Liberation; revival

The Falklands War of 1982 liberated not just those islands, but the home islands too. It is the story of staunch heroes, who won more than they could imagine they would.

It had to be done.  It was war, there was slaughter, but sometimes war has to be done. It is hard to describe to today’s generation how the war and the victory changed Britain and revived Britain, because of how fundamental that change was. The focus though was the Falkland Islands and their people.

So whatever the revolutionary change that the war made at home, it was at base exactly as it seemed – a liberation of those islands, a limb of the British nation, from a foreign invader, a liberation wrought by the heroism and iron determination of British sailors, soldiers and airmen doing what they do best. It was war for what war is meant to be for, and they fought it and won it well. Theirs is the glory here, and those of us in Britain then abed shall think ourselves accursed we were not there – all the verses and quotes and clichés are weak indeed in comparison to the reality of the relentless battle by flesh and blood over bogs and hills to drive back an enemy dug in on our hills, but that they did, in mere weeks – two and a half months from the invasion and the islands were liberated.  If only all wars were so brief and victorious.

Looking back, it is unimaginable that much of the press was against the war but those newspapers failed and the patriotic ones throve. We emerged a very different country.

When the Argentines invaded, they attacked a nation which had lost faith in itself, where the  dissolution of empire had sapped the vitality out of the soul of the nation, and decades of socialist impositions had smashed the economy to spin Britain into a spiral of apparently irrecoverable decline. Three years before, Margaret Thatcher began to reverse it only for an oil crisis and the necessary destruction of dead industry to cause a massive recession.  The Argentines attacked a nation with no confidence in itself, knowing that the establishment would surrender. They wanted to.  Had it not been for Margaret Thatcher and Sir Henry Leach, the First Sea Lord, that would have been an end.

The decision made, it was the men who sailed those thousands of miles over the unquiet ocean who rescued the islands and their whole nation.

The Argentines attacked a dying, timid land: they surrendered to a resurgent, confident major world power.

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Ireland: spark and anvil of the war

Ireland was not an afterthought for Cromwell, but his urgent necessity since the very beginning. The Civil War began in Ireland, and it was finished here. History books following a linear narrative look at the Cromwellian invasion as a secondary campaign after the shouting but they miss the point: Cromwell fought all through England in order to get to Ireland.

The order of events and motivations gets jumbled as the ages pass. Lives, deaths, votes, decrees, battles – all can be put in strict chronological order, but the motivation is muddled. Those who were there, as Thomas Hobbes was, could provide a view of how it all unfolded.

The first rebellion was against Scottish bishops in 1639, but Ireland touched off the convulsion of the three kingdoms, in 1641. Rebels descended upon Protestant towns and slaughtered all they found: in Westminster, Parliament demanded action and for its own appointees to be put in command, as they did not trust the King – after all, the rebels claimed to be acting in his name and Queen Henrietta was after all a Papist. We can imagine the rising desperation in the Commons at fears that day by day more blood was being shed and nothing done; within months the breach was made.

Hobbes however looks further back: the breach between the rising middle classes and the King had been going on for years. In Behemoth he identifies several classes of men and their motivations – Papists, Protestant radicals, educated men misreading Greek and Roman ideas, the City merchants envying Holland, and men with nothing to lose. It weakened the authority of the Crown, and this weakness, Hobbes says, emboldened the Roman Catholic Irish lords to rise up. When they did, it burst open the breach in the other kingdoms.

From 1642, bloody war raged across England and Wales, a war each side had expected to be brief but which lasted for years. In all those years the Confederates controlled most of Ireland, doing their will, which to the imagination of the Protestant English, and possibly in reality, was a bloody one. By the end of the war in England in 1649, Cromwell was in undisputed command, and he turned at once to the business which had been tormenting for eight long years: Ireland.

Perhaps Cromwell thought the Irish campaign would be brief too, but it was two years of blood. Vengeance is an ugly word but unavoidable. Cromwell set foot in an Ireland divided by language and cultural attachment, and in territory as the Romanist Confederates had been kept out of much of Ulster, County Dublin and Cork, though the rest of the island was theirs.

The slaughters of 1641 were very much in mind, and the rolling back of English-inspired culture.  He set out to terminate the illegitimate government of a cardboard cut-out state that was ruling what naturally is part of the single British-Irish nation, to defeat genocide (as we would now call it) and to de-Catholicise the island. It is a familiar motivation. That the majority still clung to the Church of Rome could only have been put down to  the waywardness of the local lords, who would therefore be extirpated for the better edification of the people. Those still stubborn, not accepting the Gospel, would be driven beyond the Shannon and their places given to sounder men. In the event, more were killed by sword and famine and it placed a vital spark in a determination to resist reformation.

All that followed, followed logically. In our day it looks like vicious persecution and murder, and it felt like that at the time, but it was considered necessary by those who did it.

The war was brief compared to many that had torn at Ireland and brought a brutal peace after centuries of continual turmoil. The collective memory kept it running for centuries though: Flanders and Swann were not far wrong when the sang over-jovially “They blow up policemen, or so I have heard, and blame it on Cromwell and William The Third”. The retelling of grievance over generations, expanded with each telling, is a danger to conquerors and may blow up even three hundred years later.

In our day maybe it can subside.  It is all seems so distant: the unleashing of deadly fury with religious zeal to defend, and then defeat, the Roman religion in Ireland – when that religion is now being freely abandoned by the descendants of those same Irishmen. What another generation will think, I cannot tell.

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How the war began

B.: “But how came the people to be so corrupted? And what kind of people were they that did so seduce them?”

A.: “. . . . . .

Fourthly, there were an exceeding great number of men of the better sort, that had been so educated, as that in their youth having read the books written by famous men of the ancient Grecian and Roman commonwealths concerning their polity and great actions; in which books the popular government was extolled by that glorious name of liberty, and monarchy disgraced by the name of tyranny; they became thereby in love with their forms of government.  And out of these men were chosen the greatest part of the House of Commons, or if they were not the greatest part, yet by advantage of their eloquence, were always able to sway the rest.

Fifthly, the city of London and other great towns of trade, having in admiration the prosperity of the Low Countries after they had revolted from their monarch, the King of Spain, were inclined to think that the like change of government here, would to them produce the like prosperity.

Sixthly, there were a very great number that had either wasted their fortunes, or thought them too mean for the good parts they thought were in themselves; and more there were, that had able bodies, but saw no means how honestly to get their bread.  These longed for a War, and hoped to maintain themselves hereafter by the lucky choosing of a party to side with, and consequently did for the most part serve under them that had greatest plenty of money.”

– Thomas Hobbes: Behemoth

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It is still not our war

Pity, despair, horror at what man will unleash – all this and more tumbles from the heart. War is not a game and the victims are innumerable. Yet it is not our war.

History will judge, they say, but how we cannot know. Those weeping for their lost children will not wait for history and that is something about war: it is always immediate. Let history judge whom it will, capricious thing as it is; but we must look now and say this is still not our war, and making it ours, out of adventure or virtue-signalling with other men’s children’s lives, would make it very, very much worse. I know how history would judge a politician who claimed he had done a moral thing while standing in front of the irradiated ashes of London.

It can end, and will. I understand the characters, have met their ambassadors and read their words and been immersed in their shared culture: were I sent in to bat, I have no doubt that I would forge a settlement bringing five hundred years of unshakeable peace and the gateway to prosperity, and that I would be cursed by both sides for it even as they roll in gold.

It may be that history books will adjudge this war as an anomalous war of aggressive conquest, or another in a series of wars waged by European nations since the end of the Cold War, or as a war of reunification, which are always seen  in a kindly light. That does not help a widow flooding her street with tears today.

There is no more that it is safe to say. Maybe our grandchildren will read books saying “the West stayed on the sidelines, and thank goodness for it”. That is for their age though. For us it is day to day, and there is no more it is safe to say.

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Generation of a Common-wealth

The finall Cause, End, or Designe of men, (who naturally love Liberty, and Dominion over others,) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves, (in which wee see them live in Common-wealths,) is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby; that is to say, of getting themselves out from that miserable condition of Warre, which is necessarily consequent (as hath been shewn) to the naturall Passions of men, when there is no visible Power to keep them in awe, and tye them by feare of punishment to the performance of their Covenants, and observation of these Lawes of Nature set down in the fourteenth and fifteenth Chapters.

For the Lawes of Nature (as Justice, Equity, Modesty, Mercy, and (in summe) Doing To Others, As Wee Would Be Done To,) if themselves, without the terrour of some Power, to cause them to be observed, are contrary to our naturall Passions, that carry us to Partiality, Pride, Revenge, and the like. And Covenants, without the Sword, are but Words, and of no strength to secure a man at all. Therefore notwithstanding the Lawes of Nature, (which every one hath then kept, when he has the will to keep them, when he can do it safely,) if there be no Power erected, or not great enough for our security; every man will and may lawfully rely on his own strength and art, for caution against all other men.

And in all places, where men have lived by small Families, to robbe and spoyle one another, has been a Trade, and so farre from being reputed against the Law of Nature, that the greater spoyles they gained, the greater was their honour; and men observed no other Lawes therein, but the Lawes of Honour; that is, to abstain from cruelty, leaving to men their lives, and instruments of husbandry.And as small Familyes did then; so now do Cities and Kingdomes which are but greater Families (for their own security) enlarge their Dominions, upon all pretences of danger, and fear of Invasion, or assistance that may be given to Invaders, endeavour as much as they can, to subdue, or weaken their neighbours, by open force, and secret arts, for want of other Caution, justly; and are rememdbred for it in after ages with honour.

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