The [Continuing] Story of Freedom

I don’t know about you guys, but most of what we have talked about this week, I find distasteful. There are few things that infuriate me more than the abuse of power, and it’s only worse when it is a powerful man abusing young women. perhaps at least some of them were willing to play the game, after all ‘the casting couch’ is a cliché for a reason, but why, exactly, should they have to. Yes, people will always abuse power, if they can, but we do not have to let them. In any case that was part of the reason that this week’s picture post was about Navy Day, not that they don’t deserve the recognition. I had simply had enough, and most of what I had was about Weinstein. Yuck! As I said today in a comment, Lord Acton was correct, “The love of power corrupts, and the love of absolute power corrupts, absolutely.”

One of the things I do when I get in this spot is to go back in our earlier posts, usually Jessica’s. She had a way of making things clear, no matter how much mud was spattered about, and it is one of the things I miss most about her. Some of her basic goodness comes through in those posts, and they help me, and I hope they help your morale as well. In her post from December 30, 2012, she reminds us that our freedom has a long history which is intertwined in British and American history. Here she takes us back to show us that the original resistance to secular tyranny came from none other than the Church, in our case through the Archbishop of Canterbury St Thomas Becket and thence to another Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton, who stood up to King John of infamous memory. But let her tell it, she tells it much better than I do. here’s my dearly beloved dearest friend, Jessica.

The story of Becket reminds us of the eternal conflict between the Church and the State. It is the natural wish of the latter, whether in the guise of a king, an aristocracy or ‘the people’ to encompass as much power to itself as it can. There is only one culture where this has been challenged successfully, and it is that of the Latin West. For all the atheists’ charge that the Church has been some sort of dictator, it never has been; indeed it has been the bridle on that happening in our societies.

I mentioned Stephen Langton yesterday, the Archbishop of Canterbury whom King John had refused to accept, and who sided with the Barons in their fight against the King’s tyranny. That does not mean, of course, that the Church has not had times when it has cooperated with tyranny, but it does mean that it has stood out, always, against the State controlling everything. Indeed, it was this example which gave courage to those who came to see the Church itself as a spiritually tyranny, corrupt and refusing to mend its ways. We can argue over the results of that, but what is unarguable is that it is from the deepest part of Christianity that the belief in freedom under God comes.

That qualification matters. Our forefathers did not mistake freedom for license. They knew they would stand one day before God to account for their time here on earth. They knew their sinful ways, they did not blame ‘society’, they knew that sin was an act of will on their part – of sinful rebellion against God. But they also knew that only through freedom could man be truly himself. Like God Himself, they believed in free will. Man was not free when he was in chains – literal and metaphorical ones. The black slaves were in literal chains, their owners in metaphorical ones.

Freedom has a price. Part of that is that we have to bridle ourselves. The excesses of our species when left to itself show why. Made in the image of God, we are capable of deeds of utmost evil, and we can also rise to heights of altruism and love – as the lives of the Saints show us.

We Christians are strangers in this world. We are meant to be the leaven; but too often we are the salt that has lost its savour. America is the one country in the world founded on a vision of how things could be. From its beginning it has taken the hard road of trying to rule itself without kings or aristocracies. It has found itself in some dark places, not least during its Civil War. But it has always valued freedom – and always acknowledged that there is a price to be paid.

There is a long and continuous thread leading from Magna Carta to now. We forget at our peril how unique that story is. You won’t find it elsewhere  – do we cherish it as we should?

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Things Fall Apart; the Centre Cannot Hold: 1968 Redux

WTH is going on in the world these days? One is tempted to quote Yeats and turn away in disgust.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Well, that may be a wise quote for us, at that. It was written in 1919 just after the world-shaking carnage of the Great War when seemingly all was in flux. Victor Davis Hanson in The Washington Times this week compared our time to 1968, another year that shook the world.

Almost a half-century ago, in 1968, the United States seemed to be falling apart.

The Vietnam War, a bitter and close presidential election, anti-war protests, racial riots, political assassinations, terrorism and a recession looming on the horizon left the country divided between a loud radical minority and a silent conservative majority.

The United States avoided a civil war. But America suffered a collective psychological depression, civil unrest, defeat in Vietnam and assorted disasters for the next decade — until the election of a once-polarizing Ronald Reagan ushered in five consecutive presidential terms of relative bipartisan calm and prosperity from 1981 to 2001.

It appears as if 2017 might be another 1968. Recent traumatic hurricanes seem to reflect the country’s human turmoil.

After the polarizing Obama presidency and the contested election of Donald Trump, the country is once again split in two.

But this time the divide is far deeper, both ideologically and geographically — with the two liberal coasts pitted against red-state America in between.

[…]

The smears “racist,” “fascist,” “white privilege” and “Nazi” — like “commie” of the 1950s — are so overused as to become meaningless. There is now less free speech on campus than during the McCarthy era of the early 1950s.

No news in any of that is there? It’s simply our daily diet.

As was the case in 1968, the world abroad is also falling apart.

The European Union, model of the future, is unraveling. The EU has been paralyzed by the exit of Great Britain, the divide between Spain and Catalonia, the bankruptcy of Mediterranean nation members, insidious terrorist attacks in major European cities and the onslaught of millions of immigrants — mostly young, male and Muslim — from the war-torn Middle East. Germany is once again becoming imperious, but this time insidiously by means other than arms.

[…]

If we remember in 1968 the UK was starting to slip into that malaise that became known as ‘The British Disease’ and the cure didn’t come until Maggie Thatcher took charge just before Ronald Reagan cured the Carter malaise.

And we watch as Mrs May turns the UK’s best chance since Mrs Thatcher to again become a wealthy country, thanks to the voters who voted for Brexit, changes her title to Prime Ditherer, as she proves a less capable leader than -Barack Obama, perhaps. Sad to see. There are plenty of people in Britain who know how to win in these circumstances, but like our own GOPe the Conservatives hide in their bubble, out of fear of the people, or change, or Political Correctness, or something, and so fumble their chance, and are likely to ruin the country by turning it over to Corbyn. Taking the title of Venezuela North from Chicago in the process.

Is the problem too much democracy, as the volatile and fickle mob runs roughshod over establishment experts and experienced bureaucrats? Or is the crisis too little democracy, as populists strive to dethrone a scandal-plagued, anti-democratic, incompetent and overrated entrenched elite?

Neither traditional political party has any answers.

Democrats are being overwhelmed by the identity politics and socialism of progressives. Republicans are torn asunder between upstart populist nationalists and the calcified establishment status quo.

And again showing the wisdom of the founders, we now see Steve Bannon gearing up to challenge every GOP Congresscritter (save Ted Cruz) in next years Republican primaries. He won’t win them all, I predict. But I also predict he’ll win enough to put the fear of the electorate back into the Republicans. Of course, if they were as smart as they think they are, 2016 would have done that.

Yet for all the social instability and media hysteria, life in the United States quietly seems to be getting better.

The economy is growing. Unemployment and inflation remain low. The stock market and middle-class incomes are up.

Business and consumer confidence are high. Corporate profits are up. Energy production has expanded. The border with Mexico is being enforced.

Is the instability less a symptom that America is falling apart and more a sign that the loud conventional wisdom of the past — about the benefits of a globalized economy, the insignificance of national borders and the importance of identity politics — is drawing to a close, along with the careers of those who profited from it?

In the past, any crisis that did not destroy the United States ended up making it stronger. But for now, the fight grows over which is more toxic — the chronic statist malady that was eating away the country, or the new populist medicine deemed necessary to cure it.

• Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

And that is true too. The United States is actually doing pretty well, these days, which may well be why our left seems increasingly detached from reality, just like the NFL players biting the hand that feeds them. All gravy trains end, and so does extended adolescence.

No guarantees here but it looks to me if we keep on keepin’ on the way we are going, we may well make the United States stronger still. And if the UK can find their spine (a stiff upper lip wouldn’t hurt either) they may come through with the Union Jack flying proudly, as well. After all, we are the people who invented the modern world, we just need to do a bit of remodelling.

The Paris Statement

Archbishop Cranmer brings us tidings of a new statement, ‘The Paris Statement’ they call it. One of the writers is no less than Professor Sir Roger Scruton. That makes it worth paying attention to. So does the content. Here is some of his description.

In May 2017, a group of conservative scholars and intellectuals met in Paris…

No, don’t yawn.

They say they were “brought together by their common concern about the current state of European politics, culture, society and, above all, the state of the European mind and imagination. Through delusion and self-deception and ideological distortion, Europe is dissipating her great civilizational inheritance.”

Well, that’s true, isn’t it?

Unless your name is Nick Clegg, AC Grayling, or you happen to be a bishop in the Church of England (not Shrewsbury).

These fine conservative minds, which included our very own Professor Sir Roger Scruton, produced ‘The Paris Statement’, which kind of makes sense as a title because they were in Paris when they issued their tome, which might indeed be viewed as a statement because their words were issued quasi-authoritatively, as conservative scholars and intellectuals are wont to do. And ‘Paris’ gives the statement an aura of continental enlightenment in ways which, say, ‘The Slough Statement’ or ‘The Lewisham Statement’ probably never could.

The preamble continues:

Instead of simply wringing their hands in fruitless anxiety, or adding yet another tome to the ample literature that diagnoses “the decline of the West”, the Paris participants believed it was important to make an affirmation, and to do so publicly. They expressed their attachment to “the true Europe,” and did so with reasons that can be recognized by all. In doing so, it was first necessary to give an account of this true Europe, which lies hidden beneath the fashionable abstractions of our age.

The result is, “A Europe We Can Believe In.” This Paris Statement is a ringing call for a renewed understanding of, and appreciation for, Europe’s true genius. It is an invitation to the peoples of Europe to actively recover what is best in our tradition, and to build a peaceful, hopeful, and noble future together.

The Paris Statement is good, very good, contrasting, as it does, the false Europe of teleological superstition and utopian tyranny with the true Europe of nation-state cooperation based on Christian solidarity and civic loyalty. Consider:

Europe, in all its richness and greatness, is threatened by a false understanding of itself. This false Europe imagines itself as a fulfilment of our civilization, but in truth it will confiscate our home. It appeals to exaggerations and distortions of Europe’s authentic virtues while remaining blind to its own vices. Complacently trading in one-sided caricatures of our history, this false Europe is invincibly prejudiced against the past. Its proponents are orphans by choice, and they presume that to be an orphan—to be homeless—is a noble achievement. In this way, the false Europe praises itself as the forerunner of a universal community that is neither universal nor a community.

Good, that.

Well, you know what? I just read their statement, and aside from a few quibbles, much the same ones as His Grace mentioned in his article it is very good. So good on them. It’s also very good to see that there are conservatives in western Europe, we’re all aware of Sir Roger, but from the rest, it’s a rare (and most welcome) spark of conservatism. The Statement is here, and well worth a read.

I very much fear that Europe is a lost cause, but then again so was the American Revolution, so I wish them luck and Godspeed in their mission. For most of us, Europe is our ultimate homeland, and watching it go down without a fight is disheartening at best. It is time for Europa to again tame the bull, I think.

Hither and Yon

Well, yesterday I forgot it was Columbus Day. That’s pretty easy to do with the American version of ‘Bank Holidays’. The Banks and Government are closed, the rest of us carry on. Oh well, sometimes its hard to tell with the government, anyway. Lots going on though for a weekend where the government got an extra day off.


Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue way back in 1492.

This delightful ditty firmly places the date of the discovery of the New World into the minds of saavy kids everywhere in Great Satan.

Later on, CC get’s dissed in crash courses for introducing alien concepts like slavery, STD’s, baby Jesus and advanced weaponry to hapless, childlike human sacrificing races in places from South America all the way to Alaska.

What ev.

What was the motivation for CC to split sail from Europa and head west?

Easy!

Find a short cut to India.

The real quiz is quite significant. Why?

After all, Europa was the centre of the world for the tech saavy Europeans – India’s locale was well known since Alexander the Great’s era and thanks to Prince Henry (the cat who put the ‘gator’ in navigator) sealanes and land routes could have sweetly hooked up to provide the fastest transport times circa 1500 anywhere on earth.

Check out a World map from 1500 AD and the answer is prett obvious.

From Great Satan’s Girlfriend, although I agree with Cowboylawyer. Our ancestor, Leif Ericcson, should get the parades, not that Italian jackanapes.


RS McCain wrote a superb article on Harvey Weinstein and why their pandering to such people may well kill the Democratic Party on their own altar of abortion.

Say what you will, it was obviously no accident that Democrat Anthony Weiner was married to Hillary Clinton’s assistant Huma Abedin. The Clintons have always surrounded themselves with corrupt and immoral people, because no honest or moral person would support them — at least, not once they realized who the Clintons really are. It is always better to be an enemy of such people than to be their allies. Christopher Hitchens famously chronicled Bill Clinton’s betrayals of his liberal supporters in a book aptly titled, No One Left to Lie To.

Does anyone really believe, as Harvey Weinstein said, that support for the abortion industry is synonymous with “women’s rights”?

Cui bono? Who actually benefits from the abortion industry’s grisly trade? Isn’t it true that the main effect of legalized abortion, and the Contraceptive Culture in general, is to enable irresponsible men to pursue hedonistic sexual activity without being bothered by the potential burden of caring for children? And how is it in the best interest of women to be treated as “pump-and-dump” sexual commodities?

Years ago, I remarked that many Democrats go into politics for the same reason teenage boys learn to play guitar. And in 2013, after Anthony Weiner was caught in his second “sexting” scandal, I described Democrats as “The Pervert Party”:

One of those stories (like so much of the Clinton Presidency) that you feel like you’ve been reading pornography.


From Lifehacker, every hot dog in baseball rated.

Yep, give me a Vienna Chicago Dog, and I’ll be happy!


And with it, a cup of coffee here’s a quite NSFW for language (but good) commercial from the guys that make mine. The coffee is even better! 🙂


Putting the kettle on department, London has figured out that it is closer to Pyongyang than Los Angeles is. They don’t sound overly amused, in fact, there is talk of commissioning the Queen Eleizabeth early, so it can get in on taking out the trash. From the Daily Mail.

The Armed Forces are preparing for a potential war with North Korea, sources have revealed.

Officials have been instructed to draw up plans for how Britain would respond if war broke out with Pyongyang amid heightening tensions between the West and dictator Kim Jong-Un.

One option involves deploying Britain’s new aircraft carrier – due to be handed over to the Navy later this year – to the region before she has undergone flight trials.

Details of the secret operation plan have emerged after Donald Trump warned that ‘only one thing will work’ when it comes to dealing with North Korea, which has continued nuclear and rocket tests despite widespread condemnation.

Good on the cousins. It’d be even better if they’d figure out that a free country doesn’t suppress the rights of its own citizens subjects. Well, Brits are a good bit like Americans, just a bit slower to anger, I suspect they’ll get Westminster back under control, for a thousand years they’ve managed to control it. One hopes, anyway.


This may be how the GOPe bites the dust, The League of Extraordinary Candidates: Economic Nationalist Leaders Plan for Anti-Establishment Midterm Tsunami to Force Change.

Conservatives and economic nationalist leaders are looking past the current dysfunction in Washington to a group of new and exciting young candidates throwing their hats in the ring nationwide to break the gridlock with midterm election victories.

This group of individuals, which some are calling “The League of Extraordinary Candidates,” is emerging nationally—a distinct slate of U.S. Senate and House candidates, as well as key gubernatorial contenders, all united in their focus on breaking the logjam in Congress. Movement leaders view establishment Republicans and Democrats alike as a force blocking, slow-walking, or stonewalling the agenda that President Donald J. Trump campaigned on, and aim to elect new voices by riding a new economic nationalist electoral wave in 2018 meant to mirror and surpass what happened in previous wave elections like 2010—which saw the rise of the Tea Party.

“We’re planning on building a broad anti-establishment coalition to replace the Republican Party of old with fresh new blood and fresh new ideas,” Andy Surabian, a senior adviser to the Great America Alliance and ex-White House aide, told Breitbart News.

Surabian worked alongside Stephen K. Bannon, the now former White House chief strategist, during their White House tenure and is now working with the Great America Alliance—a pro-Trump Super PAC run by ex-Ronald Reagan aide Ed Rollins that doubles as a fundraising powerhouse, having raised $30 million last year to help the president.

“The only thing the Republican establishment has succeeded in is clarifying to the American people that they don’t represent their interests,” Surabian added. “Their repeated failures to govern have only crystallized their lack of vision or backbone. The group of candidates we are looking to support in 2018 are all bound together in their agreement that the new Republican Party must be bold in their thinking and aggressive in their tactics.”

Works for me, so far, anyway, and if we get Senators Like Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, I think it works for all of us, although not the so-called Uniparty and the press. That’s OK, I’m sick unto death of them anyway.

And bravo to Vice President Pence for walking out of the Colts game the other day after a bunch of 49ers players took the knee. Well done, sir. This crap has gone on long enough. Guess it doesn’t really matter though, the NFL seems intent on suicide by social justice. So be it.

Bare Ruined Choirs

In Sonnet LXXIII Shakespeare wrote

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long

Not one of his happiest, but it accords well with my feelings, this fall. It hasn’t been a year I would wish on anybody, but this is the season when I understand why All Hollow’s is sometimes called Totenfest by those of German heritage. Tomorrow is the Feast day of Our Lady of Walsingham, and for me, that has significance as well. Six years ago, I had never heard of Walsingham, let alone this representation of Mary, but One summer day in 2012, Jessica became my dearest friend at almost the moment she lit a candle for me at the shrine. The main part of the story begins here. I have ever since found Mary a worthwhile conduit for my prayers. But for me, it’s specifically the Walsingham representation. Earlier this year,  Fr Matthew Pittam wrote in the Catholic Herald about his feeling for the Shrine.

 

Whilst visiting this year I met some other pilgrims who were unfavourably comparing Walsingham to other well-known European Shrines that they had visited. It is true Walsingham is no Lourdes or Fatima but for me that is part of the appeal of the place. It seems right that the English National Shrine is understated, reflecting the character of the English themselves.

The story of Our Lady’s Shrine and the meaning of its message demand a much tenderer charism than Walsingham’s more flamboyant European cousins. Above all Walsingham is a memorial to the Annunciation. The whole place speaks softly of Our Lady’s ‘Yes’ to God. Mary’s encounter with the Angel Gabriel was abundantly full of humility, generosity and peace. The quieter pace and rhythm of our National Shrine really can take us to the heart of this life changing and life-giving moment.

The location of Walsingham is also understated. It is not set amidst mountain grandeur but nestles within the pleasant rolling meadows of the Stiffkey Valley, echoing the gentleness of the shrine’s own spirituality and Our Lady. The whole place seems to be set apart for peaceful encounter.

He nails it for me. Without the slightest intention to be offensive, much of Roman Catholicism is too ornate, too baroque, and the decoration, like some of the verbiage, is over extravagant for me. That’s not a knock on it, it simply doesn’t fit with this working guy of Lutheran Scandinavian heritage. I’m no iconoclast, but enough is enough. Both the Roman Catholic and the Anglo-Catholic shrines at Walsingham have a northern European feel about them, which I find comforting. I’m still of my roots, I have found it comforting to talk with Our Lady, as Jessica once said, it feels rather like talking to Mom, which in a sense it is.

And then there is the relief, that I have felt on several occasions, after talking with Her, usually not the formal Rosary, although I do that sometimes as well, mostly sitting here, meditating silently directed towards Her. The old man’s knees aren’t really up to kneeling much anymore, anyway. 🙂

Strangely, it is only 3 years, nearly to the day, since the Abbess from Walsingham came to Jessica’s hospital bed to pray over her and sprinkle her with Walsingham water, giving her some ease, and then again a mere two weeks later, just after she received the last rites, she again prayed over her and sprinkled her. Two days later she was out of her coma, without pain and cancer free. A remarkable testimony to the power of prayer.

A year after that Mary Katherine Ham lost her husband,  Jake in a bicycle accident while pregnant with their second child. It was one of those things that shocked many of us, this young vibrant couple, and him suddenly gone. She wrote about it this week at The Federalist.

I love the idea of the divine spark. It crosses a lot of cultures and religions, the idea that you carry a bit of the Creator inside you, that it animates your life.

Jake’s life always brings to mind a spark and then some. Jake’s soul, to me, was a bonfire. He was here and he was in your face and he was warm and bright. He roared with enthusiasm at the beginning, even the hope of something new, sometimes a little too much. His glow was infectious, throwing sparks into the night air, silhouetted against a dark sky before they landed on everyone in his vicinity. He mellowed to embers as the night wore on, usually over a glass of bourbon or a beer.

I lived seven years of my life looking into a bonfire. I warmed my hands and found comfort in its flame. There were times when I damn near burnt myself or got a giant waft of smoke at exactly the wrong time.  Because that’s life. And that’s fire. It’s not all s’mores and sweetness.

Everyone who’s loved someone knows that light and warmth. Everyone who’s lost someone knows the feeling when it goes dark and cold one day.

When that happens at any time, it’s jarring. When it happens without warning, even more.

The light went out. This fire I’d stood next to for seven years just went out, like a flood light on a switch. Boom. Imagine staring into a fire, and then suddenly turning 180 degrees to survey the woods behind you. I couldn’t see. I was standing in what otherwise was my life, and I knew all the other parts of it were there, but I couldn’t understand its contours anymore. I was standing in my own life, blinded, blinking away those disorienting shimmery green spots.

Brilliant, simply brilliant. But you know when we lose someone we love, not even always to death, it’s like that as well. It was for me when my marriage broke up, and even though my sisters, parents and brothers-in-law lived full lives, in truth as much as could be expected, they have left a hole, that cannot be filled.

And so it was for me, a year ago today, when I received the last email from  Jessica, who as far as I know is healthy, happy, and busy. Too busy or some other unexplained reason, to maintain the friendship that turned to love on my part, more than I ever felt for another human being. And get your mind out of the gutter, yes she is beautiful, but I loved her before I knew that, far more a case of Agape than Eros. She was my friend, the best one I’ll ever have. And even Our Lady of Walsingham has found no way to comfort me. I’m reconciled that I must go on more alone than I have ever been, but have little appetite for it. Which is why that sonnet speaks loudly to me.

Walsingham, and Our Lady are her legacy to me, and I thank God for them everyday. But it does make me think of another poem.

Weepe, weepe O Walsingham,
Whose dayes are nightes,
Blessings turned to blasphemies,
Holy deeds to dispites.

Sinne is where our Ladie sate,
Heaven turned is to hell,
Sathan sittes where our Lord did swaye,
Walsingham oh farewell.

But it is true that while Eliot was writing of Little Gidding, I’ve always thought that this applied as well to Walsingham

           If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

We merely have to trust God that Dame Julian of Norwich was correct.

‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’

The Corps huh, What is it good for?

In large measure, this post is for Fr. Robert our resident RM, but I too have a soft spot for the Royal Marines, and have ever since I played at a band camp in High School under their famous conductor Sir Vivian Dunn,  KCVO OBE FRSA. And so, it becomes important, at least to us. From A Thin Pinstriped Line.

Given the lack of willingness to find extra funds, the only other option open to the Department to meet its financial challenges is to make real and painful cuts. This is currently being wrapped up in the auspices of a mini national security review, sneaked out under the radar on the last day of the Parliamentary session. It seems inevitable that cuts will follow from this, but likely packaged under a series of headline grabbing announcements of ‘cash for X’ with much smaller footnotes describing how A,B,C and D are all being scrapped, delayed, deferred or descoped too.

The news that the RN is considering offering up the Royal Marines indicates several things. Firstly, it’s a sign that the traditional battles in MOD during spending rounds have reached the point of leaking the ‘sacred cow’ options (such as scrapping the Red Arrows, disband the Parachute Regiment etc), in order to try and fight a rearguard action. All the Services have these options, it was a bit of a running joke with some of the authors friends that the ‘Close BRNC Dartmouth’ option paper seemed to have been staffed about 50 years ago and was just dusted off as required. There is also the possibly urban myth that the reason the Upholder class were scrapped was due to a planning round where the diesel submarine capability was offered up as a sacred cow, with the submarine force planners assuming no one would be foolish enough to take it…

 The usual form is to leak or brief selected options  which are hugely emotional and tap into the psyche of MPs and commentators, and then get them to fight a campaign to save X at all costs. This usually leads to lobbying, letters and pressure on Ministers, and if lucky direction that the Option won’t be taken forward after all. The problem is that this doesn’t make the financial pressure go away – and its usually only by taking tough calls like scrapping a capability outright that you can save the chunks of money required.

Why Royal, Why Now?

The challenge for the Royal Marines right now is that they look particularly vulnerable targets, with a highly specialised core role that is increasingly unlikely to be used in anger. The RM and the RN have long had a slightly odd, and at times, uneasy relationship. It is often forgotten these days that the role of amphibious warfare isn’t something that really took off until WW2, and that the RM have only been leading on it for about 70 years. Until that point they were arguably merely light infantry embarked on ships and the odd landing party.

Sort of makes sense, doesn’t it? In fact, the USMC fought this battle between the world wars, and the expertise they developed, although without the materiél, proved invaluable in the fracas against Japan. But the USMC is one of the best of our publicists for the traditional America. The Few, the Proud, the Loud, the Marines. God love ’em, who else can claim with a straight face to be the street guards in heaven itself.

And yet, and yet. Neptunis Lex, the greatest of milbloggers wrote this, back in 2011. How much is he missed? About as much as George Washington, that’s how much.

‘If you’re constantly trying to make war more precise and predictable, you’ll promote people who thrive in squeezing out the marginal drop of uncertainty. If you recognize war’s essential messiness and the enemy’s adaptability, you’ll reward mavericks, risk-takers, and people who thrive in uncertainty.’

Finally, I’d like to leave you with an image of Corporal Mike Stevenson. He is a 24 year old Royal Marines Commando serving in 40 Commando. It is the 20th of March 2003, a pitch black night and he is a few miles off the coast of Iraq’s Al Faw Peninsular. On the horizon, he can see fires erupting and above, the after burners of salvos of Patriot and Tomahawk missiles. He leads his 7 man section across the deck of HMS ARK ROYAL, towards the clattering helicopter, They are all encumbered with massive rucksacks – the equivalent of their body weight in kit, ammunition, and weapon systems. Their sweat has already begun to smudge their black maquillage.

This is the moment he has rehearsed repeatedly for the past 2 months – since he was first briefed, in outline, on his mission. He knows every building on his target intimately – has drawn them, modeled them, metaphorically inhabited them. He knows the ranges between buildings and the emergency escape plan if it all goes wrong. Just as the Sea King door is about to slid shut, his Company Commander appears. “There’s been a change of plan ‘Stevie’”“ he bellows – “you have to attack a totally different target, about 10 ‘klicks’ from the original location.” Stevenson looks at his Boss, a big toothy smile lighting up his face “No worries, Sir – I knew it was too good to be true!” and pulls out a pen to write down the new Grid Reference.

As Napoleon said of the Royal Marines – ‘What could be done with 100,000 men such as these.’

We need, and we will always need heroes like this, whether they eat the Queen’s  biscuit or have the  Eagle,  Globe and Anchor on their buttons.

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