. We knew (and so did the British) on 7 December 1941 the broad outline of how we were going to fight World War Two. It was called RAINBOW. And we went on to execute it, and win, unconditionally. This is a specialized area of planning, and politicians are well advised to leave it to the military, just as I don’t tell a journeyman how to do his job. Give him the tools, and tell him what needs to be done.

And the same is true for tactics, if the guys in the field want an A-10 don’t send a B-2, at least if you can help it. In many ways our forces are best used as a force multiplier, they can do things no one else in the world can do. But a rifleman is basically a rifleman, whether he’s from London, Omaha, or Baghdad.

But the key thing here is, as it always is, the will of the people, and especially the leadership, and that is what worries me. When Obama said these guys are the JV, he spoke the truth, but the JV is much better than the girls 5th grade team, especially if they know that to lose is to die. And the JV will win if the varsity doesn’t show up.

But neither is that preordained, we have not only agency over ourselves but over what we do for and to others, for we are free people, and we are sovereign over our governments. For nearly five hundred years we, the English Speaking Peoples, have built the modern world in our image. We have endowed it with most of the comforts, including a full belly, that we innovated, and with the possibility of making oneself free to act in one own best interest. And so the question becomes, “Have we become too soft, too self-centered, to act once again for the good against evil, or will we once again rise to the challenge to make the world a better place, for ourselves, certainly, but also for others, whom we will never meet or know?”

And some of our nationalities have won their fame with all of us

For a long time now, they have been known as “The Ladies from Hell”, and they have earned it, from friend and foe alike, by their uncompromising stand, for freedom from oppression, no matter the odds.

But this isn’t “proud Edward’s power, with slavery and chains”. This is a bunch of ragtag so-called terrorists, who are really no more than well armed bullies. Are we, the guarantors of freedom for five hundred years really going to sit back while they murder and enslave ancient civilizations? All Europe will do is finance them by paying ransom but, our people learned about that long ago, when we found out how hard it is to get rid of the Dane when you pay the Danegeld.

A bit more than seventy years ago, a guy by the name of Hitler, said he would wring England’s neck like a chicken. Churchill said “Some Chicken, some neck”. A friend of mine, an Englishmen reminded me yesterday that we are the same people who Churchill was speaking of. Maybe we should begin acting like it again.

When have we ever not heeded this call

Truly, it is time to once again

Sound the trumpet that shall never call retreat

As Christ died to make men holy,

let us live to make men free.

Here comes the Cavalry?

christians-eradicated-in-iraq It seems like the only thing worse that the US being the world’s policeman is it not being. The word ‘genocide’ should not be used lightly, but when used properly, as in the instance of the ISIS slaughter of the Yazidis of northern Iraq, it has a power to move more than hearts. The news that President Obama has approved limited air-strikes to help the Christian and Yazidi refugees is most welcome; more welcome to them would be the news that it was happening now. With so much attention on Gaza, the world seemed, until yesterday, rather blind to what was happening in Iraq. The Christians were driven out of Mosul last month, but much of the MSM ignored it – Jews and Arabs was a much more familiar story. But was there something else?

Any responsibility American has for what is happening in Israel is remote; it was not US policy which created the problem, and she is, as usual, doing her best pull the chestnuts of others out of the fire. To those, rightly, concentrating on the deaths of children, all one can say is that if Hamas was not, as it has this morning, launching rockets at Israel, the Israelis would not be retaliating. Iraq is another matter. America and Britain broke it, and they have not fixed it. The intricate and complex ethnic and religious mix of that artificial state (created by the British at the end of the Great War) always made it problematic to govern, and only the brutal regime of Saddam seemed to be keeping a lid on it; but, as with Assad in Syria later, and the Shah in Iran before, Western public opinion does not like brutal dictators; naively, it does not inquire why they are brutal; naively it assumes that their removal and he presence of ‘democracy’ will wave a kind of magic wand. It wants these things to be so, and its Governments seem to act on the belief, not uncommon with politicians, that saying it will be so will make it so; but this ain’t Star Trek; indeed, to quote ‘Bones’ – it’s life Jim, but not as we know it.

Removing Saddam was only the first part of what ought to have been a delicate and carefully managed process; we were not careful or delicate, and we had no process. Some of our soldiers have paid the price; we, as tax-payers have paid a huge cost, but the heaviest penalties have been exacted on those in the country. The Malaki government has been so sectarian that the other minorities in the country have become utterly disaffected, and easy meat, in some cases, for the radicals across the artificial border with Syria. Some of the ISIS guys killing Christians and Yazidis are those fighting Assad; we almost gave them and their friends arms last year; indeed we probably did, but no one is telling us officially. ISIS aims to create an Islamic caliphate. It is busy destroying Syriac and other manuscripts which reveal that its idea of Islam is nothing like the mainstream historic version. Yes, surely, there have been times in history when Muslim conquerors have behaved with barbarism; our own record, historically, isn’t so great we can stand on a high hill and pontificate. If we lump all Muslims with these savages, we have done their work for them; they thrive on division and hatred and sectarianism. Where, as in the picture at the head of this post, Christians and Muslims pray together, ISIS is already on the way to defeat. Let us make no mistake: the refugees desperately need the humanitarian assistance being delivered (finally); they also need someone to hit ISIS hard, to demonstrate to them, and to the whole region, that we won’t let these savages win; but the road to a lasting peace is through tackling the sectarianism which unleashes these forces. Can we do that? No, we can’t, the Iraqis have to do it for themselves, but if we are sending in the cavalry again, let’s get it right this time.

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A Day Late, and a (Canadian) Dollar Short

IMG_5851_2lowresHappy Canada Day

Geography has made us neighbors.

History has made us friends.

Economics has made us partners.

And necessity has made us allies.

Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder.

What unites us is far greater than what divides us.

President John F. Kennedy to the Canadian Parliament

Happy Birthday, Canada

 

Saint John Paul II

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So, today we get that rare thing – two canonizations – John XXIII and John Paul II. A lot of hot air will be generated about Vatican II, child abuse and the whole business of having saints, but if we were looking here simply at the idea of a ‘great man’, then I don’t see how there would be any controversy over John Paul II. Great men don’t have to be perfect, indeed, no less an authority than Lord Acton once said that most great men were bad men; but John Paul II was one of a trio of great figures who helped end the Cold War – President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher being the other two.

We have had quite a bit here about the President and the Prime Minister, but less about the Pope. He was already Pope when I was born, and until is death, I knew no other, and I guess that he will always be the measure against which I will judge his successors.

Now we are on our third non-Italian Pope in succession, it is hard to remember the frisson of surprise when John Paul became Pope – the first non-Italian since the Middle Ages. He became Pope when the Cold War seemed an entrenched part of the world order; not one of those well-paid Kremlinologists or Sovietologists foresaw what was to come. Stalin had famously asked how many divisions the Pope had, meaning it as a symbol of worldly power and domination as against the Church which, in his view, had none. But the world was to see a lesson in the reality of power.

Not even the Kremlin could stop John Paul going to Poland, and once he did, the power that would end Soviet rule was unleashed – the power of people wanting to be free and believing that it could yet be possible. It was a long and a hard road for the Poles, but they did not let their hand drop from the plough or turn aside. Even the attempt to kill the Pope failed, and provided John Paul with a chance to show the true spirit of Christ in forgiving the would-be assassin.

The Soviet regime had no weapons which could prevail against this spirit. President Reagan and Mrs Thatcher matched them with the weapons of this world, and made it clear to the Soviets that they had the determination to resist them; but John Paul II brought something beyond that. Unbowed, himself, by the sufferings he had been through, knowing, from the experience, the nature of the Godless regime which faced Him, John Paul posited against it the Spirit of Hope that comes from Christ.

The spirit of freedom, once kindled, proved unextinguishable.

John Paul II is, like every great man, a figure about whom strong opinions are held. The secular media never quite understood him. They loved his charisma and his openness, but they could not understand how such a man could also abide faithfully by Catholic teaching on the things which this world wants. They almost seemed surprised that he would not approve of contraception, abortion and easy divorce; goodness, the Pope was a Catholic; we see it again now with Pope Francis.

But this was an essential part of John Paul II. He knew what the eternal verities were. Truth was the Risen Christ. There was no compromise with the kingdom of this world. Those who approved of his stand against communism could not, sometimes, understand his opposition to those elements of liberal capitalism which stood against the values of the Church He stood not for the age, but for all ages, and his values were not just those of his time, but for all time. He belongs to the ages now. All of us, Catholic or not, can stand back at this special moment and say: ‘There was a man!”

Hang in There

I’ve got quite a lot coming up but, none of it is going to make it today. So enjoy a film, that will make you think a bit as well.

The Rules of the Great Game

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Since the end of the Cold War Western nations have proceeded as though the rules of international politics have been suspended; Mr Putin has reminded them that it is not so. International politics, like Hobbes’ state of nature, is the ‘war of all against all’, and we have, in this generation, rediscovered the truth he enunciated that ‘covenants without swords are but mere words’. Like the British at the time of the Boer War we have had ‘no end of a lesson'; but can we divine its meaning?

At the very simplest level it is that power matters. We hear much about ‘soft power’, but in fact it is hard power, as the Ukrainians will tell you, which matters. Foolishly, back in the 1990s, they believed us when we and the Russians guaranteed their territorial integrity when they gave up their nuclear weapons; does any one suppose the Russians would be behaving as they are now if the Ukrainians had kept those weapons? In fact, here is a clear case where preparing for the worst might have avoided trouble. As things stand, Putin may well, like Hitler, miscalculate how far he is allowed to go. I am not saying he is like Hitler, just that the two men both presumed on the weakness and vacillation of their opponents; Hitler got it wrong. let us hope Putin does not.

The second lesson, which means I think Putin will not get it wrong, is to know what your opponents will concede without a fight. Putin has gone for the Crimea because he knows he can get it. It is Russian in character, always was Russian since the 1770s, and wants to be part of a revived Russian Empire. For this, the West will not fight. Real power lies in a correct assessment of where your enemies will yield most easily and then going for that; Putin passes that test – so far; but sometimes appetite grows in the eating.

The third lesson is that it is foolish to assume that sanctions can work when you, yourself, would be more damaged by their implementation. Angela Merkel and the Europeans depend upon Russian gas to such an extent that they dare not impose real sanctions on Putin; the lights would go out all over Europe. It is true that Russia would suffer economic damage, but Russian public opinion has far less influence on Putin than British and American public opinion do on Cameron and Obama. Democracies find it difficult to act as swiftly as non-democracies.

The fourth lesson is that if you do not have guns you will not long be in possession of large supplies of butter. War-weariness has prompted the democracies to begin to reduce the size of their armed forces and decrease what they spend on them. This is fine, provided they realise this means that they will have far less influence in a multi-polar world where Russia and China have ambitions.

Finally, we must realise that our ways are not their ways. There is no inevitable triumph of the idea of democracy as preached by the West. It is a form of government like any other. It may be, as Churchill said, the least worst form of government, but it is dangerously dependent on being able to deliver bread and circuses to its own people, which exposes it to the risk of being defeated by those who promise even more bread and better circuses as the price for people giving up their freedom.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance and striving. We have not been vigilant and we have settled into a comfort zone. It is up to us whether we wake up and take notice. If not, we bequeath to our children and grandchildren a very different world from the one we have known. That would be the ultimate failure.

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