A few nights ago, I watched on TV the house of commons discussing the attempted murder of the ex-Russian spy and his daughter. I am not naïve and have no illusions about what states will get up to. We British helped to kill over 200,000 civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki because we insisted on Japan’s unconditional surrender. Even now we supply Saudi Arabia with the bombs which have enabled them to kill tens of thousands of people in Yemen.
But as I watched the debate I wondered what had happened to the old legal precept about being innocent until proved guilty. It seemed to me, as I listened, that apparently no proof of guilt was needed. The Russians were assumed to have done it. Putin was either himself guilty or he had lost control of a very nasty bit of Russian-produced poison. Jeremy Corbyn made some reasonable points about needing evidence and got something of a jeer even from some of his own backbenchers. Nationalism is not a one-party problem.
My mind drifted back to 1983 and the days of the Conservative defence secretary Michael Heseltine and the campaigns against siting US nuclear weapons at Molesworth and Greenham. Heseltine then did not mince his words: ‘The problem is very clear. We are dealing with a monolithic Soviet power. That’s the real enemy. That’s where the real threat is.’
In the same spirit came the United States ‘Fiscal 1984-1988 Defense Guidance’. It urged ‘preparations for winning an extended nuclear war against the Soviet Union and for waging war effectively from outer space’.
But my favourite quote from that stable came from a really nice man, field marshal sir John Bagnall, during a public debate in 1990. Said he: ‘the idea of flexible response is you don’t actually blow the world up. You may blow it up – that’s what you rather hope the opposition thinks you will do – but you do it in a graduated controlled way.’
“The idea of flexible response is you don’t actually blow the world up. You may blow it up – that’s what you rather hope the opposition thinks you will do – but you do it in a graduated controlled way.”
Keeping quotations is a very sensible hobby. I recommend a new publication from the Movement for the Abolition of War called From War to Peace. It contains about 70 really useful quotations, ideal for putting a bit of force into an article or talk.
My first example comes from lord Louis Mountbatten, hardly a peacenik: ‘As a military man, who has given half a century of military service, I say in all sincerity that the nuclear arms race has no military purpose…. There are powerful voices around the world who still give credence to the old Roman precept “if you desire peace, prepare for war”. This is absolute nuclear nonsense.’
Eleanor Roosevelt had this to say: ‘It isn’t enough to talk about peace, one must believe in it, and it isn’t enough to believe in it, one must work at it.’
Giles Fraser, Anglican priest, journalist and broadcaster, comments that: ‘From Constantine to Blair, the idea of a just war only feeds the beast. There are no just wars… only tragic ones’.
Ending war was the main reason for the foundation of the United Nations organisation in 1945. Says the preamble to the UN Charter: ‘We The Peoples of the United Nations Determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind… do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations’.
Finally, some words from professor Robert Hinde when president of the Movement for the Abolition of War: ‘There are too many people who are against war but do nothing about it. Of course everybody cannot do everything but everyone can do something.’ Perhaps the right note on which to end!