An interview with Greta

Meeting Greta Thunberg in the run-up to COP26 in Glasgow was a fascinating experience. We discussed the project over meatballs and I was impressed by her single-minded approach – she would not be deviated by a millimetre.

Her English, by the way, is pretty good for a foreigner. A learned professor I read observed that Swedish and English are barely different from each other after a few sound changes (I don’t know if he had made a lifelong study of Germanic linguistics, or he had just been watching dodgy films.) The scheme she laid out though could be followed by both of us.

It all seemed too complicated to my unfamiliar eyes, but the way Greta laid it all out made it look achievable for the first time. All the pieces I would be tempted to gloss over, she grasped the significance of each one and ensured the pieces joined in exact alignment. ‘Every dowel to its hole’ as they say in Swedish apparently (which is enough to get you cancelled on the whackiest of  campuses, or the Guardian).

The complex became drawn together into a logical whole, a thing almost of beauty. She spoke the minimum to get it all together and would not be distracted even for a moment. I could not ask about her family, art, food, music, her school friends – we were here for a reason, as she made very clear, and she would not speak of anything else until she was done.

(I asked later as diplomatically as I could why she was not yet back in school. She has a withering scowl. Little girls can be like that.)

By the time she had finished I was all admiration. She might not know much about science or geography, but I sincerely admire her, because that was the neatest flat-pack chest of drawers I have ever seen built. No wonder they want he at the conference, with all those ‘Ingolf’ chairs they will need built.


Of The Beginnings And Progresse Of Philosophy

The faculty of Reasoning being consequent to the use of Speech, it was not possible, but that there should have been some generall Truthes found out by Reasoning, as ancient almost as Language it selfe.

The Savages of America, are not without some good Morall Sentences; also they have a little Arithmetick, to adde, and divide in Numbers not too great: but they are not therefore Philosophers. For as there were Plants of Corn and Wine in small quantity dispersed in the Fields and Woods, before men knew their vertue, or made use of them for their nourishment, or planted them apart in Fields, and Vineyards; in which time they fed on Akorns, and drank Water: so also there have been divers true, generall, and profitable Speculations from the beginning; as being the naturall plants of humane Reason: But they were at first but few in number; men lived upon grosse Experience; there was no Method; that is to say, no Sowing, nor Planting of Knowledge by it self, apart from the Weeds, and common Plants of Errour and Conjecture: And the cause of it being the want of leasure from procuring the necessities of life, and defending themselves against their neighbours, it was impossible, till the erecting of great Common-wealths, it should be otherwise.

Leasure is the mother of Philosophy; and Common-wealth, the mother of Peace, and Leasure: Where first were great and flourishing Cities, there was first the study of Philosophy.

The Gymnosophists of India, the Magi of Persia, and the Priests of Chaldea and Egypt, are counted the most ancient Philosophers; and those Countreys were the most ancient of Kingdomes. Philosophy was not risen to the Graecians, and other people of the West, whose Common-wealths (no greater perhaps then Lucca, or Geneva) had never Peace, but when their fears of one another were equall; nor the Leasure to observe any thing but one another. At length, when Warre had united many of these Graecian lesser Cities, into fewer, and greater; then began Seven Men, of severall parts of Greece, to get the reputation of being Wise; some of them for Morall and Politique Sentences; and others for the learning of the Chaldeans and Egyptians, which was Astronomy, and Geometry. But we hear not yet of any Schools of Philosophy.


No, XR, I don’t believe you

They have a right to peaceful protest, and I have a right to mock them relentlessly, and point out the rank dishonesty.

It must be a fun week out for the protestors, like Glasto in the West End. Soon the holiday will end and school-teachers and students must return, but for now it is the Extinction Rebellion free festival.

That’s not a Lambeg drum I have heard banging all day: too tuneless. Whoever have been bashing it must be having a great time: he hasn’t been able to dress in a funny costume and bang a big drum in the street since his primary school days. How could he resist? They built a giant table in the middle of the busiest junction in London! Who hasn’t dreamed of that?

Be honest, lads and lasses, it’s not to do with the environment is it? It never was. It is just having a fun time and doing all those forbidden things before someone forces you to be responsible. Beware though: it can get very dark, as I observed once before:

The sun is out, and that’s not all that’s out, is it miss?  I’ll bet you’ve been wanting to do that in public for years, cheeky girl, and it brought the cameras to you, which is what it was all about.

All around the noise and the flags (all the same – so conformist of you). You have cameras coming to look at what little Jack did at playtime, just like the old, innocent days.  There has been a helicopter overhead all day, spewing carbon dioxide just for you. Doesn’t it make you feel important? Rather that than realise how ordinary you are, as we all are, and drip back into  mediocre anonymity. That’s next week.

We all laughed when we found out that your founder drives a car that spews diesel smoke, just as we chuckled at the academics forming your intellectual respectability when they spluttered and showed themselves dimmer than the remedial class they somehow escaped.

(Do you not have bins?  Dropping your rubbish all over the place like animals! Pick it up, please – some of us care for the environment, you know.)

The term begins soon, and back to class you must go, to do no good maybe but to slot you back into the order of life.

For now though, in the sunshine the festival can go on.

See also


UnClausewitzian wars

The first principle of war, von Clausewitz says, is not military at all but political: war is politics continued by other means. Every war has a political objective and must be conducted in order to achieve that objective. Once the aim is achieved and is secure, the war is finished.

What can one say about the Fourth Afghan War?

Von Clausewitz cut through the guff and bluster of war. It does not exist on its own in a cloud of brass and trumpets as a natural part of sovereignty fought for its own sake: war exists to further a defined purpose, perhaps for territorial aggrandisement or for defence or to distract the people.

The Romans may have thought differently: for them, war was an act of worship, in devotion to Mars. There was gross barbarity in their civilisation and we have suffered from giving too much acclaim of the Romans.

All this said, technically (Hobbes would remind us) all independent states are in a state of war with each other in a sense:

There Is Alwayes Warre Of Every One Against Every One Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man. For WARRE, consisteth not in Battell onely, or the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the Will to contend by Battell is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of Time, is to be considered in the nature of Warre; as it is in the nature of Weather. For as the nature of Foule weather, lyeth not in a showre or two of rain; but in an inclination thereto of many dayes together: So the nature of War, consisteth not in actuall fighting; but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is PEACE.

Put more specifically, Hobbes observes:

But though there had never been any time, wherein particular men were in a condition of warre one against another; yet in all times, Kings, and persons of Soveraigne authority, because of their Independency, are in continuall jealousies, and in the state and posture of Gladiators; having their weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another; that is, their Forts, Garrisons, and Guns upon the Frontiers of their Kingdomes; and continuall Spyes upon their neighbours; which is a posture of War. But because they uphold thereby, the Industry of their Subjects; there does not follow from it, that misery, which accompanies the Liberty of particular men.

Popular visions of the glory of war are just means to encourage martial prowess in soldiers and to persuade the population to tolerate the depravations that come from the war effort. The mucky political business of why the war is fought is not to be discussed in polite circles, where the glint of the blade and the honourable death are celebrated. So they must be, and a soldier who fights as a true warrior deserves all the celebration he receives and far more – unless you have been there, you have not an idea of even a fraction of it.

However, politics is at the heart of it, and generals must understand it, for war is directed to an aim. If a prince lusts after the wealth of a neighbouring province and invades to seize it, there is no point in his generals’ conducting their campaign so as to destroy that province.

This point sounds obvious in the cold light of peace, but it is reads as a novel suggestion in On War. In the context of earlier works it looks like as an unwelcome sullying of the purity of the soldier’s craft.

The art of war has been studied intently in all cultures of the world across the ages, and written about in learned theses in various civilisations. In all the great writings until the Nineteenth Century, from Caesar, Sun-Tzu, Bonaparte and others, the emphasis is on how to fight – strategy, logistics, tactics and psychology. It was von Clausewitz who started with why to fight. That is of crucial importance: it shapes the whole thrust of the campaign.

In short, if a state launches an attack because a neighbour is threatening its territory or vital interests, the attack need only destroy the enemy’s offensive capacity and all is achieved. During the Falklands War a journalist asked Mrs Thatcher if Britain was going to invade Argentina – maybe jingoism would think that, but the war aims were quickly concluded on the islands and the seas about them. War must not exist apart from its aims.

Aims may change or develop, and the enemy may be deceived about the true aims of a campaign, but an actual aim is a necessity.

In the four Afghanistan Wars to date, the first was unprincipled foolishness, the second a regrettable perceived necessity, the third purely defensive. The fourth has been defensive, to destroy terrorist establishments threatening Britain and America, but that achieved many years ago, and the fighting seemed to go one just out of its own internal logic.

The phrase ‘Something must be done” is not an aim nor any reason for war.

See also


The Fourth Afghan War

If I were to give an analysis of the failures in Afghanistan, what credibility would I have? I have never fought there, never been there, I know few Afghans. I prefer to listen to generals who commanded and soldiers who were on the ground, and to Afghans.

The result of the Fourth Afghan War has been much like all the others: the army went in, defeated the enemy, drove them from Kabul and put down rebellions relentlessly, then went home, and left the crazies to reassert themselves.

The previous Afghan Wars were to keep the Afghans from troubling India , maintain a buffer to keep the Russians away from India and ensure future compliance from the Emir, without interfering with his treatment of his own people.

This time round the objectives were outwardly similar. Firstly it was to stop Afghans and their ‘guests’ from pouring out of their valleys to attack the West. Secondly, unspokenly, the Russians were to be kept out (though they  were not likely to try it: they still have their hands burnt from the Soviet occupation in the 1980s). A friendly Emir or whatever other ruler might be installed was more difficult.

The commentaries keep coming in from those who were there. A repeated theme is that the soldiers were there to keep down an insurgency that could just slip into the next valley and wait for years, and to assist the Afghan Army, while leaving a native government to work without guidance. Unguided as it was, the Americans expected the Afghan government to work like a Western central government. It could never be that though: a country with no culture of democracy or limited government could not become a model liberal democracy, and a country with no tradition of centralised rule could not abide one nor know how to run one.

A theme from many commentators has been that the Taliban never retreated – they ran their own local governments, and very effectively (and very brutally) by all accounts. If the writ of central government could not run beyond Kabul, then ordinary Afghans can be forgiven for calling on the Taliban to assist them.

An accusation made by the rebels against the Kabul government was that it was an American puppet – but it was never that. The government was a harsh, Islamist government; just not as harsh as some wished. It would have been better for the Afghans if their government had been a puppet, just as ordinary Indians in past days were thankful if their brutal rajah was guided and moderated by a British Resident. Instead of just holding strongpoints by rifle and bayonet and deferring to Kabul, It would have been better if the Western allies had nurtured traditional governors in the villages and valleys. Without effective local chieftains or councils people will go to the nearest alternative. Where a farmer has a dispute with his neighbour, it would once have been resolved locally, not relying on a distant, impotent and corrupt national government. It is no wonder if they went off instead and paid the local Taliban.

The Americans can always be accused.  Their army went in having watched Rambo films: the British army in contrast had read Kipling. The Americans might have assumed, as they did in Iraq, that with an old government swept away, the people would spontaneously choose a benevolent, liberal government of selfless politicians. As in Iraq, that is shown to be criminally naïve.

On the planners’ desks should have been Thomas Hobbes, not De Tocqueville.

See also