Leading Sailor Faye Turney appears to have become the face of the current stand-off between a rogue Iranian regime and what appears to be an increasingly impotent political class in the United Kingdom. In a letter released by Iran Tuesday, Turney asks, “Isn’t it time for us to start withdrawing our forces from Iraq and let them determine their own future?”
And as much as it grieves me to say so, perhaps she’s right.
It’s been over 200 years since the Royal Navy placed a frigate and a fighting captain in every part of the world’s oceans deep enough to float one in order to frustrate Napoleon’s imperial ambitions and safeguard the Home Islands. It’s been almost a hundred and forty years since Parliament sent a combined force 0f 13,000 British and Indian soldiers, 26,000 camp followers and 40,000 animals led by General Sir Robert Napier on a 400 mile trek across some of the harshest terrain in Africa to rescue a handful of British diplomats and missionaries held hostage by the mad king of Abyssinia. The flower of a generation was cut down on Flanders fields to safeguard the continent from Prussian militarism, and even at their darkest hour, the bravery and pluck of the British citizen following the debacle at Dunkirk and during the Blitz was never in doubt.
But it appears perhaps that the last of that Britain may have sailed home victorious at the end of the campaign to wrest the Faulkland Islands back from Argentine aggression. The Iron Lady may not have “been for turning,” but the wheel turned on without her. What was Britain seems to have become Europe.
When in times of old the British lion did roar, the world would tremble. Now the commodore of a royal fleet with a 1000-year history, and a man commanding a ship belonging to that fleet – a fleet, by the way, which seems to be evaporating before our very eyes – suffers 15 of his people to be illegally seized without firing a shot. Having placed them in danger in a war zone without, it would appear, having even been in the position to support them. In much the same waters where a previous insult was issued three years ago.
Winston Churchill once thrust the “V” for victory into a sky made dark by the dust, cinders and smoke of fascist bombers, encouraging his people – in the literal sense of the word – to bear up against the almost unbearable. From the same space now – and with the world’s largest attack dog trembling on the leash beside him, but unable or unwilling to ask for assistance there – a politically wounded and lame duck prime minister goes knocking at the door of the United Nations in search of his own deliverance. Only to be stymied there by Russia – an increasingly hostile country wounded by the memories of lost empire, angry at supposed insults and looking to reassert itself on the world stage – a country whose blocking position is a legacy of the world’s political alignment at the end of war that ended 60 years ago, a country with an economic throw-weight, as measured by GDP, just smaller than Mexico’s.
A Eurocentric himself, Tony Blair nevertheless at great political expense defied the will of Eurocenters France and Germany, as well as millions of his own citizens, to take his country to war alongside our own in Iraq. He did this in echoing memory perhaps of the “special relationship” that our two nations enjoyed, in honor of the Anglospheric alliance that quite saved the world from fascism and militarism and communism in the 20th century.
But even as that traditional Anglosphere splintered, with Australia coming on side but Canada – sensing no national interest at stake – taking a pass, he did it because he understood the threat that Saddam represented, and because he still believed that Britain had a place in making the world a better and safer place. He believed in an idea of Britain that was larger than Britain’s own national interest: Old think, to say the least, and at any rate, not very European.
Perhaps, at the end of the day, he shouldn’t have. Perhaps he should have stayed home with the rest of Europe.
I think I know enough about the Royal Marines to say that they would have fought had they been allowed to, had they been properly supported. That they were not was a political pity and military shame. All Britain is enraged by this insult, we are informed. But – in words that no one had ever thought to express before, words around which the English language itself seems to curdle – what can Britain do about it?
It gives me no pleasure to say it, but maybe Mark Steyn was right. I hope not, because small though they might be in numbers, the Brits are doughty fighters, clear-eyed tacticians, steady thinkers.
We will miss them.