On War

Monday, 13 July 2009

One of Cato’s favourite books is ‘The Prince’ by Niccolo Machiavelli. It is one of those books into which one can dip, read a paragraph or two and come away feeling that one has read the whole book. There is always something new to be learned from within its pages.

The Prince and another epistolary, The Art of War by Sun Tzu are of singular relevance in the ongoing venture in Afghanistan.

There are two passages, one from each book, which seem to Cato to have a great bearing on the way in which we conduct warfare in this country.

The first is from ‘The Prince’ Chapter Three: Concerning Mixed Principalities……“therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge”.

The second, from The Art of War, runs thus…..”There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare”.

Now bearing in mind that Sun Tzu was writing in the 6th Century and Machiavelli in the 16th it might be considered that they were both, in today’s parlance, ‘pretty switched on’.

And this is precisely where they differ from our modern day politicos. Cato, would argue that if war is inevitable then it must be both swift and violent for exactly those reasons quoted above. It must be swift because of the cost to this country in monetary terms and it must be violent to put ourselves in such a position that we fear no repercussions.
Why then do our leaders fear to perpetrate such swift violence?

This country has been engaged in Afghanistan for some seven years and there seems no end in sight to the sufferings endured by our servicemen and the ordinary Afghan people. We have spent billions of pounds in pursuing this pointless venture which could have been dealt with in a much more simple manner.

To argue that this country was ever at great risk from Al Quaeda is a non sequitur. There was and indeed is some risk but it could have been negated quite easily by the imposition of extremely rigorous border controls; had the EU allowed us to do so. And there is no such risk from the Taliban.

Furthermore, some years ago, this country interned terrorists in Northern Ireland. Such internment could have been reintroduced even in the face of opposition from the Civil Liberties lobby.

Swift and violent….shock and awe!


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