I don’t know enough and am not sure enough of my ability to describe my own opinion to have even considered posting anything about the vote in the House of Commons on 2nd December regarding air strikes in Syria. However amongst the white noise of news and social media coverage today several people have linked to this excellent Tony Benn snippet from a similar debate held before we decided to, almost certainly illegally, bomb democracy into Iraq.
It’s only two minutes and a quarter minutes so please do give it a watch because I think there are a couple of important points.
(I’m having an issue making this video embed properly and am running out of laptop battery, so click on the link to watch the video until I get my head round that. Or if you think I might be giving you a dodgy link to hardcore hamster porn or something, go to youtube and search ‘Tony Benn pre iraq speeech’, it’s the first hit)
Firstly it reminds us of a key thing we all know already, that bombing doesn’t make people throw the towel in. Britain was bombed nightly for a sustained period. If you’re unaware of how much, go and google pictures of “Coventry after the blitz”. Or London. Or Bristol. And out of all of that destruction and death we got a phrase we still use today – “Blitz spirit”; determination, stoicism, refusal to give in. To think that there is no chance that the people we drop bombs on could react in the same way would be to assume they are not human. Alternatively, and I fear there may be a small element of this at work inside some politicians, to assume that because Great Aunt Flo lived in London throughout the Blitz and she was alright does not mean that civilians won’t have their lives destroyed by an aerial bombing campaign even if they manage to stay alive.
The other thing which I think is key about sharing this is the very important point at the the start of it. Some of the MPs in the commons taking part in the debate before this crucial vote could remember war. Not from reading books about people in air raid shelters, but from sitting in one themselves listening to the sirens and bombs falling. This debate is now a decade ago. This generation are disappearing. My grandfather can remember the bombing in Bristol where he was a boy, but he was only a lad – he wasn’t old enough to have to don a uniform before the end in 1945. He’s now in his mid eighties. We have very few people with that connection left in positions to make these decisions now and if it goes another decade before we need another (I fear it won’t) there’ll be barely any. Clearly, collective memory does not prevent war – the relatively small gap between the first and second World Wars confirm that. And I have no doubt that there are MPs in the commons who have known hardships, and do consider what it might be like to be underneath one of out ‘targeted raids’. But I don’t believe the majority of them are on the front benches, and they may never be. I’m afraid I fear that increasingly in the future terms like ‘inevitable civilian casualties’ and ‘collateral damage’ will replace any attempt to remember those civilians are in the same position as any of us would be if the bad guys lived next door to us, and excuse any need for empathy. I very much hope to be proved wrong.
None of that means any of this is clear cut of course, which is why I’m not talking about it. But I wanted to put this here so I always had it, and didn’t have to wait till the next time(s) after debate(s) the most popular clip the following day is of a man making an important point 10, 15, 20, 30 years ago..