10 Nov 2009

War costs in grief and reputation

No one can pretend that Gordon Brown went into politics to fight military campaigns. This son of the manse did not grow up in his father’s parsonage determined to become a great Churchillian war leader.

Neither did his impassioned student leadership emphasise war. His battles were to be waged against inequality and poverty.

In a real sense then Gordon Brown is a most reluctant warrior indeed.

War costs, and costs on every front, as Mr Brown is finding to his own cost.

Whatever the crisis facing government finances – he is, even today, having to consider the possibility of sanctioning a massive billion pound emergency contract with Boeing to buy a fast track slew of new heavy lift Chinook helicopters that would be in service within not much more than a year. It’s an order that will skew military spending and force its own realignment of strategic defence spending.

But, as Mrs Thatcher would attest, war costs on the personal front too.

When ordinary members of the public engage with the leader on matters of war, it is the leader who loses.

When they have media partners like the BBC (in Mrs Thatcher’s Belgrano moment – she was challenged live, by a member of the public, with the view that the Argentine battleship was steaming away from the Falklands when she was sunk with the loss of 800 lives) or the Sun, then the danger is deep indeed.

The Sun ‘discovered’ Mrs Janes, whose son was killed in Afghanistan last month.

Who provided telephone recording resource to enable her to record her conversation with Mr Brown, we don’t know, nor do we know what role the Sun played in the misspelt letter affair.

In war, journalists themselves very easily become combatants.

Whose view you ‘allow’ in a live phone-in show or what you do in a moment of a mother’s devastating grief in the loss of her child. They each present us with very real challenges.

When I was a child, living in the aftermath of world war and in the build up and conduct of Suez, the Observer newspaper became a combatant.

A Tory minister resigned on principle – a rare event these days. The politician – Foreign Office Minister Sir Anthony Nutting, opposed Suez, so did the Observer.

The Sun’s campaign is not unusual. What is unusual is the role of the armchair generals who burp protest from the sidelines or in the House of Lords but won’t engage with the public to defend, or expand upon what they have said.

Many will at least note that Mr Brown, for whom handwriting is not the easiest activity, and whose time is in under siege every minute of the day, did engage with Mrs Janes – even if in doing so he risked a close inspection of his handwriting and spelling.

He also risked direct engagement with her by phone, but as Mrs Thatcher would have told him, or more recently Tony Blair too, Mrs Janes was likely to be very well prepped and determined to score her points.

War is a messy business. People die and reputations with them.

Is there anyone out there with an ambition to be a great war leader?

If there is, steer very well clear of them.

Tweets by @jonsnowC4

22 reader comments

  1. Anthony Martin says:

    The mentality that a war warrior is one who is measured against the ‘Iron Lady’ or, ‘Churchill’, is a rediculous notion. Dishing out orders to serving armed forces personel to carry out armed conflict then, being held in high regard for doing so, is so mentally warped over the millennia. The ‘victims’ of any warfare are on both sides of any conflict and continue long after the conflict ends.
    The causes of hatreds always seem to be ignored and, common sense, dialogue, diplomacy, roll model behaviour seem always to be Pidgeon holed into the pacifist/coward segment.
    Gordon Brown, whether he’s been seen in support of war or not, is clearly in it now and, given he was not elected as PM and he’s done more to increase poverty, hatreds and terrorists, it’ll be a better day when he’s extracted along with all the other corrupt politicians.

  2. Mark Webb says:

    Mrs Thatcher went to war when a UN option was available. Tony Blair took the country to war twice, once when, ahem, ” fixing policy around the facts”.
    The UK gained nothing from any of these unnecessary (and illegal) wars and it seems politicians never will.

  3. adrian clarke says:

    Poor GB.He can not remotely be described as a war leader.Infact i find it difficult to describe him as any kind of leader.If media reports are to be believed he is a loud mouthed bully who thinks he is God, when the majority know he has virtually ruined this country and needs to be retired forthwith

    1. Lindy Williams says:

      I am unsure of the origins or the veracity of reports of GB as a bully etc.. Whilst I find many of his policies very disturbing, I think he is being hounded. Also it was interesting to read a recent Guardian article by Shirley Williams in which she paints a very different picutre of Gordon Brown than that briefly touched on by Adrian Clarke.

      In addition for anyone who does not like current policies it is worth considering what the atlernative might bring.

  4. Jonathan da Silva says:

    I am a little unsure what Gordon Brown got into politics for. He clearly wants to be seen as a good man of the poor and Africa but in actuality I wonder what he has achieved with Africa etc but we do know that class mobility in the UK is now minuscule.

    His critiques of Mugabe have served the dictators purposes and could be construed therefore as self serving.

    His rants at Myanmar somewhat odd from a country who is a supporter in everything but rhetoric (indeed we now know Britons funded Mugabe). Did he sign off on Export Credit Guarantees for exports to Burma/Myanmar?

    I am even more astounded you sit as Chancellor for 11 years and when you get your desperate desire to be in power you have no ideas or plans other than to reverse some permissiveness.

    He cannot even articulate except in banal platitudes what this war is about. I can only assume guilt drives him to hand write letters as he waits for America to find a reason to continue this war.

    Sympathy = zero.

  5. Dan Ehrlich says:

    America used to elect presidents partly on the basis of their military service. A good military record in service to one’s country indicated a man who knew what it was like to be in uinform.

    But, when we entered one of our many conflicts we were fed, by these warrior leaders, a good fairy story why we were in a particular war. In Vietnam we were saving Asia from communism. There was no mention then of the meteoric rise of Asia’s greatest red nation.

    Afghanistan is another story. It was supposed to be the front line in our post 9/11 war on terror. Besides, America/s powerfulo feminist lobby didn’t like Taliban’;s treatment of women.

    But, wasn’t our goal to get Osama Bin Laden? Since we have no definite idea where Bin Laden is, except in some cave, there seems to be no clear definition of why we are continuing this conflict, except to keep Kabul’s women from being forced to get their burkas out of mothballs.

    And since our new Pres was never a military man, he doesn;t seem to have any more handle of the situation than Gordon Brown. But, its a cinch, Michelle is lining up with Oprah and Ellen to keep Afghanistan’s women Burka free.

  6. phil dicks says:

    Jon Snow:”This son of the manse did not grow up in his father’s parsonage determined to become a great Churchillian war leader”.
    Really? How would you know????
    Maybe he did. Maybe that’s exactly what he wanted.
    Maybe, underneath the nonsense, underneath the Polanski-fan-Robert-Harris-let’s-pretend-we’re-ultimately-democrats-club-nonsense, maybe the one thing you fear is someone who isn’t exactly middle-class..Is this it?
    Is this what it finally comes down to.?

  7. Saltaire Sam says:

    We do seem to have changed dramatically as a country since the Diana moment.

    Every serviceman or woman’s death is a personal tragedy for family and friends and their memory is to be respected but we seem to have turned every one into a moment of national mourning.

    How will we cope if we ever have to fight another world war?

    Perhaps some of this emotion could be directed towards the thousands of children who die through lack of basics like clean water when those of us in relative comfort in the west could do something about about it.

  8. adrian clarke says:

    As much as i dislike Gordon Brown for all he stands for and all he is done , watching tonights news i was disgusted Jon to see you without a poppy. Whatever your feelings about our war dead ,i feel you in your position as lead reporter have a duty to wear one

    1. Ray Turner says:

      Well, yes Adrian. You’re absolutely right.
      But there are bigger issues really. I hadn’t even noticed Jons omission, due to all the gloomy news today…

  9. phil dicks says:

    “Grief and Reputation” – that has to be one of the best-ever crafted lines. Game over. I think you have to be bona-fide working-class (why?don’t know) to understand it.

  10. Jim Flavin says:

    It all sounds atrociusly political games – pity the dead soldiers cant appreciate what tes thugs of politicians are doing – . These thugs are alwyas well away from the fighting – Blair , Thatcher , Bush , Powell , Rice – list is near endless – but media report that they eg ” won ” a war – without leaving their saftey of course . What thanks did the soldiers of WW 1 or any war get when the survivors returned home – poverty and unemployment – they fought for the Rich – as did most of those in wars .

  11. Ray Turner says:

    Gordons escape route, is to hold a referendum on remaining in Afghanistan.

    Public opinion would clearly vote in favour of a prompt withdrawal. That would neatly release Gordon from his obligation, if that’s the right word, to be firm, tough-minded and resolute when prosecuting the conflict…

    1. adrian clarke says:

      We could live by referendum.At least then decisions could be said to be democratic.As for Gordon holding one on Afghanistan,there is as much chance as him holding one on remaining in the EU

  12. adz says:

    What infuriated me today was listening to Mr Brown telling us he knows what it feels like to loose a loved one…I can’t remember if Gordon’s child had both legs blown off and bled to death or if it was just a simple murder at the hands of a “rogue policeman” down Oxford street…
    adzmundo CND

  13. Saltaire Sam says:

    I was interested to hear this morning of the high numbers of ex service men and women in prison. We seem to be surprised that when people who have been trained to fight, often saaagely, are released from the discipline service life imposes, they don’t know how to handle it.

  14. K. Moore says:

    Why does your news reporting pay undignified courting, and give significant prominence to the opinions of the families of the war dead? These people are mourning and cannot be expected to be an objective voice to be taken into account when making extremely important strategic war decisions, something I trust, you are not seeking to influence. Churchill had to measure the grief of hundreds of thousands of bereaved families against his war objectives, but could not allow that to detract him. You are indulging in sentimentality and detracting from a measured consideration of the bigger picture – if we pull out, how big is the potential terrorist threat, (more tube or airline bombings, stadium massacre, perhaps, with many more than our several hundred miltary deaths ) and why does the threat exist in the first place?

    1. Jim Flavin says:

      The longer the UK stays in Afghanistan – the more hatred will be generated [ of the UK ] – and the terrorist threat increased . .

  15. Paul Dixon says:

    Now that Gordon Brown has taken to lecturing us on surviving tragedy and coming to terms with grief could someone explain to him that the only real consolation at such times is that everything was done that could have been to save the life,as he would have known at the time of his own sad loss.
    When this is so manifestly not the case, grief compounded with anger is much more difficult to reconcile.

  16. aditya singh nathawat says:

    Two points. 1. Where is the famous British Spirit??? Once the sun never set on British empire! How was it possiblle? The British spirit on which men left on small timber boats across the seas. Its not just war, its economics its fighting recession etc tec.
    2. There are only two who have the experience of Afghanistan. One is Mughal emprors of India nad two British. I am Indian and I have seen graves of British soldiers lost in Afghanistan. Dates go back as early as 17th century. If UK is in Afghanistan, look back for last 300 yrs of yr own records. You will have all the answers.

  17. friendofmrsjanes says:

    I respect you as a journalist and would like you to know my freind was there and told jacqui to tape the conversation on his phone between mrs janes and Mr Brown because she had just taken the sedatives she needs to even try and sleep and he thought she should tape it so she remembred in the morning.
    He say she is glad she brought up the equipment shortages in that chat as she had been talking about it for a long time it’s what he would have wanted. She is the grieiving mum of a lad who gave his life for this country, so why are people attacking her? don’t get it.

  18. Mr Nasim Awan says:

    The War costs lives repuation and most of all we all have to go back to square one, and start talking peace in every case. It is time that the International Criminal Courts were set up with all countries signed up including the super powers, Far to long have the powerful countries had their own way, that is purely based on power rather then right or wrong. Untill this changes and rights of all cultures and races are respected then we will have terror from all sides. Lets not fool ourselves Terror comes in many forms from Individuals as well as Terrorist states. and that inclueds the US and Israel as well as Where the conflict is being fought at the moment. Out of all this has come out that the US super power is not what is was deemed out to be. The reality is a well trained US soldiers can’t even beat a tribal Afghan who has little to fight on compared to all the high tech equipment. Basic human right of having a peaceful life is the right of all. Lets face our own demons of looking the other way at the suffering of Palastinians who have no champions in the Wet because of powerful Jewish Lobby in the US. UK are like sad little puppies knelt by US masters

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