29 March 2003  
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Not in our name
Peter Hitchens says that this is a left-wing conflict and Conservatives should not support it There is nothing conservative about war. For at least the last century war has been the herald and handmaid of socialism and state control. It is the excuse for censorship, organised lying, regulation and taxation. It is paradise for the busybody and the nark. It damages family life and wounds the Church. It is, in short, the ally of everything summed up by the ugly word ‘progress’.

‘Must be a beach bum.’

So why did the Conservative party support this left-wing war? It has missed a wonderful opportunity to be true to its principles, to be right, and to re-engage with the people of this country. Those who have dismissed it for years as a callous pressure-group motivated by nothing but money might have been forced to reconsider their view. But the Tories have so utterly lost the power of thought that they have become what their cruellest opponents pretend they are. Not since they endorsed the unhinged privatisation of the railways have the Conservatives acted so contrary to their own wisdom, and so exactly as if they were the brainless destroyers that alternative comedians imagine them to be.

This war was always different from those that have gone before. Previous conflicts in the modern age, even if usually caused by failures of deterrence, and even if they extended the power of the state, did at least have the virtue of being in British interests, because if we did not fight them we would be ruined, subjugated or fatally humbled. This one is so hard to justify that its supporters treat their own arguments with scorn, wanly grinding out cant phrases that long ago lost their meaning, trying to frighten us with bogeymen or pretending grotesquely that liberty and civilisation can be imposed on Mesopotamia with explosives.

The idea that naked force can create human freedom is itself a left-wing idea. Even more socialist are the war faction’s contempt for the sovereignty of nations and their unashamed belief that ends justify means. No wonder that the war’s hottest-eyed supporters on both sides of the Atlantic are ex-Marxists who have lost their faith but have yet to lose their Leninist tendency to worship worldly power. Yet ranged alongside them are Tories who are supposed to stand for the gentler and more modest cause of faith and nation, Church and King.

Why aren’t they embarrassed? Why aren’t they suspicious? Why doesn’t the enthusiasm of Mr Blair make them wonder if this is right rather than imagining that there are two, wholly contradictory Mr Blairs in the same body?

Mr Blair doesn’t like Britain. During the Cold War he belonged to CND, which wanted the USSR to be the only nuclear power in Europe. Knowing how important this fact was, he tried very hard to deny his membership until it was proved beyond all doubt. He opposed the retaking of the Falklands. He is even now trying to sell Gibraltar to Spain, and has delivered Northern Ireland, trussed and gagged, to the IRA. So now he’s a patriot? And Mrs Blair is one too, is she? And if they are not, then why should the war they love so much be treated as a patriotic conflict?

And then examine the sheer un-Conservative crudity and bullying intolerance of the war party and of the modern American war machine whose orders we now follow. My affection for the USA and its people, and my readiness to defend it and them against mean-minded foes, are on record in plenty of places. And, as it happened, I really believed (and still believe) the pro-Nato things I used to say during the Cold War, about how deterrence would create real peace, while weakness would bring war. In those days left-wingers called me rude names. Yet now I find myself accused of anti-Americanism and even treachery because I am against this war. My fears for American liberties, following the grotesquely named ‘Patriot Act’ and the founding of the ‘Department of Homeland Security’, are treated not as the warnings of a candid friend but as disloyalty. Disloyalty to what?

There seems to be an ideology of ‘Americanism’ in which one is either totally loyal or one is a suspect — another feature of the pro-war cause which perhaps attracts those ex-Marxists. It is based on an idea of America rather than the nation which actually exists. It has little or nothing to do with that good and decent country and its generous citizens in their quiet towns and peaceful suburbs which I love so much. I am reminded not of them but of the terrifying American messianic bore Hector Dexter in Nancy Mitford’s 1951 satire The Blessing, who tells his English hosts that he wishes to see a bottle of Coca-Cola on every table in every country:
When I say a bottle of Coca-Cola I mean it metaphorically speaking, I mean it as an outward and visible sign of something inward and spiritual. I mean it as if each Coca-Cola bottle contained a djinn, as if that djinn was our great American civilisation ready to spring out of each bottle and cover the whole global universe with its great wide wings. That is what I mean.

This juvenile, boastful spirit was epitomised last week by the US navy’s Vice-Admiral Timothy Keating, aboard the USS Constellation. Vice-Admiral Keating waved his arms about and told his ship’s company, ‘It’s hammer time!’ to the accompaniment of Queen’s ‘We will rock you’ played at maximum decibels. Adult cultures think war deserves reflection and seriousness of purpose. This war seems to have been imagined and designed by spiritual teenagers. Will the next begin to the obscene rattle and boom of gangsta rap? I do not know, but there was an ugly hubris about the bombardment of Baghdad which followed soon afterwards.

The city was shaken and blasted by men pushing buttons in almost complete safety hundreds of miles away. Yes, most of the missiles hit their targets and the civilian casualties were few, though that was little comfort to those few. Yes, the bombs were directed at an ugly and despicable tyranny. Yes, the bomb-aimers believed they were doing good. But the thoughtless, yelling anti-culture of hard rock is apt theme music for this thoughtless, reckless and over-confident form of warfare.

What if one day others are in a position to treat us as we have treated Baghdad, and it is our women giving premature birth because they are buffeted by blast waves and petrified by the ‘smart’ explosions, while the ceilings of our neglected hospitals crack and crumble as the palaces and bunkers of our loathed elite are blasted? Do I wish that our casualties had been higher? Of course not. But the ability to ruin someone else’s capital city without much risk to yourself makes you more likely to do so. It reminds me of Robert E. Lee’s truly conservative remark after the carnage of Fredericksburg: ‘It is well that war is so terrible. We should grow too fond of it.’ For the attacker, war is no longer terrible enough. Some people have grown too fond of it. They are not conservatives in any serious meaning of the word.

Peter Hitchens is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday. His new book, A Brief History of Crime, is published by Atlantic on 10 April.

© 2002 The Spectator.co.uk