Iraq dossiers and Vietnam tapes show that war is not only unjustified, it is entirely futile.

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Born at the Wrong Time, the biography of Cyril James by Dave Foxton, offers a unique insight into the People’s War. The extraordinary achievements made by ordinary people during the chaos and mayhem that ensued over the course of ‘39 to ‘45 was remarkable, but what the diary of the modest Yorkshireman emphasises – without the usual Hollywood glamorisation – is the futility of such a disaster.

War veterans are the greatest pacifists. Jack Dihm, a 93-year old decorated war hero – a veteran of Libya, Egypt, Greece, Crete, and the Pacific – once said: “War is a terrible thing. It’s not just the horror. It’s the sheer pointlessness of it all. One side says or does one thing. The other side strikes back. Where does it end?”

The First World War was, in many ways, a result of France and Britain’s inability to accept economic and political decline relative to a rising Germany. With nation states around the continent adopting a ‘peace through military preparedness’ stance, it required just the smallest disturbance to tip them into destruction, and so it came to be when the Archduke of Austria was assassinated.

A mere 20 years later, World War II –  the most destructive event in human history – was born out of the treaty-makers’ failure to establish institutions adequate to facilitate peace. Hitler will remain forever guilty for such atrocities, but the rise of the German dictator was made possible from the ashes, ruin, and despair of the First World War.

Today, we are watching similar conditions unfold across the Middle East. Jihadists born from the ruins of the atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan are gaining political momentum in countries such as Syria, with Barack Obama increasingly feeling pressure from the Republican right to invade in typical ‘world police’ style. There is an argument to make it better before it gets worse, but recent revelations over the cause of such animosity may persuade Mr Obama to think otherwise.

Iraq

“The threat from Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction – chemical, biological, potentially nuclear weapons capability – that threat is real.” – Tony Blair

A recent Panorama documentary has revealed that the lies of two Iraqi spies were central to the claim – at the heart of the UK and US decision to go to war in Iraq – that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. What’s more, before UK and US troops had started their war with Iraq, new intelligence had come from highly-placed sources suggesting the Hussein did not possess weapons capable of mass destruction.

Gen Sir Mike Jackson, then head of the British Army, says, “what appeared to be gold in terms of intelligence turned out to be fool’s gold, because it looked like gold, but it wasn’t”.

The intelligence he refers to was of two spies, one of which, and probably the greatest contributor, was Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi. MI6, along with Germany and other countries had cast doubts about Mr Janabi, pointing to his history of fabrication and ability to deliver ‘curveballs’. The British decided to stick with curveball, as did the Americans. He later admitted being a fabricator and liar.

Classified Iraq war logs released by WikiLeaks revealed there were 109,032 deaths,including 66,081 civilian deaths, in Iraq between January 2004 and December 2009.

Vietnam

Declassified tapes of President Lyndon Johnson’s telephone calls have recently uncovered that he caught Richard Nixon sabotaging the Vietnam peace talks… but said nothing. The final set of tapes from his presidency have been released and allow us to hear Johnson’s private conversations as his Democratic Party tore itself apart over the question of Vietnam.

The tapes show how the ‘68 Chicago Convention was a complete shambles, as well as how Nixon derailed the Paris peace talks for political means. LBJ was powerless to respond, and when Nixon was reelected by the slenderest of margins, the Vietnam war escalated, with the loss of an additional 22,000 American lives. The peace agreement which was set up in 1973 was actually within grasp in 1968.

The tapes show political sabotage, power-crazed presidents and, most importantly, the unjustified and entirely futile war in Vietnam. LBJ was one of the last presidents ever to keep these kind of records for historians, which means sadly, we will never have that sort of insight again.

By Jack Peat

Born at the Wrong Time is a wonderful reflection of the average man’s role in the Second World War. It is available to purchase here.

 

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