Monday, September 11, 2006

A nation at war

There could be only one possible subject for a post for this morning – the fifth anniversary of the 11th September terrorist outrage, a date the Americans insist on calling 9/11.

Equally, it would be utterly banal to entitle that post something ponderous like, "Lest we forget". You would have to be on another planet not to be aware of the anniversary – the media have been full of it all week and the papers today are all pitching in.

On occasions like this, it is common to recall what one was doing when the news came as. This one does with the Kennedy assassination (I can't remember) and the Discovery shuttle disaster (sitting on the toilet – which also happened to be the spare seat – in a private jet, heading for Plymouth).

When the early news came in of what was to be known as 9/11, I was sitting where I am now, at my computer in my office, when I received a 'phone call from a friend, telling me that a "twin engined aircraft" had crashed into one of the twin towers in New York. What immediately came to mind was the incident on 28 July 1945 when a twin-engined B-25 bomber crashed into the Empire State Building, but a quick check on the internet soon disabused me of any parallels.

I rushed downstairs and switched on the television and remained in front of the screen for the rest of the day and well into the night, absorbing the horror of it all but, also, conscious that this was a "great event" and that history was being made.

Maybe others might have been surprised at the consistency and intensity of the US response but even then the words attributed to Admiral Yamomoto after the failure of the Pearl Harbour attack came to mind: "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."

What was also predictable is that Britain would fall in with whatever the United States decided. The parallels with Pearl Harbour were too great to ignore – the event which not only triggered war against the Japanese but also brought the United States into alliance with Britain against the Nazi menace, and thereby ensured victory. No prime minister – of any party – could have walked away from America's call to arms.

But, on the general theme of "lest we forget", what too many people in this country seem to have forgotten – or are in denial about – is that fact that the action of the terrorists who slaughtered so many innocent people was no random act but a declaration of war. Since then, not only the US but the UK have been nations at war.

That status was in fact formally confirmed last week in respect of the Taliban, where we have soldiers fighting and killing the enemy, and also being killed in unacceptably high numbers.

That we are either forgetting or denying this status is evident from the behaviour of the media, of our politicians and our government. As one distraught lady put it yesterday at a conference attended by Tony Blair – still our prime minister – "if I was a mother with my dead son being brought home in a body bag from Afghanistan, I would be outraged at the behaviour of the Labour Party this week, bickering over the leadership of the government."

A nation at war has certain responsibilities – party differences, internal and external, should be put aside and all the attention should be focused on winning, with as little cost to our troops (and our allies) as possible. And whatever resources are required to win, should be devoted to the fight, even if it means making sacrifices elsewhere. Fighting a war is not a fashion statement or a policy option that should have to compete for funds with schools 'n' hospitals. It is a deadly, vicious affair and we can only accept one outcome. We need to devote the resources to make that outcome a certainty.

So indeed, lest we forget, we are a nation at war. It is about time we behaved as if we were.


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