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
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
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