With Defense Secretary Michael Fallon and David Cameron attempting to convince Parliament to back military airstrikes in Syria, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s staunch anti-war stance is coming under attack. Corbyn is under increasing pressure to allow his MPs a free vote on Syria, facing a party split and revolt from half of his shadow cabinet.
In an impassioned speech in Parliament in 1998, the late Labour MP Tony Benn warned MPs of the hundreds of innocent people that would be killed if they vote to bomb Iraq. He asked them what would be achieved and to search their conscience. The arguments and rhetoric sound hauntingly familiar (also spot the familiar face in the background).
In the speech Tony Benn questions what the bombings will achieve other than strengthening the opposition’s resolve. He also points out that we must search our conscience because by voting to bomb a far away country, we are responsible for the deaths of innocent and frightened men, women and children.
As Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel once said “We learn from history that we do not learn from history” so the obvious question must be asked why is there so much appetite for bombing Syria when we’re so fresh off the back of questionable campaigns in Iraq and Afganistan?
The Syria conflict is multifarious involving several warring factions, with American, Russian, European and Saudi agendas thrown into the mix, an element of climate change, a biblical refugee crisis, and a great deal of suffering being dealt out by all sides. Perhaps this is one of the most complex and murky conflicts we’ve ever seen, with little clarity and short understanding of the objectives on all sides. There are horrific allegations against all parties.
It seems obvious that a war on ideology can’t be won by peppering bombs over a country already torn apart, where many of the enemies are embedded within the villages, towns and cities, living among the civilian population (and those desperate to flee). It has been likened to throwing pebbles at a wasps nest.
David Cameron says that his opinion has been formed by listening to advice and intelligence. Again, this sounds familiar. Didn’t we have advice and intelligence before the war on Iraq claiming that Saddam Hussein had long-range WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction)? If we are to intervene in Syria, there must be clear reasoning, clear objectives and a clear outcome.
Is it no wonder that many are incentivised to push for military intervention. This week the Chancellor announced cuts to almost 30% of the Ministry of Defense civilian workforce. As the Ocean Colour Scene song points out ‘there’s no profit in peace, so we’ve gotta fight some more.’
Convincing the public at large that war is necessary isn’t a new concept. During the Nuremburg war trials, leading member of the Nazi Party Hermann Göring said in an interview (3 January 1946) ‘Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along.
‘the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.’
Before we enter into a Syrian bombing campaign must search our souls and our conscience. We need to look at the lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan and we must ask ourselves if we are being dragged into a war through fear, or if there is clear rationale to embark on a campaign.