A Just War

A story by True contributor Mike Straw this week uses a powerful quote as a tagline. Mike, a retired career U.S. Air Force officer, posted a Twitter thread about his research for the tagline, and it was so good I thought I’d have him expand his introduction just a bit so it can be posted here. First, the story from True’s 10 May 2020 issue:

Unneighborly

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of V.E. Day, Nicole and Mark Slater decorated their Telford, England, home with the flag of the United Kingdom, along with a flag featuring a poppy — a popular symbol of remembrance in Britain. The next morning, Mark found an anonymous note on their doorstep. “Several residents have raised concerns with the offensive nature of the flags which you have put up in a well respected area,” the letter claimed. “We have made a formal complaint to Telford and Wreckin Council [sic] and we will escalate and take this further.” The letter said the flags were “useless, oversized, [and] disgusting.” The couple contacted the Telford and Wrekin Council — which encouraged them to carry on — and Nicole posted a copy of the letter to social media. They received overwhelming support from neighbors, many of which are military veterans. (MS/Shropshire Star) …“The safety of our homes and the Freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.” —Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig (1861–1928), commander of the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front, WWI.

“Lest We Forget” (the poppy flag says). Indeed. Nicole Slater in front of her home, not forgetting. (Photo: Shropshire Star, cropped)

Haig, of Course, is Right

In my opinion, the best historical quotes apply long after they were uttered, and this one’s a slam-dunk example. The full quote, which Haig put in writing, is:

To ALL RANKS OF THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE AND FLANDERS

Three weeks ago to-day the enemy began his terrific attacks against us on a fifty-mile front. His objects are to separate us from the French, to take the Channel Ports and destroy the British Army. In spite of throwing already 106 Divisions into the battle and enduring the most reckless sacrifice of human life, he has as yet made little progress towards his goals. We owe this to the determined fighting and self-sacrifice of our troops. Words fail me to express the admiration which I feel for the splendid resistance offered by all ranks of our Army under the most trying circumstances. Many amongst us now are tired. To those I would say that Victory will belong to the side which holds out the longest. The French Army is moving rapidly and in great force to our support. There is no other course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our homes and the Freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.

(Signed) D. Haig F.M. Commander-in-Chief British Armies in France, 11 April [1918].

Field Marshal Haig, in 1917.

Here’s what Mike had to say about his research:

Forgetting There’s Such a Thing as Tolerance

I came across this quote while trying to come up with a good tagline for a story in True. The quote isn’t related to the story; it just caught my eye because it seems to hold some truth for today.

Once I lead the people into war they’ll forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance.

To fight you must be brutal and ruthless, and the spirit of ruthless brutality will enter into the very fiber of our national life, infecting Congress, the courts, the policeman on the beat, and the man on the street.

—Woodrow Wilson, 2 April 1917

I’m not anti-war. I believe in Just War Theory, but war should be, as Clausewitz put it, “the continuation of politics by other means.”

When all else fails, it’s important to have a strong defense against oppression, genocide, and other atrocities, but that doesn’t require a continuous state of war that evolves into a means of propping up for-profit contractors.

I joined the Air Force during the Cold War, and military operations were rare. Then in late 1989 Operation Dessert Shield started. I remember the day, because I was a young Airman and my NCOIC (Noncommissioned Officer in Charge — a.k.a. my boss) needed to make a point about something I’d neglected. So he told me that Saddam Hussein had just invaded Kuwait. My only thoughts at the time were, Who’s Saddam Hussein? and Where’s Kuwait? It didn’t take long for me to learn the answers.

Since then the military has been on a war-time footing, and it’s cost our country dearly — not just financially, but in “the very fiber of our national life, infecting Congress, the courts, the policeman on the beat, and the man on the street.”

Our country was led into war, and now so many people have forgotten “there ever was such a thing as tolerance.” No wonder there is so much hate raging in our nation today.

I don’t know what to do about it, but in this time of major crisis that isn’t centered on war, I hope we can somehow seek unity, cooperation, and peace instead of intolerance, hate, and war — while still taking a stand against those who would bring harm to others.

Maybe this post will be a small step in that direction.

——End of Mike’s Comments

Mike’s own aside is pretty brilliant: “…a continuous state of war that evolves into a means of propping up for-profit contractors.”

We’ve certainly been seeing that for many years.

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14 Comments on “A Just War

  1. Thank you, Mike. Yes, it would be nice if we could remember that we are people first and foremost. We all have families and friends that we care about. What letter, if any, someone puts after their name should mean little between us, but that’s seems almost out of reach now. No matter what the discussion is supposed to be about, within a few minutes it devolves into politics, as if it’s the only thing that matters.

    If I partake at all, it’s to correct errors in fact and to asses both sides (as if there were only two, and not one for each individual person) as contributing to whatever has happened, staying as far above that fray as I can. Sometimes it’s not easy.

    Just take each day as it comes and do the best you can with what you have.

    Reply
    • Assuming you’re referring to the armed protestors in the USA, particularly the ones in the state of Michigan, there’s a good reason for them to carry those weapons — which aren’t assault rifles, they’re hunting and target shooting rifles with plastic bits added to make them look like assault rifles.

      The protest organizers in Michigan and elsewhere have noticed something about US police: Even though it’s a crime punishable by ten years in prison for a US law enforcement officer to illegally shut down a lawful protest by violence, they’re never prosecuted for it — and they know it, as demonstrated by the fact that they routinely violently shut down lawful protests. Often by firing indiscriminately into the crowd with so-called “less lethal” munitions, that are still perfectly capable of killing people, they’re just less deadly than bullets.

      But when the protestors are armed, something interesting happens. The police who will happily shoot grenades and lead-cored rubber bullets into a crowd will leave them in peace. The police behave politely, professionally and above all lawfully when confronted with a crowd that has the ability to return fire if fired upon. The police have no problems making justified arrests — armed protestors like that tend to hand troublemakers over to police proactively — but even though the police know they won’t be prosecuted for committing violent crimes against the crowd, the presence of weapons in the crowd means police don’t use those tactics.

      https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/241

      Reply
      • If most or all of the armed protestors happened to be black, I doubt the response you refer to would be nearly as restrained.

        Reply
  2. To go back to the original story (while not in any way playing down the other very important points), this type of anonymous bullying makes me in equal measure angry and sad. The UK has a long history of tolerance and patience, and for centuries was the go-to country as a refuge from much more restrictive regimes in mainland Europe. This is a role more recently (and until recently perhaps) taken up by the US. I’ve been called a racist for wanting to fly the UK or the English flag of St George on my house, but I merely point out to the would-be bullies that in the rest of the world I would be seen as slacking not to fly them. Live and let live, provided nobody else is harmed, is my belief. By all means grumble, but do so to yourself.

    Reply
  3. Mike, I understand a lot more about your tags now after reading your guest post. Up north of you here in Canada the majority take for granted that we stand in the protective shadow of the bully beast — but some take on uniform and understand more deeply the realities faced, not the conspiracy theories, and i respect their position as well. However, as a historian i often question when the term ‘a just war’ is used by any side, since it has too often been a blanket thrown over unjust actions.

    FYI, my family have a tradition of sideline support: in WWI, one grandfather worked on classified war inventions for Bell, and the other was a medic who caught typhoid in Gallipoli; in WWII, my dad fought the battle of DeHavilland (as he called it) building Mosquitoes, and my mom’s picture in her St. John’s Ambulance Brigate uniform reminds me that there is always a path that includes tolerance and compassion even in the worst battle, even at the front lines. Thanks for sharing, Mike!

    Just for the record, “A Just War” is my title for this page, not Mike’s. -rc

    Reply
  4. Thank you Mike. (hello Arcie)

    My wife reminded me yesterday that there are some words in a document that was written a LONG time ago when the USA was just getting started. The author used the words, “Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness.” That “life” term comes first in the list. Somehow agreeing to help keep the “other guy” alive seems to have been lost somewhere. I applaud the British flag flying to help remember something or someone important. The US flag from my US Navy Veteran brother’s coffin is currently hanging in front of my house. Today is just May 16 to me. It is special to someone for some reason, I know not what.

    Reply
  5. I totally agree with Randy’s comment on Mike’s observation: ‘Mike’s own aside is pretty brilliant: “…a continuous state of war that evolves into a means of propping up for-profit contractors.”‘ except for one thing … the word “evolves” should have been “devolves.”

    There’s no question this type of development is moving in the wrong direction.

    Good point. -rc

    Reply
  6. I’m not sure if it’s clear from this article exactly what the neighbours are objecting to, because in the US the nationalism and self-professed patriotism embodied in the display of the national flag appear quite normal and acceptable.

    However in the UK there has never been anything like that much chauvinism, and indeed in recent years the hard right parties and neo-nazis have taken to displaying the Union Jack alongside their anti-immigrant and racist material, with the result that anyone other than an official body or building displaying the flag are automatically tainted by intolerant association.

    And make no mistake, the hoi poloi are every bit as polarised as the American public when it comes to political divisiveness. So the Left is just as intolerant as the Right they accuse so viciously of being “intolerant”. All rather depressing.

    Reply
  7. 1. Those who are discomforted, insulted and offended by other’s statements or non-intrusive actions are not mature adults; their adherence to tolerant liberalism includes intolerance of those who dare to disagree — especially if the wrong-headed (a) declare/display their views openly and (b) dare to defend their positions publicly and are willing to do so.

    2. The term WAR has become diluted. A war has a clear, objective definition of what it means “to win”, preferably an achievable goal. Anything else is an example of political/economic thuggery and occupation even if the leaders are well-meaning and are looking (hoping) for the greater good.

    If the leaders fail to define the status or event that equates to “winning” then they neither desire to win, in a clear and decisive manner, nor have any planning, strategic or logistical skills that would support any effort toward “winning”.

    Their only achievements will be squandering a lot of money and lives, betraying those they put in harm’s way, and creating a case study in combined, blatant misfeasance and malfeasance.

    Reply
    • “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” —C. S. Lewis

      Reply
  8. If I had to guess why the flags were so ‘disgusting’ it would be the poppies — some obliviot probably decided it was a drug reference of some sort.

    Which not only shows their ignorance, but their world view. -rc

    Reply
    • Not in the UK. The poppy is such a ubiquitous symbol here that not wearing one around Armistice Day can be a political statement. A vocal minority, however, view it as a pro-war symbol, totally contrary to its usage throughout most of the last century.

      Reply

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