On July 1, Britain marked the 90th anniversary of the beginning of the battle of the Somme, the bloodiest fight of the war. One evening paper announced that Britain was remembering the “victims” of the Somme.
There are no known British survivors of the battle alive today, so we can’t ask them if they considered themselves “victims.”
But it seems unlikely that a generation which called dying in war “glorious” would have seen its soldiers as victims -- certainly not in the modern sense that insists we’re all victims and deserve 15 minutes on Oprah to whine about it. It would have seen them as what they were -- men and boys who did the job they were ordered to do. Men and boys who, despite serving under idiotic generals, still persevered to win a long war.
If the Somme’s survivors were victims of anything, it was a feckless civilian political leadership that gave away the hard-fought victory of World War I. Just a generation later, allied leaders seeking “peace in our time” sought to appease Adolph Hitler. Instead of peace they got war, and millions of new names were added to the existing European war memorials.
The fatalists of the 1930s thought they were doing the right thing, of course. So, too, do today’s fatalists.
“We cannot allow two dozen mass murders to change our politics and way of life,” wrote Simon Jenkins on July 2 in The Times of London. “Terrorism is not an ideology or a ‘threat.’ It is simply a weapon, the random killing of civilians. It is a threat to life but not to democracy, let alone western civilization, unless we choose to make it so.” In other words, some civilians will be killed, but there’s nothing we can do about it, so we should just accept that as our fate. It’s the price we pay for living in the modern world.
Jenkins echoes the American anti-war left, which claims that by going on the offensive in Afghanistan and Iraq we’ve only angered Muslim extremists and made terrorist attacks more likely.
Yet while Jenkins is prepared to accept civilian casualties as a matter of course, he’s not ready to accept any military casualties. “Somehow the British Army must be extricated from Iraq and Afghanistan,” Jenkins writes. This, too is a frequent talking point on the left. Rep. John Murtha and Sen. John Kerry are not alone in insisting Americans should pull out of Iraq, leaving our troops “over the horizon.”