The British hostage “crisis” is proving to be a real eye opener both for London’s allies and any potential adversary. In fact, in some ways the British response to this outrageous and provocative act of war by Iran has been truly frightening – a sense that for a variety of reasons, the British people and their government are sleepwalking through history, living a dream that reality cannot intrude upon.
Reading the British papers, an American is struck by the fact that there is very little outrage among most of the population – at least as it is reported. Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips has noticed the same thing:
Yet in its response to these events, Britain seems to be in some kind of dreamworld. There is no sense of urgency or crisis, no outpouring of anger. There seems to be virtually no grasp of what is at stake.
Some commentators have languidly observed that in another age this would have been regarded as an act of war. What on earth are they talking about? It is an act of war. There can hardly be a more blatant act of aggression than the kidnapping of another countryâ€™s military personnel.
What clearly does belong to another age is this countryâ€™s ability to understand the proper way to respond to an act of war. When his Marines were seized by the Iranians, the commander of HMS Cornwall, Commodore Nick Lambert, did nothing to stop them and later said it was probably all a misunderstanding. If Nelson had been such a diplomat in such circumstances, Trafalgar would surely have been lost.
The reaction brings to mind the London bombings on 7/7/05. I wrote something similar at that time:
From much of the reaction Iâ€™ve seen, with the exception of most politicians (who will probably wait until after the funerals to begin their Bush-Blair bashing) the reaction of the average Brit has underwhelmed me and left me with a sense that the Great Britain of today is a far cry from the Great Britain of my fatherâ€™s day.
Would the British population of today stood up to Hitler? Would they have stuck with Churchill? Or would they have accepted Hitlerâ€™s â€œpeaceâ€ offer that the Nazi dictator gave prior to the start of the Battle of Britain which guaranteed British sovereignty?
The Brits back then didnâ€™t even bother to respond. In fact, the BBC gave an eloquent response rejecting Hitlerâ€™s offer without even consulting the government. Now that was a spirit of resistance.
It’s clear to me that something has gone out of Great Britain in the last decade or so. I am not accusing them of cowardice. Rather it appears to be a disease infecting most of the western world; a curious, debilitating loss of faith in the beliefs and values that animated the west for nearly 4 centuries. Some of those beliefs were pernicious to be sure; a feeling of superiority over the benighted savages in Africa and Asia, a nauseating self righteousness that allowed all sorts of despicable practices like slavery and colonialism to become commonplace, and a moral blindness regarding the effect of many of our policies on the developing world.
But dwelling on the sins of the west ignores the truly remarkable achievements that have accrued to all of humanity as a result of western dominance of the planet. People are living longer and healthier lives despite widespread poverty. Many diseases that scourged the world for centuries – smallpox, malaria, polio, to name a few – have been wiped out or dramatically decreased. Literacy is commonplace. Agriculture has been revolutionized. Communications, travel, education – all have been transformed in third world societies as a direct result of contact with western nations.
But the deadening effect of the guilt ridden western left that so dominates the media and culture in Europe and America have so cowed the leadership, the opinion makers, and ordinary citizens that even when attacked, people sit and wonder if they are at fault for “provoking” such an act.
Ms. Phillips sees an even more immediate and specific cause of Britain’s lack of outrage:
Twenty-five years ago, we re-took the Falklands after the Argentines invaded. Faced with an act of war against our dependency, Mrs Thatcher had no hesitation. Aggression had to be fought and our people defended. It was the right thing to do.
Can anyone imagine Mrs T wringing her hands in this way over Iranâ€™s seizure of our Marines?
True, we are now living in very different times. Personally, I supported the Iraq war, and still do. But the undoubted mistakes and disasters made by the coalition since the fall of Saddam have caused this country to throw up its hands over the whole issue of aggression by the Arab and Muslim world.
As a result, many in Britain are failing to see the big picture. Iraq is merely one theatre in a global war which threatens us and in which Iran is a major player.
And Arthur Herman is even more blunt:
Britain has been an exception. In places like Bosnia and the Persian Gulf, and in operations like Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, its help has been solid and genuine, as well as important in a symbolic sense. America always looks better when a couple of frigates flying the Royal Navy’s White Ensignare side by side with those flying the Stars and Stripes. U.S. sailors also know that in a real fight, the men of the Royal Navy, which our navy men still call the “Senior Service,” will never let them down.
That contribution has never been vital to America – yet it was a badge of honor for Britain. It had echoes of past glory as an empire, of course, but also of Britain’s historic role as protector of a civilized and stable world order, and specifically the role of the Royal Navy. The British navy had wiped out the slave trade; it had single-handedly defied tyrants from Louis XIV and Napoleon to Hitler; and it served as midwife to the ideas of free trade and the balance of power.
Now those days are gone for good. Yet, if today’s Britons thought that by shedding that historic responsibility they could buy themselves some peace of mind, the current hostage crisis has just proved them wrong
What will it take for Britain and the rest of the western world to wake up? A better question might be is there anything that will accomplish that goal? Have Britain and Europe fallen into a permanent stupor, a languid state of denial and equivocation that will spell the end of the great alliance between America and Europe, allowing the enemies of democracy to simply grow themselves into a majority?
A change of course is desperately needed. Who will lead it and will the people follow are two questions that, at present, cannot be answered with any confidence much less certainty.