Never again.

No jolly banter today. No cheap political point-scoring. No penny-philosophy. Just ‘Never again’.

In a camp seventy-five years ago today men had waded through blood and burnt villages to reach that spot broke down and wept, and that was just one camp. I can write no more about it as many others have written more and better and with better understanding.

We can blame a disembodied evil for it, or conjure the Devil into the midst, but these were the deliberate actions of men, and the causes are in the elemental heart of man. It is the fundamental duty of society, which is to say of every man and woman whose multitude of interconnected relationships make up that intangible web that we call society, to ensure those social bonds work for the good, for we have seen how easy it is to deploy the irresistible strength of society to destruction.

From time to time the papers titillate us with displays of the everyday propaganda used by the Nazis to normalise race-hatred across their society, and we grimace or maybe think it too crude for anyone to take seriously. Then as someone speaks to me he spits out the latest conspiracy he has heard and thinks it modern, but my heart is chilled because it is very familiar, very old. It all emphasises that we must learn to speak up to challenge the re-normalisation of these ideas and say with no lessening vigour ‘Never again.’

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Armed on the street

It may seem strange to some man, that has not well weighed these things; that Nature should thus dissociate, and render men apt to invade, and destroy one another: and he may therefore, not trusting to this Inference, made from the Passions, desire perhaps to have the same confirmed by Experience.

Let him therefore consider with himselfe, when taking a journey, he armes himselfe, and seeks to go well accompanied; when going to sleep, he locks his dores; when even in his house he locks his chests; and this when he knows there bee Lawes, and publike Officers, armed, to revenge all injuries shall bee done him; what opinion he has of his fellow subjects, when he rides armed; of his fellow Citizens, when he locks his dores; and of his children, and servants, when he locks his chests. Does he not there as much accuse mankind by his actions, as I do by my words?

But neither of us accuse mans nature in it. The Desires, and other Passions of man, are in themselves no Sin. No more are the Actions, that proceed from those Passions, till they know a Law that forbids them; which till Lawes be made they cannot know: nor can any Law be made, till they have agreed upon the Person that shall make it. It may peradventure be thought, there was never such a time, nor condition of warre as this; and I believe it was never generally so, over all the world: but there are many places, where they live so now. For the savage people in many places of America, except the government of small Families, the concord whereof dependeth on naturall lust, have no government at all; and live at this day in that brutish manner, as I said before. Howsoever, it may be perceived what manner of life there would be, where there were no common Power to feare; by the manner of life, which men that have formerly lived under a peacefull government, use to degenerate into, in a civill Warre.

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Army of clerks

It is not true that the Ministry of Defence has more civil servants than there are soldiers – there are only half as many. That is still shocking though:  one clerk for every two regular soldiers. What do they do all day that is not already done by the General Staff or the regimental staff?

The navy, army and air force are already top-heavy in senior officers. The structure is basically that which served an army of millions and has not come to terms with shrinking to the mini-army we have today, which does not need such a multiplicity of generals let alone field marshals.  They are all fine gentlemen, no doubt, but you begin to suspect that they were promoted out of politeness. Balls at Mansfield Park may have glittered with admirals, rears and vices, but their great fleets of ships to command are no longer there, and mass retirement is something to be discussed in quiet corners.

The excess of generals is one thing, but being overbalanced by civilian clerks is a humiliation.

Maybe a cure could be to stick each one in uniform with a rifle and bayonet in their hand, and they might be an effective rearguard force – the Civil Service Rifles were a well-regarded volunteer unit from the Victorian period and formed a regular regiment which fought with distinction in the Great War.  I can see no sign of the desk-wallahs of today following their forebears though.

We come back to why we need a civil servant for every two soldiers.  It is not as if the clerk ever meets his two Tommies. It is a waste of breath: I do not know either.  Only those who have spent time in the depths of Whitehall will have any idea of what is actually done, and where the redundancies are, and those who have been there will soon go native. Maybe now we have a new army, of defenestrated ex-ministers, there is someone who can suggest what to do, from the outside and with knowledge of the inside.

The Ministry of Defence is a model of inefficiency, as were its predecessors it must be said.  Basic items that can be picked up for a few bob in civvy street are billed to the MoD at a 1000% mark-up and more, and soldiers still buy their own boots rather than rely on the dodgy stock issued to them, or did in my day.  The equipment is every more sophisticated and expensive, and sits in storage its whole life because a soldier’s work in the field still comes down to pushing a piece of steel through the enemy just as it was at Thermopylae.

(Imagination and innovation are the best weapons for an officer, which is seen in every great general and admiral from Caesar to Montgomery. Imagination and innovation are a horror to the civil service mentality. How the two can work together is a mystery.)

The men are not coming forward to serve these days. We no longer have starving men ready to join the ranks to fill their bellies, and no constant colonial adventure to draw the adventurer. Neither are there six-foot bewhiskered sergeants causing women to swoon at the sight and young men to join up in envy and emulation. What we do have is an inhuman, limp-wristed, computerised, out-sourced recruitment system that every soldier hates and which has presided over the greatest fall in numbers since the first day of the Somme. No minister may criticise their own contractor. Perhaps those who have escaped may do so.

Perhaps the Ministry of Defence is kept at in such numbers to administer a shell of the armed forces, which are ready to fill up to full strength when there is a major war, and the army is swollen to six million men as once it was. Still, it has been seventy-four years since the end of the War, and thirty years since the end of the Cold War, and even the Blair Wars did not appreciably increase the army (or even the Royal Marines, who get handed the brunt of special operations). Are they dreaming of greatness never to come again, like a country house once teaming with glitering parties and a battalion of staff, now left an echoing shell in case the days come again?

Another thought comes to mind: increasing defence spending is a vote-winner, but having got the funds, what can it be spent on, where there are no men to fill the uniforms? Petty clerks is the answer. There – we can have increased spending on “defence” but not a penny more going to war-fighting capacity.

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Treaties bedevil a wayward parliament, 1644

In this same year the Parliament put to death Sir John Hotham and his son, for tampering with – the Earl of Newcastle about the rendition of Hull; and Sir Alexander Carew, for endeavouring to deliver up Plymouth, where he was governor for the Parliament; and the Archbishop of Canterbury, for nothing but to please the Scots; for the general article of going about to subvert the fundamental laws of the land, was no accusation, but only foul words.

They then also voted down the Book of Common-prayer, and ordered the use of a Directory, which had been newly composed by an Assembly of Presbyterian ministers.

They were also then, with much ado, prevailed with for a treaty with the King at Uxbridge; where they remitted nothing of their former demands.

The King had also at this time a Parliament at Oxford, consisting of such discontented members as had left the Houses at Westminster; but few of them had changed their old principles, and therefore that Parliament was not much worth. Nay rather, because they endeavoured nothing but messages and treaties, that is to say, defeating of the soldiers’ hope of benefit by the war, they were thought by most men to do the King more hurt than good.

(Behemoth)

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Warre Of Every One Against Every One

So that in the nature of man, we find three principall causes of quarrel. First, Competition; Secondly, Diffidence; Thirdly, Glory. The first, maketh men invade for Gain; the second, for Safety; and the third, for Reputation. The first use Violence, to make themselves Masters of other mens persons, wives, children, and cattell; the second, to defend them; the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other signe of undervalue, either direct in their Persons, or by reflexion in their Kindred, their Friends, their Nation, their Profession, or their Name.

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.

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.

………..

The Libertie, whereof there is so frequent, and honourable mention, in the Histories, and Philosophy of the Antient Greeks, and Romans, and in the writings, and discourse of those that from them have received all their learning in the Politiques, is not the Libertie of Particular men; but the Libertie of the Common-wealth: which is the same with that, which every man then should have, if there were no Civil Laws, nor Common-wealth at all. And the effects of it also be the same.

For as amongst masterlesse men, there is perpetuall war, of every man against his neighbour; no inheritance, to transmit to the Son, nor to expect from the Father; no propriety of Goods, or Lands; no security; but a full and absolute Libertie in every Particular man: So in States, and Common-wealths not dependent on one another, every Common-wealth, (not every man) has an absolute Libertie, to doe what it shall judge (that is to say, what that Man, or Assemblie that representeth it, shall judge) most conducing to their benefit. But withall, they live in the condition of a perpetuall war, and upon the confines of battel, with their frontiers armed, and canons planted against their neighbours round about.

The Athenians, and Romanes, were free; that is, free Common-wealths: not that any particular men had the Libertie to resist their own Representative; but that their Representative had the Libertie to resist, or invade other people. There is written on the Turrets of the city of Luca in great characters at this day, the word LIBERTAS; yet no man can thence inferre, that a particular man has more Libertie, or Immunitie from the service of the Commonwealth there, than in Constantinople. Whether a Common-wealth be Monarchicall, or Popular, the Freedome is still the same.

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