Britain historically has been
the most war-mongering nation on earth, as the Guardian newspaper reminds us today.
Not one year in the past one hundred have
British military forces not been involved in some kind of armed conflict
somewhere on the planet.
A century ago this year, Britain entered what became the First World War
and its allies. Today, British troops
are on active duty in Afghanistan. In between, Britain
was involved in putting down colonial uprisings in Africa, Asia, the Middle
East and even South America (in Guyana,
formerly British Guiana).
Some of these countries have since been
renamed and we have trouble remembering what they were once called; others,
still known by their original names, we scarcely even recognised at the time or
And then, of course, there was the small
matter of the Second World War, again against Germany,
with its new allies Italy
It is not a record of which we should be
particularly proud, arguably with the exception of WW1 and the clear exception
of WWII. The reason is that, other than
WWII, not once in this century of warfare was Britain put in a position of
defending itself. Every other armed
engagement – and they ranged from out-and-out invasions to so-called ‘police
actions’ – was conducted in a place in which Britain had no reason to be in the
first place except as an occupying power, or as a provider of support for some
local despot friendly to British interests, or in the cause of some offshore
Remarkably, and literally, only a handful of
countries in the world have remained free from the experience of British
Tommies patrolling its streets or British warships blockading its harbours, or
British warplanes strafing ‘enemy’ positions.
And only an occasional year has passed in the past one hundred that has
not registered the death of a British serviceman. If you don’t believe me, ask the Commonwealth
War Graves Commission, which is responsible for their interment.
Next year, as British forces, along with their
American and NATO allies, leave Afghanistan,
looms as the first for a century in which not one British serviceman will be
engaged in combat.
Finally, then, and irrevocably, darkness will
descend on the Empire on which the sun was never supposed to set. And finally Britain
will relinquish its role as a global policeman, in which its political leader
was increasingly reduced to playing a hapless Stan to America’s arrogant
Olly. The Americans are so furious that
they are now sucking up to the French.
Good luck with that, I say.
Anyway, Britain can now surely concentrate
its resources on the economic struggles ahead. If we pursue those with the same
vigour and enthusiasm as we did in preserving our colonial and post-colonial
interests, we will succeed spectacularly.
Maybe that’s what we should be celebrating this
year – as a far more significant event than the anniversary of WWI.