The Curmudgeon


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The New Centurion

A committed Christian, who has so thoroughly absorbed the teachings of his Saviour as to ascend to the peerage through ordering people to kill other people on the whim of some jumped-up advertising men, has been preaching that the civilians need knocking into shape. "In past generations," proclaimed General Lord Dannatt, "it was often assumed that young men and women coming into the armed forces would have absorbed an understanding of the core values and standards of behaviour required by the military from their family or from within their wider community." Such an assumption cannot be made now: thanks to a society "where individualism dominates and the utility of armed force is openly debated", the good old gung-ho days when families were run like regiments are long past. "Given that much of our society is pretty unstructured these days, and given that the military has the unique opportunity to educate its own into the importance of a proper moral understanding," Dannatt continued, exercising commendable economy by placing two dubious premises in the same proposition, "then perhaps the military community may have a wider contribution that it can make to the nation." In Standard English, this appears to mean that if more people did as they were told we wouldn't have quite so much hoodie trouble. I may be doing General Lord Dannatt an injustice, but I doubt that he was referring to the unstructured depredations of the City of London.

Anyhow, Dannatt pontificated about the moral fibre of British troops in the usual Boys' Own terms: "they must be able to kill and show compassion at the same time; they must be loyal to their country, their regiment and their friends without compromising their own integrity." In many cases, no doubt, their integrity consists entirely of loyalty to country, regiment and friends; which can lead to difficulties if the friends get killed, the regiment is decimated by email and the country has no particular interest in education, employment or paying welfare benefits. Dannatt's solution to these merely terrestrial difficulties is to proselytise for a "spiritual dimension, beyond the rational and beyond the moral", which apparently comes in jolly useful for the military and might do wonders for the rest of us as well. Dannatt also made reference to the commander of the Drina corps of the Bosnian Serb army at the time of the Srebrenica massacre: "Had he refused orders from his superior, General Ratko Mladic … upwards of 8,000 people would still be alive. The risks of the morally correct line were obviously high, but on the day he failed the test." As head of the British army, Dannatt himself questioned the conduct of the Iraq adventure, but not to such an extent that upwards of a hundred thousand civilians are still alive. The risks of the morally correct line were obviously high; but when there's slaughtering to be done, particularly when one is beyond morality and reason, it is usually better to be the legionary than the lamb.


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