Potiphar12's Blog
An Octogenarian in the modern world


The October 27th papers gave substantial coverage to the end of British military involvement in Afghanistan. Some writers doubted the possibility of Britain ever again wanting to, or being capable of undertaking such a campaign. I felt called to consider my own attitude. I am conditioned, of course. When I was a young man significant parts of the British Empire remained, and I had been taught to view it as an influence for good. I believed that my country still had some power in the world. Being patriotic was OK and if people died fighting in war, that was accepted. And the population of the UK was mostly English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish by birth.

I am now one of a minority. I live in a multicultural society with a broadly socialist morality and the well-being of the citizens is seen as the greatest good. My ideas are out-dated. Warfare has also passed me by age-wise. No government is going to introduce conscription for men over eighty. So I ask myself questions about war in a theoretical, non-personal way.

Aggression is a normal response when a group or tribe or nation feels threatened. But what is the nature of the threat and is it real or imagined, immediate or remote, likely to bring death or just inconvenience? And is the group, tribe or nation so much of the same mind that the great majority feel threatened? Iraq was seen as a threat by many because it’s leader was believed to have weapons of mass destruction available and to be a man capable of using them against a perceived enemy. Many people in the UK believed that this constituted a physical threat and that something had to be done: many others did not share that belief. The outcome was a ‘conventional’ war decided upon by the government and resolved in the end by military action.

Politicians in the UK are intent on running down our armed forces: so much so that one feels they have discounted any threat that would require them. The attitude seems to be that “Nobody is going to threaten us with physical invasion in the way that Napoleon and Hitler did.” If that is true, are there other threats to be considered? Who is threatened? Are the threats serious? Can they be resisted? Should they be resisted? How?

There is a threat to our standard of living because of globalisation.Countries that were way behind us are catching up fast and failure to recognise this may mean being overtaken. If competition gives rise to progress then this is only a threat if we don’t respond by competing ourselves. That is done by constant awareness of what is going on elsewhere and demands cooperation as well as competition.

There is a threat to the security of individual citizens because extremists are not frightened by death. This is a real and serious threat which our security services are struggling with. It also points to a weakness in our society. Our apparent concern with nothing except material well-being makes some people look for a more inspiring cause to embrace. The nearest we come to such a cause is our enthusiasm for democracy.

There is a threat to the health of our citizens because new diseases can spread rapidly. This is not just a threat to one group, tribe or nation. It is a threat to humanity, and the proper response is international cooperation.

There is a threat to the organisation of our society through excessive reliance on technology. A succession of apparently minor errors can cause an extraordinary degree of chaos. This is another global threat, for the world-wide-web means that there are no natural boundaries.

So the end of the Afghan campaign leads me to the conclusion that dangers leading to wars of that type are less likely than other dangers. Possibly ‘ defence of the realm’ is being overtaken as an issue. But the fundamental problem is always “Who is US and who is THEM?” Or, “Who is IT?” A new answer will take a long time to emerge.


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