A mile from my house, a major artistic, but military based, event takes place every year. With lots of pomp and circumstance, crowds flock to see the military bands do their thing. On a summers evening, with the doors open, a distant sound of the drums beating floats across the city. This week there has been a different, incessant drum beat in the air, one about attacking Syria. But last night the British Parliamentarians turned down that volume – and I am really rather proud of them.
The situation in Syria is awful. If the stories are true (and I think they probably are) of the atrocities against the Syrian people, atrocities committed by the very government they should be able to look to for protection – then that is a betrayal of trust on a grand and lethal scale. But whoever did what to whom, the undeniable truth is that innocent people are dying, in a conflict they did not want or ask for.
We have been here before of course, when the first Gulf War popped along. Here was a country that only figured in Geography lessons about oil pop up, with a new found affinity that surprised many of us – except, I guess, those in the Ministry of Energy. So off the West rushed to the aid of a small country against a neighbouring dictator that had invaded our newly discovered ally. At least here there seemed to be a clear case, which the public at large could see for themselves on a TV screen. People still died though.
Then the second Gulf War arrived, with lots of murk around weapons of mass destruction, the 45 minute journey time of an Iraqi missile towards Western Europe – even distinguished politicians presented about this on PowerPoint to the United Nations. Yet the case was not clear cut. The premise was “let us invade and we will present the evidence”. Which they did but found nothing, backing up a lot of misgivings that many people had. The exercise had the smell of a personal vendetta against the Iraqi leader – one who, no mistake, was a tyrant – to finish the job of the US by a later president who happened to be the ex-presidents son. Personally I began to wonder what right we had to start interfering in another countries affairs. And what a mess was left behind! Bombs and killing daily, peace in that country an elusive concept even today.
9/11. A day that changed the world. I visited Ground Zero some time afterwards, when the site had been cleared. I was not prepared for the size of the hole – not just in cross section, but the depth. In fact it was so deep, that the sense of scale was lost, until a subway train trundled along one edge. It looked tiny and then I realised just how enormous that space was. That brought home the enormity of the catastrophe that day; that so many lives were lost in such a brutal and coldly calculated way.
On the back of that, an adventure was launched in Afghanistan. One that is coming to an end but for what? And what was the real reason other than a US president wanting to kick back against an unseen enemy, in a country far, far away. But an enemy that really was in many countries, not just that one. True the Taliban were not fun people, who have a callous disregard for anyone that does not share there ideology and flavour of faith and a callous disregard for the rights of women. Yes the regime was awful. But again, what was the real reason we went to war there? What right did we really have to interfere in the affairs of another country? And as we prepare to leave, there are still bombs, fighting and killing. What have achieved, despite the bravery and professionalism of our armed forces, never mind the losses?
This week, those murky power players were at work again, positioning our armed forces to launch an attack on another country in the Middle East. It is as if the results of the previous incursions, the lack of stability we caused despite it being the objective, have been forgotten. I see no evidence of anyone having a clear mission end game, other than to kick Assad and stop him using chemical weapons against his own people. The latter is not without merit, but we all saw In The Second Gulf War how confusion reined once Hussain was toppled: the invasion plan did not cover how normality would be restored, including things like running water and sewage. And so the country descended into chaos. No one is saying today what bombing Syria will achieve. Will it really hurt Assad? Or will it really simply be helping the armaments industry? Will it really help innocent civilians or will they be simply casualties of war, caught in the crossfire. Again.
Last night the British Parliament said “stop“. They realised that the UK can no longer send in a gun boat to quell the troublesome natives – we live in a different world now. Somehow we have to respond to this in a different way. The puzzle for me is, what should that way be? For now, I am not convinced that meeting violence with more violence is the way and I am proud that the MP’s decided not to march in time to this weeks drum beat. So for now at least, it is quieter in the UK.
Well done them.