What a start to the week: Rupert Murdoch telling those who read The Sun or hear of it in news reviews that there’s just “48 hours to war” followed by a Times front-page picture of a gun-toting Ukrainian grandma.
If the gnarled old media mogul ever reaches the Gates of Heaven will he be able to plead with St Peter: “In my long life of feeding fear and promoting conflicts around the world I may have helped send hundreds of thousands to their deaths and millions more into poverty and suffering.
“But as I paid the mortgages, expenses and alimony of lots of my tame politicians and scribblers, can you find it in you to be merciful?”
That thought came to me in this time of war rumours and scares after reading Defence Secretary Ben Wallace’s “whiff of Munich in the air” remark. It coincided with seeing this moving memorial to those who fell in the Great War.
Most of us probably don’t know a ploughman or a factor’s clerk these days. But the rest were in jobs we recognise – their occupational detail bringing us closer to the painful reality of war.
But this doesn’t engage the sympathetic interest of the likes of Murdoch and his jingoistic keyboard warriors as they endorse the ranks of Westminster spear-carriers and demonise those who seek peaceful resolution of the world’s problems.
The latter have always included some of those who know the awful truth of war because they have experienced it themselves. It’s to them I now look for guidance on Eastern Europe and Ukraine and not the politicians of our time, least of all flyweights like Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.
One of them is Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a US Army veteran who served as chief of staff to Colin Powell when he was US Secretary of State. His recent interview by Paul Jay on Ukraine and the future of NATO includes this warning: that just as the theatre of professional wrestling can become dangerous if one of the combatants accidentally hurts his opponent, real wars can flare up from the kind of headline posturing we are seeing over Eastern Europe.
Another is former US Marine intelligence specialist and United Nations weapon inspector Scott Ritter.
He recently described the change from the original defensive Cold War role of NATO – “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down” in the words of Lord Ismay, its founding secretary general – to offensive interventions around the world after the 1991dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Long before that happened I remember being on a student visit to NATO’s Brussels HQ where one of its senior staff lectured us on the alliance’s purely defensive purpose. My gutsy New York pal Walter then asked: “Are you sure that in your quiet moments you guys don’t plan just how long it’d take you to get to Moscow?”
The unsettled officer, shocked that a young American should have the chutzpah to be so impertinent, severely doubled down on NATO’s purely defensive role.
But as both Wilkerson and Ritter spell out, the expansion of NATO at the end of the 20th century to include former members of the Warsaw Pact didn’t look too defensive to those in Moscow where the memory of the Great Patriotic War fighting Nazis at a cost of many millions of Russian lives remains frighteningly fresh. You needn’t be Russian or be a supporter of Vladimir Putin to question big NATO operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and ask “where next?”
As Ritter says:
“Once NATO began expanding, both in terms of membership composition and scope and scale of its non-European military commitments, it was obvious to any observer exercising a modicum of intellectual curiosity that NATO existed for the sole benefit of the United States. Nothing drove this point home more than the humiliation NATO suffered at the hands of the US when it came to the abandonment of the Afghan reconstruction mission. The decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was made unilaterally by the United States, without consultation. NATO, faced with a fait accompli, had no choice but to do as ordered, and leave Afghanistan with its tail between its legs.”
In the Cold War years it was the fear of “Godless Communism” that held much of America and its European allies in its confrontational sway. But Russia under Putin is no longer Communist and the Orthodox church is a power in the land.
So what is the purpose of NATO now?
That is the important question for those of practical mind in the UK to ask. Are we content to join the take-back-control Prime Minister and the docile Leader of the Opposition and be the tame little followers of Washington on matters of life and death in Europe?
Are we again going to swallow the war-cry lies of Murdoch that brought death, destruction and floods of refugees in their wake?