The last 24 hours have emphasised the difficulties for the amateur blogger. No sooner have I started some mildly humorous reflections on package holidays and maybe something about how much I bloody love the Greek Islands, via some very trivial moaning about Kindles and how they STILL make my teeth itch, than it all become painfully trivial compared to what is happening right now in Syria.
But while it would be perverse to ignore, I have never been more conscious of my amateur status as a commentator, or more acutely conscious that the world could probably bumble along nicely without my opinion. But when everyone around me seems to knows what to say about what we should do, I at least need to work out what I think.
Facebook and Twitter are bursting at the seams with opinions –passionate and divergent opinions, held by people who I admire and respect greatly.
The difficulty is, I see both sides, all sides, and although I feel the depth of the passion, I can’t completely agree with either side, not yet.
Our feelings about this war – or conflict, or military intervention – are obviously coloured by all the conflicts we have lived through before, or lived with the aftermath. For me, and for many of us, this is a back-catalogue of vivid and competing narratives, from Saturday afternoon films, history lessons, the news – two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, The Falklands, Bosnia, the first Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq.
We have absorbed and merged our own versions of a muddy, bloody set of competing narratives and conflicting emotions about when, or if, we should have joined, and left, and the nature of the actions that were carried out in our name.
We are all of us bringing to this particular crisis point our own mixture of guilt and pride and fear.
This is not intended to be a thorough sweep of the complex historical threads of the 20th century – I’d be pushed to manage that in 800 words. But unless you are a Miraculist thinker – Why can’t we all just get round a table and TALK THIS THROUGH?? – then the other arguments seem too finely balanced to reach anything other than a cautious, temporary conclusion about the right thing to do.
Those who are cautious about intervening in Syria are, I would guess, most inhibited by our recent history of intervention in the post 9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the latter being perhaps the most strongly opposed war in our British history – at least publicly. The arguments against intervening in Iraq seem to carry a heavy weight of precedent here.
I understand these inhibitions, yet the case for intervention has moral power behind it too, undeniably – the human need to reach out to those horribly oppressed and suffering terribly. The story of the UN involvement in Bosnia, and further back (though still incredibly potent in our national psychology) the war against the Nazis retains a great deal of power for those arguing to help an oppressed minority. And the story of our appeasement in the 1930s casts a long dark shadow.
Leaving aside the shouting about Hawks and Doves, and excepting the dictators and the warmongers and the arms-dealers – for most of us, we are more or less resigned to armed conflict being part of our present and future as well as our past. Human history is, to a very great extent the history of war; and little has changed since Aristotle wrote that sometimes to make peace, you have to make war.
But there was a time – not so long ago – that the many lions on the front line were supposed to risk everything for King and Country and no questions asked. The decisions were taken by the few and affected the many. What can we gain here, what can we lose, and how many lives might be lost? And is it worth it? Does a soldier’s life weigh heavier than a civilian’s. or vice versa? What about the lives of the enemy? And when do we stop counting the deaths? When does the war end for the purposes of making this calculations? And how can we predict the outcomes. The other costs – to neighbouring countries, to our reputations on the world stage – how do they weigh in the balance?
Leaders have always made this balance in the secrecy of their talking chambers, we know they didn’t always do a great job – but now we are all supposed to be able to do it.
The political changes of the last hundred years mean that the will of the people – public opinion – is now used to justify our actions. Yet if we were to intervene in Syria, the chances are that very few of us would be involved directly or indirectly.
I find it impossible. I don’t know enough – about what’s happening on the ground, about the potential outcomes, to make that calculation. I hope, I trust, that those in charge are doing their best to make this impossible balance.
I am not a hawk, nor am I a dove. I am just an ordinary person, whose heart and gut wrenches to see the horrible scenes in Syria. I hope that is what democracy really means – not that the really tough decisions are made by all of us, collectively, but rather that they are made by the right people with the right information, balancing out what seem to me to be irreconcilable arguments and counterarguments.