HMG’s decision to cut our army strength to 82,000, the lowest since William Pitt sat in Dave’s chair, dovetails neatly with its earlier commitment to cut policemen’s salaries. It also shows how little those who govern us understand the purpose of government.
One might suggest that the state has not one but many different purposes: extorting money from those who work and passing it on to those who don’t; making sure the word ‘marriage’ acquires a whole new meaning; rewriting the rules of succession; supporting alien religions at the expense of Christianity; keeping children from educated families away from university; maintaining a health service that turns hospitals into death traps; enforcing an immigration policy aimed at turning the Brits into a minority in Britain; and above all self-perpetuating.
True, all these are worthy goals that must be pursued with vigour and tenacity. But occasionally it’s worth remembering that, since the first time our hirsute ancestors appointed the strongest among them to fight off objectionable outlanders, protecting its citizens has been regarded as the state’s raison d’être.
To make this appeal to history even-handed, one has to acknowledge that the need for standing armies is of somewhat more recent provenance. This stands to reason: in the past, the two principal branches of service, cavalry and infantry, were made up of men who required little training.
The cavalrymen would have typically learned to ride roughly when they were old enough to walk up to a horse. The ability to wield a sword and a lance was acquired at only a slightly older age.
The infantrymen knew how to drive an arrow through a wild boar at 300 yards when they didn’t yet have to shave. The skill to finish the animal off with a knife was also easily transferable to combat.
Those in both groups were extremely fit, as they spent their time working or hunting outdoors, rather than playing computer games indoors. They also ate food ‘cooked from fresh’, in the parlance of today’s lot, rather than crisps and frozen pizzas.
When a need arose, it took longer to gather a fighting force than to train it. Officers simply told their men (women were supposed to be women in those days) to imagine that those French knights were actually wild boar, to be killed either with long bows or with lances. A shot of rum or a mug of ale then got the men in the right mood, and they couldn’t wait to hear ‘for God, king and country’ before letting fly with all they had.
Nowadays the situation is different. Our arrows and lances, launched from land, sea or air, are laser-guided and they take more than a blacksmith to make or an archer to operate. This means that a standing, preferably professional, army isn’t a luxury but a necessity, for without it the state would be remiss in its principal role, that of protecting its citizens.
How large should an army be? How long is a piece of string? The answer in either instance is the same: depends on the need. However, when it comes to the string, the need is much easier both to calculate and to anticipate.
By way of illustration, I’d like to remind of you of Ross Perot, the billionaire Texan businessmen who in 1978 did what the US government failed to do in 1979: he got hostages out of Iran.
Perot’s companies operated all over the world, including its less pleasant parts. Naturally, his recruits had to be promised that if they got in trouble Ross would get them out. That promise, along with premium salaries, kept Perot’s overseas offices fully staffed.
Ross is an old-fashioned chap and, though at times he has dabbled in politics, he isn’t a politician. Thus his word is his bond, and he doesn’t lie the way he breathes. So to make sure he could act on his promise, he kept on staff quite a few former marines and Green Berets, whose sole job was to keep themselves fighting fit, ready if a need for their services arose, which Ross hoped would be never.
However, the need did arise, and Perot’s private army went into action, augmented by Ross’s buddies from his army days. After years of doing nothing, they did everything they were asked to do: the hostages were sprung out of an Iranian prison and brought home safe.
Unlike the Americans’ belief that ‘all men are created equal’, the moral of the story is indeed self-evident: an army has to be strong enough to meet not only the present needs but also those likely to arise in the future. It ought to be clear that cutting the army down to half of the UK’s police force isn’t going to meet this objective – not by a long shot.
This means HMG is being penny-wise and pound-foolish – much in the manner of the Americans who first made a few million transferring military technology to build up the Soviet army, only then to spend billions trying to counteract it.
I don’t know what our military needs are going to be, say in the next decade. Neither for that matter does HMG. Yet it’s relatively easy to see that such needs will be considerable and global, for the Channel can’t protect the country against ICBMs and dirty bombs in terrorists’ suitcases as effectively as it did against the panzers and the SS.
What with Islam going through a particularly impassioned stage, the pressure building up in the EU boiler, and the Argentines making aggressive noises, it’s foreseeable that our armed forces will be called upon to act in faraway corners of the globe. And at this very time our army strength is being cut to the strength of four divisions plus auxiliary services – far from enough even to protect itself, never mind the rest of us.
HMG is thus reneging on its mission, thereby losing its claim to its own legitimacy and our allegiance. Protectio trahit subjectionem, subjectio projectionem (protection entails allegiance, allegiance entails protection) has been the guiding principle of Western government since its business was first transacted in Latin.
Dave would be well-advised to remember this. But then of course he has other priorities (see the second paragraph above).