War and Freedom (6th December 2013)

War and Freedom

I have lots of confusion around the business of armed conflict. Part of me is a pacifist hippy, hating all war, but another part of me challenges this as naive. I have a fascination with military hardware, especially aircraft, but I am saddened by the fact that so much human ingenuity goes into machines of destruction.

Is it just me or do other people see military aircraft differently depending on their origin. To me a Mescherschmidt has a nasty malevolent look, whereas a Spitfire, though a very similar aircraft, looks beautiful. I remember seeing B52s flying into Britain ready to begin operations against Iraq. To me they were like invaders from Mordor.

I've always been a great admirer of Ghandhi, but I once read his opinions of how Hitler should be resisted, non violently. Non violent resistance depends for its success on the humanity of your opponents. If you are dealing with psychopaths, who are incapable of compassion, it will not work. Sadly, there was no alternative to the second world war. Had my parents generation not fought then the whole world would probably be living under oppressive regimes. The freedoms that we have are easily eroded though, the main threat now coming not from governments but from corporations.

I've recently been reading some books about military leaders. Their psychology fascinates me. The first was Field Marshal Montgomery's autobiography. Though he was known for blowing his own trumpet, I think there is little doubt that his appointment in 1942 was crucial to turning the war around. I hadn't realised that his predecessor's only plan was to retreat when Rommel attacked at El Alemein. The question in my mind is what would have happened in the modern world. It seems to be widely accepted now that Monty was a paedophile. Some say that this only went as far as getting boys to strip naked to be inspected. My partner, who has dealt professionally with paedophiles, tells me that if he was doing this there is little doubt that he was going further. This, apparently was generally known about at the time and seen as an eccentricity. Today he would have been arrested, probably long before he rose to the rank of General. Would it be right to turn a blind eye to his predelictions in order to get the best man in the crucial position?

I'm now reading about Garibaldi. I never knew much about him, just that he founded Italy and had a biscuit named after him. He must have got a buzz out of battle. Beginning as a pirate off the South American coast he fought for liberation movements in Brazil and Uruguay before returning to his native Italy, then a hotch potch of monarchies, dukedoms, Papal states and parts of the Austrian empire. With a ragtag volunteer army, fiercely loyal to him, he frequently defeated bigger, better armed and more conventional forces until, eventually Italy became a constitutional monarchy with reasonable freedoms for its people. Garibaldi was obviously a brilliant and charismatic leader, but he also seems to have been a decent man who cared about others. He would not put up with maltreatment of prisoners and only fought for liberation causes, eschewing honours and money and with little time for politicians. Though he didn't go himself, some Garibaldinis fought on the Union side in the American civil war, but Garibaldi would not give his support until he was sure that a Northern victory would definitely mean emancipation for the slaves.

It worries me that the freedoms achieved at such great cost in the past by people like the Garibaldinis, trades unionists, mass trespassers etc can so easily be lost in an era when most information is controlled by a handful of wealthy people and the population seems to be taken in by bread, circuses and shopping.