Monday, May 21, 2007

Aneurin Bevan and the use of armed force.

A couple of weeks ago The Guardian published, as a daily supplement, a series of speeches under the heading of 'Great Speeches of the 20th Century.' The speeches ranged from Winston Churchill to Nikita Khrushchev. I found it interesting to read the speeches but also the introductions written by individuals, such as F.W. de Klerk and Mikhail Gorbachev, who themselves are well known and influential.

One speech caught my attention, even though I thought is was one of the lesser well written: Aneurin Bevan's speech in the House of Commons Dec 5, 1956 criticising the British (and French) government for militarily intervening in Suez and Sinai.

Bevan, a Labour MP, criticised the Conservative government not just for the military intervention but also the changing reasons given for the intervention. Bevan thus said: really is desirable that when a nation makes war upon another nation it should be quite clear why it does so. It should not keep changing the reasons as time goes on.

There is, in fact, no correspondence whatsoever between the reasons given today and the reasons set out by the Prime Minister at the beginning.
Bevan then went on to critise the use of armed force to attain the "civil, social and political objectives" of a modern society, and stated:
"The social furniture of modern society is so complicated and fragile that it cannot support the jackboot. We cannot run the processes of modern society by attempting to impose our will upon nations by armed force. If we have not learned that we have learned nothing. Therefore, from our point of view here, whatever may have been the morality of the Government's action - and about that there is no doubt - there is no doubt about its imbecility. There is not the slightest shadow of doubt that we have attempted to use methods which were bound to destroy the objectives we had, and, of course, this is what we have discovered."
This is Bevan's strongest argument and one that should be used against Tony Blair and George Bush who, like the British and French governments in 1956, have used methods in their 'war on terrorism' that were bound to destroy the objectives.

For a full transcrip of Bevans speech see here.


At 21 May, 2007 14:57, Anonymous Charles said...

Torsten, I understand where you are coming from in this regard. I think that all war is hell. I utterly hate war. But I think that some war is necessary. The war against Islamic fundamentalism and radicalism is a necessary battle that must be waged, regardless of how unpleasant it may be. Whether or not Iraq should have been a part of this war can no longer be questioned - we are there now. We need to get out for sure, but we must not leave precipitously, or we may have to go back to a bigger mess.

If you follow the logic of this speaker you quoted, you would have to subscribe to the thought that the invasion of Afghanistan was not necessary, and we should have stayed away here and just let them continue to kill us slowly.

I wonder if those folks who were so jaded by the horrors of WWII, aka "The Greatest Generation" did the world a disservice by raising the worst generation - a bunch of peace-nick pacifist baby-boomers who don't have the courage to stand up for the principles of justice and honor, regardless of how difficult it may become. The problem is that these baby-boomers by and large are the ruling class in most Western countries. Not a good thing, in my opinion...

I would be curious to find out what that speaker had to say about the Nazi bombing of London. Or the Japanese ambush at Pearl Harbor. Should we have just let them impose their will on us, or was our collective will-power and might imbecilic in opposing their will with our own?

Peace, my friend!

At 21 May, 2007 16:31, Blogger Torsten Pedersen said...

Charles, Thanks for the comment. I've gone back and reread Bevan's speech to evaluate whether I have misrepresented him. I don't think I have, but I have added a link to the speech. I also acknowledge your point and will get back to it.

Bevan's main point was that when a country decides to go to war, its reasons and objectives should be valid and clear. According to Bevan the British government in 1956 "resorted to epic weapons for squalid and trivial ends".

Bevan was not a pacifist and prior to WWII opposed Chamberlain's premiership and wanted him replaced by Churchill. I don't know if Bevan would have opposed the Iraq war, but he would definitely have spoken out against CIA kidnappings, 'extraordinary rendition', Guantamo Bay and the anti-terrorist legislation adopted post-Sept.11 in the UK, US and other Western countries. This is evident to me from the way Bevan during WWII spoke out against censorship and powers to detain people without trial.

I quoted Bevan because I believe its futile and counterproductive to use armed force to achieve most civil and democratic objectives.

WWII was a situation where a country was threatening to (and did in fact) attack its neighours. The threat posed by extremism and terrorism today is not a military threat. Islamic terrorist cannot defeat or seriously threaten the West, but neither can the West defeat it through military force alone.

In the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs Tony Blair argued that the struggle against extremism must be won on values. The world must show that values of freedom, tolerance and democracy where better and stronger than anything extremist can offer. I agree. The problem is that neither Blair, Bush (or even Jacque Chirac) has actively promoted these values. Instead Blair and Bush started a war against a country that posed no military threat (nor did have any links to terrorism, let alone WMD) Blair and Bush have also undermined Human Rights and the Rule of Law in their pursuit of terrorists.

I am a pacifist. The majority of those criticising the 'war on terror' are not. While the post-WWII generation have turned against blind support for their countries wars, it is to exaggerate the point to state that they have never supported military action. I believe most people simply are in agreement with Bevan when they demand a consistent and clear reason when their governments decide to go to war against other nations.

At 21 May, 2007 18:14, Anonymous Charles said...


I may have overreacted a bit to what Bevan stated. I will admit a knee-jerk reaction when a bit more "looking into" would have been appropriate!

I agree to a point that the Iraq war probably was a mistake - but hindsight is always 20/20. The whole world at that time, including all Dem's here in the States, were completely and utterly convinced that Saddam had WMD's. Honestly, I think an attack on Iran would have been "more appropriate" in the "War on Terror" since it is proven that they fund and train Hamas, Hezzbollah, and since it is obvious that they are seeking nuclear weapons.

I can appreciate the pacifist views you espouse, though I may not understand! I RESPECT your view. I think it might be a dangerous one, though! :-)

Lastly, I think that I have stated this before, but I completely agree that the war against Islamic militantism/fundamentalism/fascism/whatever is something that will never ever be totally and completely won. It is an almost futile endeavor. But I think it has to be fought. We have to at least attempt victory, or we will be overrun. They have overrun Western societies before. In fact, Al Qaeda is still ticked that Muslim rule is not present in France and Spain.

Given time, secular Muslim societies have been and are being overrun by radicalists (Morocco as an example, Turkey, another). These people are then imposing Shariah Law, and subscribing to the philosophy of global Jihad. If we don't act now, those very societies may eventually attack. News reports state that they want to impose Shariah law in Denmark! (Of course, I usually start into fits of laughter at that notion...only due to stories that Kiersten has told me about the in Danish society.)

Anyhow, and using war as a deterrence? A good case in point about giving up WMD's in the face of possible war would be Libya. Khadafi admitted his programs and gave them up and handed in all the stuff shortly after we went to war in Ira1. He even recanted his former deviousness.

Now, if we can just convince the French. :-)


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