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The most successful communities in Britain

The British Army is getting butchered.

In a rare display of acknowledgment by the mainstream press of what is going on in the British forces, John Keegan lays the blame not only at politicians’ feet but accuses the top military commanders who fail to impress the rank and file, and fail to stand up to their political masters.

We have always had a thing or two to say on the current state of the British Army here, here and here. We tend not to mince words and yet feel that we cannot adequately convey just how serious and harmful the dismantling of the British forces has been since the end of the Cold War.

John Keegan is a measured writer, the Defence Editor of the Daily Telegraph, which means that for him to come out so strongly against both the political and military masters in his opinion piece suggests that the situation is desperate and serious.

Why, then, does the Government contemplate – apparently so blithely – reducing yet further the number of regiments, the only really efficient instruments of power that it controls? All sorts of reasons can be cited. The Parliamentary Labour Party is anti-military, to a degree that prevents it acknowledging the favour done to the Government by the Armed Forces. The chattering classes are also anti-military, as they will remain until some terrible terrorist outrage shakes their complacency. Key ministers are either anti-military, such as Mr Brown, or uncomprehending, as is the Prime Minister. The media, besotted by football and celebrity, are also uncomprehending. The Armed Forces have, outside the constituency of ordinary British people who admire and support their Servicemen, no friends.

Read the whole thing, as they say.

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24 comments to The most successful communities in Britain

  • Hugh

    Defence is always going to be a difficult brief to hold when we face an unquantifiable enemy and the focus of national interest has shifted from geopolitical strength to maintaining the welfare state. For the record, I am utterly opposed to further cuts in the armed services; they pride of the nation and should be treated as such. However there are three factors in play that are going to jeopardise the numbes of infantrymen in our armed forces.

    First of all, the sheer cost of modern military equipment is going to continue to rise. No effective armed force can operate without smart weapons; the precision bombing by the allied forces in the invasion of Iraq last year ripped apart a military force still wedded to the belief that superior numbers of men and artillery will win on the battlefield. “Projection of power” appears to be the creed of the day, and that appears to favour the preeminence of aircraft and missiles over the infantryman. Britain must continue to equip itself with the latest in battlefield technology to be victorious, and if the choice is between cruise missiles and infantry regiments, the manpower will lose.

    The second point is the European belief that terrorism should be handled by domestic security forces while the military fights wars. There is some truth to this, as the 11th September attackers had to reside in the U.S. for a while to plan their attacks. Britain appears to have decided that the defence of the realm from terrorism remains the job of the police and secret service rather than the military, and will seek to readjust funds accordingly.

    And then comes the biggest watchword of all: “Intelligence” . The recent “failure” is apparant to all, and a government with electoral egg on its face is dangerous while it controls the purse strings. Labour will be deteremined not to suffer embarrassment at the hands of faulty information again, and will divert funds away from the military to bolster espionage.

    This government has a nasty habit of not only being anti-military, but striving to be “trendy” as well. The trend of the next decade or two will be foiling plots before they emerge, steering surly nations towards our fold, winning the “hearts and minds” of hostile peoples and striking any enemy we find with deadly accuracy. You cannot remove the infantryman from the battlefield, but the battlefield has moved. We should not lose any further regiments, but with successive governments unwilling to strip the welfare state back to a manageable size and the escalating cost of fighting a new menace, I fear that further infantrymen will be sailed doen the Argyll River

  • GCooper

    I’m not ordinarily a fan of Keegan’s – indeed, I’m puzzled by the regard in which he is held – but there is no doubt that he is right on this occasion.

    If one could be detached enough to enjoy it, there is a profound irony in the spectacle of this third rate government savaging the very armed forces which have saved its sorry and ungrateful arse, time and again.

    Bitchy it may have been, but Keegan’s estimation of the intellectual difference between Brown and Blair seems particularly truthful.

    Is Blair the stupidest man to hold the PM’s office in the past 100 years? Quite probably.

  • Am I alone in my suspicion that the systematic weakening of our armed forces is merely setting the stage for a pan-EU force above and beyond that which exists – i.e. our forces are too small, we must merge into an EU army?

  • Walter Wallis

    Tommy

    I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
    The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
    The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
    I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
    O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
    But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
    The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
    O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

    I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
    They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
    They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
    But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
    For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
    But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
    The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
    O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

    Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
    Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
    An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
    Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
    Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
    But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
    The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
    O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

    We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
    But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
    An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
    Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
    While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
    But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,
    There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
    O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.

    You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
    We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
    Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
    The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
    For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
    But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
    An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
    An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!

    How nice to know that some things never change.

  • Fabian Smith

    Was it just me or did the coalition forces steam through Iraq so fast that the biggest problem was getting supplies to the front line? They are by far the most effective fighting force around.

    Terrorism can’t be defeated by conventional forces – see Northern Ireland 1969-1999 – what you get is a bloody mess.

    Intelligence and diplomacy IS the way forward. Apart from the Al Queda network there aren’t too many obvious threats, therefore scaling down the military would appar to be perfectly logical.

    As a member of the public who prefers watching football to watching images of people being killed in war zones, you’ll probably disagree with me.

  • GCooper

    Fabian Smith writes:

    “Apart from the Al Queda network there aren’t too many obvious threats…”

    Presumably you have forgotten the little spat down in Serbia? And, no doubt, not allowed the rumblings from North Korea, China, Pakistan, most of the Middle East and Africa to disturb your football watching?

    That old Juvenal, he certainly knew a thing or two when he wrote about the power of bread and circuses to distract the masses.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    An article by David Smith in the Sunday Times suggests that cutbacks at the Ministry of Defence will seek to avoid cuts to “front line” units such as historic army regiments. We shall see.

    A related issue is whether our education system is able te produce enough men and women with the skills and character for our modern armed forces.

    Unlike GCooper, I rate Keegan as a historian. His book on the Normandy campaign, for instance, was brilliant. He is certainly much wiser than blowhards like the awful Corelli Barnett or Max Hastings.

  • GCooper

    Johnathan Peare writes:

    “He is certainly much wiser than blowhards like the awful Corelli Barnett or Max Hastings.”

    I knew I should have qualified that remark…

    Hastings is just a bore and his anti-Americanism has become downright embarrassing. Barnett, I know less about, but he has worrying opinions if his published letters are anything to go by.

    My objection to Keegan is less as a historian than as a commentator on current affairs.

  • Errol Cavit

    I’m not ordinarily a fan of Keegan’s – indeed, I’m puzzled by the regard in which he is held – but there is no doubt that he is right on this occasion.

    I’ve just read ‘The Intelligence War’, and was disappointed by the premise (everyone thinks intelligence is the only thing that counts in war) and appalled by the conclusion (intelligence has been helpful but not decisive in conventional campaigns in the last 200 years, and therefore isn’t that vital in the War against Terror.)

  • Sorry to sound harsh but Fabian Smith is clearly a fine example of the disconnect from reality that can be seen in the government. I wonder if it is not a pseudonym for some Labour MP (joke).

    Blair commits to one and a half wars (Iraq and Kosovo) and his predecessor fights one war (Kuwait), involving tanks and artillery and mechanised infantry committed in large formations backed up with the whole frigging panoply of military impedimenta… and that does not even mention military adventures in Africa… and although the army is several THOUSAND men undermanned, people like Fabian Smith declaim about how ‘intelligence and diplomacy are the way forward’ so who cares if the military gets cut. Risible.

  • Terry Daly

    Terrorism can’t be defeated by conventional forces – see Northern Ireland 1969-1999 – what you get is a bloody mess.

    But as you Brits proved in Malaya, conventional troops executing sound counterinsurency doctrine under a strong leader (Sir Gerald Templer) and with a political platform that appeals to the populace CAN defeat terrorists. In Malaya you promised orderly transition to independence. In Northern Ireland all you have on offer is more centuries of fat bullyboys marching around beating on the Old Orange Drum.

  • Tony

    There is another group involved in the troubles in Northern Ireland Mr Daly, a group that’s not averse to killing large numbers of people – Omagh ring a bell?

  • zmollusc

    This country has a long history of dismantling the armed forces and the industries supplying them, this is usually just before some major deployment. The squaddies then have to muddle through with inadequate numbers and obsolete/lashed up equipment.

    Didn’t i read somewhere that it wasn’t too many years after Agincourt that there was a shortage of archers for the next conflict?

    Some radical new thinking is needed in this modern age of cost cutting in the armed forces;
    To save money and time training troops to shoot, how about allowing the citizens to own and fire guns? They would be paying for equipment out of their own pockets and training on their own time, and if push really came to shove they could organise some kind of militia to protect themselves.

  • Jonathan L

    The armed forces are a kind of insurance policy. In the world of insurance, the perfect outcome is an adequate policy that you never have to use. Mindlessly cutting forces because we haven’t had a war for a while, is like not paying insurance premiums because you’ve had no payout in the last few years.

    Moreover, unlike the Moral Hazard side of insurance, the existence of a strong army is the best guarantee of peace.

  • Barmy Army

    Mindlessly cutting forces because we haven’t had a war for a while, is like not paying insurance premiums because you’ve had no payout in the last few years.

    Yeah, but in this case it is mindlessly cutting forces even though we have been in several wars quite recently! I mean, how fucking stupid is that?!?

  • Jonathan L

    Funny, the main justification for state interference in our lives is “Market Failure”.

    Funny the one very clear example of such a phenomenon is Defence, the one area which such commentators are loath to spend money.

  • daniel

    The MOD has just splashed out for 3150 Herman Miller Aeron chairs for the civil service staff at a price of £1,000 each http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/07/12/nmod12.xml

    It’s a great chair and all, but… The funny thing is, I recently bid on a bunch of them at an auction of a failed dotcom here in Dublin (a datacentre). Seems kind of fitting somehow.

  • Walter Wallis

    I believe that ten percent of any army’s equipment should be replaced very year with new state of the art. No army should ever be sent into harm’s way with equipment older than the soldiers.

  • ed

    Hmmm.

    The terrible part is that it takes a lot of money and, worse yet, a lot of time to create a professional veteran unit. You can’t just conjure them up at will. This is why the military cuts of former President Clinton now hurt so much. He cut the US Army from 18 divisions to 10 divisions. It’s evident to everyone that we could dearly use those 8 divisions now. Especially since we’re raiding the National Guard and the Reserves so heavily.

    There have been floated various schemes to enlarge the military, but there’s no quick way of doing this effectively. So now we’re trying a system of reorganization that will result in promotion of combat brigades as the definitive maneuver unit and a reduction in the brigades force structure to create more brigades from the available material.

    The current thinking appears to be that enlarging the military numbers won’t be the winning solution. Instead the approach is to be promotion and inclusion of high technology to increase the effectiveness of available forces. Since technology can, to a variable extent, replace numbers this might work but it’s an extremely expensive solution.

    In any case this sort of solution doesn’t appear to be one available to a severely reduced British Army. A force that is subject to such budget constraints is going to have a very hard time maintaining what systems they already have. Adding newer, and more expensive, ones might be unrealistic. In that case force disparity between American and non-American NATO forces is going to increase even more.

    So what happens now? Will the British Army be absorbed by an EU Army, as posited by a previous poster? Is the “special relationship” between Britain and America devolved into a dependency?

    Frankly something has to give. America’s military budget is increasing every year by enormous amounts while every ally is cutting theirs. This imbalance is becoming absurd. What is more many Americans are becoming rather irate at the prospect of having to spend more money defending Europe than Europeans. That can’t possibly last. I have many like minded friends who want to abandon the UN and reduce participation in NATO to a bare minimum. The antics of France, Germany, Belguim and now Spain reinforcing the negative opinion about the reliability of European allies.

    Where this goes I don’t know but it’ll be a curious thing if the EU could build an effective high technology modern army. The massive expense of such a venture, along with integration issues, could only come at a cost to social programs.

    Hmmm.

  • LoveSupreme

    The only legitimate need for armed forces is to defend the homeland, and we can do that on a fraction of today’s budget. Spend the savings on rigorous immigration control. The UK should be as hard to get in and out of as El Al’s VIP lounge.

    Leave NATO, leave the EU, leave the crusades to the Yanks. Sit tight, snug and safe at home, watching the seas and the skies.

  • GCooper

    LoveSupreme writes:

    “Leave NATO, leave the EU, leave the crusades to the Yanks. Sit tight, snug and safe at home, watching the seas and the skies. ”

    It’s a superficially seductive, yet profoundly foolish, doctrine.

    As any historian worth his or her salt will tell you, a country that fails to protect its trade routes and interests ultimately starves.

    It’s why we had a Royal Navy in the first place. We’re on an island. Some things are immutable. That’s one of them.

  • LoveSupreme

    GCooper: “As any historian worth his or her salt will tell you, a country that fails to protect its trade routes and interests ultimately starves.”

    Yeah, I’m wrapping food parcels to send to Ireland, Switzerland and Scandinavia at this very moment.

    We can grow all our own food when we’re out of the EU, but we haven’t had a navy capable of defending global trade routes since 1945. The remnant of it should be converted to coastal patrol functions. No more adventuring outside territorial waters.

    The only good to come out of the Iraq Attaq is that more people than ever now realise how ridiculous and wasteful the afterglow of imperial pretensions has become for the UK. Isolation now!

  • GCooper

    LoveSupreme writes:

    “We can grow all our own food when we’re out of the EU, but we haven’t had a navy capable of defending global trade routes since 1945. The remnant of it should be converted to coastal patrol functions. No more adventuring outside territorial waters.”

    Well if Leftists idiots continue to hold sway that might, before long, become true.

    Meanwhile, your history, like your argument, is full of holes. It ignores the many successful actions undertaken by British forces since your curiously arbitrary cut-off date.

    Clue: You might want to go and read about Malaya and the Falklands.

    As for your risible comments about Ireland, Switzerland and Scandinavia, ask yourself the question which you either missed or were too blinkered to ask. How would they have fared, had it not been for the willingness of others (most particularly the UK and USA) to defend their backsides for them?

    In passing, I’ll look forward to your learned paper on the agricultural breakthrough you have made that enables the UK to grow pineapples, bananas, oranges, rice, tea, coffee and rubber in the UK. It will be almost as fascinating a read as the one on how the UK can produce every item of low-cost manufactured goods (not to mention a fair few high-cost ones) that you and the entire LoveSupreme family consumes.

  • Hastings is just a bore and his anti-Americanism has become downright embarrassing. Barnett, I know less about, but he has worrying opinions if his published letters are anything to go by.

    yes!!!