When do we forget?

Mrs Clown and I attended the Remembrance Day parade in Bristol yesterday. My nan and grandad took me to my first parade in Footscray in, maybe, 1972. I was in the first rank of the Bexleyheath parade as a Sea Cadet in 1980 and marched with the grown up soldiers and sailors on Plymouth Hoe in 1982.

Aftermath (1919)

Have you forgotten yet?…
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked a while at the crossing of city ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heavens of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same,—and War’s a bloody game….
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz,—
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench,—
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, “Is it all going to happen again?”

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack,—
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads, those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the Spring that you’ll never forget.

Siegfried Sassoon, 1886-1967

Despite what the Bristol Post says, there were very few young people at the parade yesterday, other than small children with their parents and the cadets marching in the parade. I wonder how long these parades will continue?

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When we recited the Lord’s Prayer, I was struck by the fact that everyone around me knew the words too. How long before that, too, is forgotten?

Anglicans add the line “for thine is the kingdom the power and the glory forever and ever” to the end of the Lord’s Prayer but a recent survey by British Social Attitudes says that “Only 3% of adults under 24 describe themselves as Anglican”. Maybe Christianity will last for ever, but maybe not that bit of the prayer.

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We sang Carols at the tree lighting ceremony in Clifton Village last Wednesday. They handed out hymn sheets but everyone already knew the words. I saw no young people though either despite the thousands of students who live in Clifton. How long before Carols are forgotten too?

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I believe it was the battles of the Somme and Verdun and Passchendaele that precipitated the long slide in religious belief in Europe. When the Church, all over Europe, gave so much support for the most atrocious war in all history, it’s hard to imagine that its moral authority could continue forever. Maybe it’s right that we should forget those terrible wars now. After all, we’ve had more than 70 years of peace now.

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The European Union has its roots in an effort to bind together the French and German economies after World War 2 so that these terrible tragedies might never happen again. Churchill, having seen a few wars first-hand himself, was a supporter. Too many people have forgotten this and now a handful of Tory opportunists have persuaded them that we don’t need this security any more. Across the Atlantic, the American president is doing his best to undermine the institutions that have kept us safe and prosperous for so long. Half the country thinks this will somehow Make America Great Again.

At the Remembrance ceremonies in France, Macron and Merkel held hands in a symbolic rejection of past enmities. The American president, famously, chose not attend the remembrance of America’s contribution to the end of World War I.

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As these awful conflicts fade out of memory, it becomes easier to think that they’ll never happen again, even as we dismantle the institutions that made them stop.

“So now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me.
And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving their dreams and past glory,
I see the old men all tired, stiff and sore
Those forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask “What are they marching for?”
And I ask myself the same question.
But the band plays Waltzing Matilda,
And the old men still answer the call,
But year after year, the numbers get fewer
Someday, no one will march there at all.”
—Eric Bogle

Photo Credits:


In Our Times

I’m reading the biography of Winston Churchill by Max Hastings and I’m also following along with The Orwell Diaries on RSS.

I’m at a similar point in both stories and what strikes me most forcefully is how bleak those times were and how close Britain was to utter disaster. My imagination won’t stretch far enough to accommodate the events of those dark days.

It puts the rhetoric about the threats we faced from Al Qaeda in perspective for me. Britain circa 1941 faced an existential threat. America circa 2001 did not.

It’s also hard to imagine a politician in our shallow times doing something like this:

On January 27, amid increasing parliamentary criticism, Churchill faced the commons. “It is because things have gone badly, and worse is to come, that I demand a Vote of Confidence,” he said.

He won the vote by 464 to 1.


A bleg: when I am done with this, I’d like to learn a little more about the American Revolution and the Civil War. Any recommendations for a book on each? I’m more interested in the politics and the build up than the actual fighting in each case.

For the Revolutionary War especially, I want to be more prepared the next time a teacher sends a child home to interview their English father to get the “other side’s point of view” 🙁

Conspiracy revisited

Anyone remember the Iraq War?

Bush and Cheney made a bunch of claims about Iraq that weren’t true…most people didn’t believe them until they sent Powell up to make a big speech at the UN…


Their source – curveball – has finally spoken up. Not only was he lying all along…everyone – CIA, German handlers, everyone who had anything to do with him – suspected he was lying at the time. Everyone except Powell. No one told Powell. Powell’s not happy.

Responding to the Guardian’s revelation that the source, Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi or “Curveball” as his US and German handlers called him, admitted fabricating evidence of Iraq’s secret biological weapons programme, Powell said that questions should be put to the US agencies involved in compiling the case for war.

In particular he singled out the CIA and the Defence Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s military intelligence arm. Janabi, an Iraqi defector, was used as the primary source by the Bush administration to justify invading Iraq in March 2003. Doubts about his credibility circulated before the war and have been confirmed by his admission this week that he lied.

Powell said that the CIA and DIA should face questions about why they failed to sound the alarm about Janabi. He demanded to know why it had not been made clear to him that Curveball was totally unreliable before false information was put into the key intelligence assessment, or NIE, put before Congress, into the president’s state of the union address two months before the war and into his own speech to the UN.

“It has been known for several years that the source called Curveball was totally unreliable,” he told the Guardian . “The question should be put to the CIA and the DIA as to why this wasn’t known before the false information was put into the NIE sent to Congress, the president’s state of the union address and my 5 February presentation to the UN.”

Still Angry After All These Years

I experience stabbing pains of guilt when I read about the Iraq Inquiry in Britain. That  horrible story no longer moves me to anger; I just shake my head and keep walking.

I am sincerely grateful, therefore, to Daniel Larison in The American Conservative for still being very angry. I am glad he won’t let it rest.

Of course the new administration will try to make the best of it, claim progress and take credit for anything it can. That is in the political self-interest of this administration. Having inherited a mess that the political class has convinced itself was improving, it would not be advantageous to be the one overseeing the unraveling. The rest of us are not burdened by such considerations.

I don’t think it is particular noble to destroy another people’s country on the basis of unfounded, paranoid fears that its small, economically weak, militarily inferior government posed grave threats to the global superpower. There are many words that come to mind to describe this, but noble is not one of them. It is not especially noble to do this with no meaningful plan for restoring order and governance in the wake of the invasion. There is no nobility to be found in the afterthought of poorly constructing a democratic regime whose elections served as the trigger for massive bloodshed. Likewise, there was not much nobility when our government belatedly recognized its incompetence and failure long after it could do the civilian casualties any good and proposed a plan that would temporarily reduce violence long enough for the previous administration to get out the door.

My anger is still there but is deep below the surface but I am glad that Larison is still able to rouse it back up and remind me. I don’t want to forget.

They hate us for our freedom

Daniel Larison on anti-jihadism.

For most of the last decade, our preference in and out of government has been to deny that U.S. and allied policies had anything to do with jihadist attacks and their ability to recruit and win sympathizers. This acknowledgement would be to “blame the victim,” so that even if it were the correct analysis it was politically incorrect to say it out loud. Instead we have been treated to a whole host of explanations for why jihadist violence exists and why it tends to be directed at the U.S. and our allies. The lamest of these has been rather popular, namely the claim that “they hate us for our freedom,” or modernity or secularism or whatever it is that the person making the argument finds worthwhile about the West and sees lacking in Muslim countries. Then, of course, there is the trusty appeal to the enemy’s insanity. Unlike us, they are not really rational, and so their actions cannot be explained by referring to anything so mundane and normal as political grievances.

One day, Larison will say something I disagree with.

If only we knew then what we know now

Early in the morning of February 2, the Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction released Hard Lessons, a summary of all that has gone wrong in postwar Iraq. Hard Lessons may be the single most dismaying state paper released by an American official in the post-Vietnam era.

David Frum, Neocon and former speech writer to President Bush, is serializing snippets of the Inspector General’s report on his blog.

This is a document that reflects incredibly poorly on just about every Iraq war decision maker, and it is all the more depressing for being so vividly – pungently – written. This is our most authoritative and most detailed single volume on what went wrong in Iraq.

Six years, four thousand lives and hundreds of billions of dollars later, we seem at last to have stabilized Iraq. This weekend’s elections occurred peacefully, and the US goal of an Iraq that does not threaten its neighbors or its people now looks within reach. Yet we all have to be haunted by the question: Did it have to take so long and cost so much?

Frum’s (and the report’s) analysis is brutally honest and, probably like many who criticized the whole misbegotten exercise from the beginning, I am torn between deeply grateful for his honesty and cursing him for waiting until his honesty made no difference.

All the interagency Iraq planning groups worked in secret. Few knew the others existed. Officials justified the extreme secrecy on the grounds that ongoing diplomatic negotiations would be undercut if Saddam knew that postwar planning was well underway. (64)

A commenter wonders

how this rehash of the past by bureaucrats and biased journalists fits with a plan to restore a conservative majority?

Presumably the unbiased journalists would have stopped reporting after we won?

In Part 2, Frum talks about the poor planning.

Garner laid out four rebuilding scenarios for Rumsfeld, from “do what absolutely needs to be done and no more” to “redo the whole country of Iraq.”
“What do you think that’ll cost?” Rumsfeld asked.
“I think it’s going to cost billions of dollars,” Garner said.
“My friend,” Rumsfeld replied, “if you think we’re going to spend a billion dollars of our money over there, you are sadly mistaken.” (80)

Part 3 covers the mission accomplished period.

Two weeks had passed since Saddam’s regime had fallen. Outside the gates of the Republican Palace where ORHA was trying to set up shop, anarchy reigned. “We found the city in utter chaos,” said Richard Miller, one of six police advisors sent by the Justice Department. In some places, “corpses littered the streets, AK-47 fire was near constant, and looters operated with impunity.” Many government buildings had been destroyed.

If I recall correctly, that was about the peak of the liberal media only report the bad stuff era.

Result: While Bremer was settling in for a long occupation of Iraq, Franks was accelerating plans for troop withdrawals – first canceling a planned reinforcement of 50,000 post-conflict troops, then planning for a reduction to fewer than 30,000 US troops by the end of August 2003.

In part 4, we are reminded of how

The Iraq war was supposed to pay for itself, as the Gulf War had done a dozen years before. Instead, since 2003, Iraq has become the largest single-nation recipient of US international assistance in history.

As late as 2004 they were still celebrating their fantastic successes.

In a hastily arranged ceremony, the CPA folded its tent in the Green Zone on June 28, 2004, returning sovereignty to Iraq two days ahead of schedule. As its senior officials departed, the CPA issued a glowing report card on itself titled, “An Historic Review of CPA Accomplishments. Ambassador Bremer compared the reconstruction of Iraq to the Marshall Plan, and the CPA’s self-assessment ended with a list of achievements purporting to show that the CPA had done more in a shorter period of time in Iraq than the United States had accomplished nearly six decades earlier in postwar Germany. For example, Bremer noted, the CPA had created an independent central bank in two months; Germany did not have one for three years. Iraq became independent after one year; German sovereignty did not come for a decade. The CPA had “trained a new military” in three months; in Germany it took ten years. The CPA put together a reconstruction program in just four months; the Marshall Plan was designed over three years.

But, as we all knew then and as officialdom finally concedes now

The CPA’s self-assessment missed the mark. The Iraq it left behind was in a perilous state…

Iraq had slipped into the grip of a fierce insurgency, more U.S. troops were dying almost every day, and the occupation had soured many Iraqis on the continuing U.S. presence in their country.

Great Leaders

Hands up who, in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006, when the president said “Absolutely, we’re winning” thought the mainstream media was distorting the news to make it appear that the president was misleading the public?


No? Me neither.

“Absolutely, we’re winning,” the president said during an October 2006 news conference. “We’re winning.” His confident remarks came during one of the lowest points of the war, at a time when anyone with a TV screen knew that the war was going badly. On Feb. 5, 2005, as he was moving up from his first-term role as Rice’s deputy to become national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley had offered a private, confidential assessment of the problems of Bush’s Iraq-dominated first term. “I give us a B-minus for policy development,” he said, “and a D-minus for policy execution.” The president later told me that he knew that the Iraq “strategy wasn’t working.” So how could the United States be winning a war with a failing strategy?

Maybe you had some doubts about whether Iraq was involved in 9/11? You wouldn’t have been the only one.

Vice President Cheney was urging Secretary of State Colin Powell to consider seriously the possibility that Iraq might be connected to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Powell found the case worse than ridiculous and scornfully concluded that Cheney had what Powell termed a “fever.” (In private, Powell used to call the Pentagon policy shop run by Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith, who shared Cheney’s burning interest in supposed ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq, a “Gestapo office.”)

Everyone has doubts though, right?

During a December 2003 interview with Bush, I read him a quote from his closest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, about the experience of receiving letters from family members of slain soldiers who had written that they hated him. “And don’t believe anyone who tells you when they receive letters like that, they don’t suffer any doubt,” Blair had said.

“Yeah,” Bush replied. “I haven’t suffered doubt.”

“Is that right?” I asked. “Not at all?”

“No,” he said.

Bob Woodward has published a list of 10 leadership tips for Obama illustrated with episodes from the Bush presidency.  It’s fascinating reading.

In 2004-06, the CIA was reporting that Iraq was getting more violent and less stable. By mid-2006, Bush’s own NSC deputy for Iraq, Meghan O’Sullivan, had a blunt assessment of conditions in Baghdad: “It’s hell, Mr. President.” But the Pentagon remained optimistic and reported that a strategy of drawing down U.S. troops and turning security over to the Iraqis would end in “self-reliance” in 2009.

Good things might happen

This may well be the first time that someone from the other side has shown any sign of understanding my opposition to the Iraq War.

As many war supporters pointed out, then and now, there were all sorts of positive developments that could have flowed from Saddam Hussein’s ouster. And over the long haul, some of them still might come to pass, despite the toll the war has taken. But the pre-war debate revolved around weapons of mass destruction for a reason: It was “the one reason everyone could agree on,” as Paul Wolfowitz famously put it, because it was the one reason for war that was premised on an immediate and tangible military objective – disarm a bad guy before he uses his weapons against you – and that didn’t depend on long-range hypotheticals about Arab democratization, an Iran-Syria domino effect, a weak horse/strong horse dynamic, and so forth. Strip away Saddam’s (supposed) rearmament and the imminent threat it (supposedly) posed, and the fact that you had nine other “here’s why this might be a good idea” reasons for war did not a strong-enough justication for war make. Military conflict is simultaneously too grave and too unpredictable to be entered into if your primary objective depends upon a chain of hypothetical second-order consequences stretching across months and years.

Military spending is discretionary too

There is a campaign among the military-industrialists to set a floor on defense spending at 4% of GDP as “the only way we can stop the inexorable slide of national defense.”

This article argues why percentage of GDP is the wrong yardstick.

The Bush Administration requested $541 billion for national defense in FY 2009. […] The Administration also submitted a separate $70 billion placeholder request for ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Secretary of Defense Gates later provided an updated estimate of $170 billion for FY 2009.18


This means the United States will spend significantly more, in inflation-adjusted dollars, for defense in FY 2009 than it did during the peak years of the Korean War (1953; $545 billion), the Vietnam War (1968; $550 billion), or the 1980s Reagan-era buildup (1989; $522 billion).19 The United States is also projected to spend more on defense in FY 2009 than the next 45 highest spending countries combined, including 5.8 times more than China (second highest), 10.2 times more than Russia (third highest), and98.6 times more than Iran (22d highest). Indeed, the United States is expected to account for 48 percent of the world’s total military spending in FY 2009.

So why the discrepancy? Military-industrialists say that military spending is a falling proportion of GDP while these numbers say that dollar amount is increasing. The answer is, of course, that GDP is increasing.

His numbers are 4 years out of date, but Ben (of Ben and Jerry’s) explained it well with Oreos

or, if you prefer, an old-fashioned pie chart.

This handy-dandy poster has more up-to-date (2009) numbers:

click the poster for a fancy interactive version

It’ll pay for itself

Remember the Iraq War? Now that Bush and Maliki have agreed on the timetable for withdrawal that amounted to surrender back when democrats supported it, Andy McCarthy, in the Nation Review, suddenly notices that

This last point is the one that gnaws. Thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions in taxpayer funds have been expended to provide Iraqis the opportunity to live freely. And this despite the facts that (a) the U.S. interest in Iraqi democracy remains tenuous (our interest was the elimination of Saddam’s terror-mongering, weapons-proliferating regime), and (b) Americans were assured, when the nation-building enterprise commenced, that oil-rich Iraq would underwrite our sacrifices on its behalf. Yet, to be blunt, the Iraqis remain ingrates. That stubborn fact complicates everything.

Yesterday, speaking about the SOFA on condition of anonymity, a senior administration official acknowledged as much: “We’re still not popular with the Iraqis.” That’s putting it mildly.

It’s almost as if they don’t think of us as liberators.

McCarthy ends by wondering whether Iraq would be an ally in a future war with Iran. Eric Martin at Obsidian Wings answers

First, the question of the allegiance of Iraq’s governemt answers itself: We have overseen the ascendance of political parties that were either formed in Iran by the Iranians, or had been housed in Iran for decades prior to the invasion.  These parties have, naturally, very close ties to Iran.  They will not, absent Iranian aggression or extreme overreach, go to war with Iran at our behest, or permit us to do the same from their soil.  Nor do large segments of the Iraqi population, who have had the benefit of an up close view of the splendors of shock and awe, wish to visit such a fate on neighboring Iran.

Second, if victory in Iraq means an Iraq that is both free of al-Qaeda and an ally against Iran, then we had already won before we invaded, and then squandered our winnings through the invasion itself.  By invading, we allowed a previously non-existent AQI to emerge while greatly empowering Iran by removing its longtime regional adversary and replacing Saddam with extremely Iran-friendly political parties like ISCI and Maliki’s Dawa.