Sunday, April 8, 2007

The U.K. Military's Insane Folly

Britain is reeling in the wake of the Iranian hostage crisis. How Britain handles the aftermath of that crisis will have significant and lasting effects on national identity as well as the morale and effectiveness of the military. As you will see below, Britain is now off to an incredibly bad start.

The facts of the crisis are simple. Fifteen British sailors and marines are taken hostage by Iranians without shot one fired. Within days, they begin appearing on Iranian television spouting propoganda on behalf of their captors - and even an officer gets in on the bit.

In days gone by, a person captured by a hostile force was expected not to cooperate with the enemy. From the U.S. military, Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale and John McCain come immediately to mind as role models. They endured years of true torture and solitary confinement. At some point, these men, in refusing to cooperate with their captors, went beyond what would be expected of the average soldier, and clearly went into the realm of the heroic.

Nobody can expect those type of heroics from the average soldier, but the actions of the 15 sailors and marines in this instance were craven by any measure. The sailors and marines were held captive for thirteen days. They suffered "psychological pressure." They participated with Iran in a propoganda offensive against the country they were sworn to serve.

There is only one thing that ameliorates their horrid performance. That is that, no matter how you look at it, they were captured because of truly unconscionable negligance by the Commander of the HMS Cornwall in allowing them to operate outside of support at a time of heightened tension and in the same area where a kidnapping had occurred before. The first discipline in this case should have been - and should be - publicly relieving of duty the Commander of the HMS Cornwall. Such mistakes by those to whom we entrust the lives and well being of our soldiers cannot be countenanced. There are no second chances for that type of negligence by a Commander. The importance of relieving the Commander is to send a clear and unambiguous message to every officer in Her Majesty's navy that their first duty is to take care of their charges, and a message to every enlisted man and woman that their lives matter - that they are not pawns for an officer to move about with no consequence.

As to the hostages themselves, how to deal with them is a decision that should be left to anaval board of inquiry. In any event, the performance of the hostages while captives of Iran is not something that the UK military wants to be the model for future instances when a soldier is taken by coercion and confined by a hostile force.

So what has happened up to this point? The Commander of the Cornwall is still in place, Tony Blair has defended the Rules of Engagement (ROE), the First Sea Lord has fully supported the actions of the sailors and marines both in giving up without a shot and then their actions while captives. That is all very bad, but now it get's much, much, much worse. The 15 are being feted as heros and being rewarded with treatment reserved for Her Majesty's soldiers that have earned the Victoria Cross:

The 15 British military captives who were released by the Iranians have been authorised by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to sell their stories.

MoD officials claimed that the move to lift the ban on military personnel selling their stories while in service was justified because of the “exceptional circumstances” of the case. The hostages are expected to earn as much as £250,000 between them.

. . . The MoD said: “Serving personnel are not allowed to enter into financial arrangements with media organisations. However, in exceptional circumstances — such as the awarding of a Victoria Cross or events such as those in recent days — permission can be granted by the commanding officer and the MoD.”

Read the whole story here.

Now, to understand just how incredibly, utterly, supremely insane that is, the Victroia Cross is roughly equivalent to the U.S. Medal of Honor - which with Vice Admiral Stockdale was rewarded after lasting through six years of torture and hell while refusing to betray his country. It is awarded for incredible acts of bravery at threat of loss of life. As to the 15 hostages, beyond fully cooperating with the Iranians in all that they asked, what did these sailors and marines do? Absolutely nothing of bravery. They survived. That is it. And in surviving, they managed to display cowardice that brought humiliation upon their country - all within the record time of thirteen days of capture. I feel deep sympathy for their plight. That does not excuse their performance.

And now the Ministry of Defense is going to allow them to profit from their performance as if they were heroes or their actions otherwise so laudible as to justify their profit therefrom? Using extreme tact in my choice of words, I would describe that as a permissive act wholly contrary to promoting military virtues.

What messages have just been sent to every member of Britain's armed forces? Is a premium being placed on bravery and service to country? Are those who have spilled their blood while acting with bravery under fire being applauded and upheld as the model? I can imagine nothing worse for the morale of the British forces and for the parents of every child wounded or killed in combat then this craven lunacy. And its long term impact on Britain's national identity must be equally horrid if tales of the Falklands are to be replaced by tales of the Iran crisis told with tones of approval and acceptance. It is not a tale to be publicized. It is not a tale to be approved of in the national consciousness. It is a tale only to be told in the stiff verbiage of an official inquiry, and it is a tale whose ending should only be with the words "never, never again."

Their needs to be a purge of everyone in a leadership position between the Ministry of Defense, through the naval chain of command, and right down to the Commander of the HMS Cornwall. This insanity needs to end or Britain's military will not be a fighting force much longer. The legacy of Nelson will be but a dim shadow indeed.

Update: It appears the BBC has pulled the plug on a 90 minute documentary about a British soldier in Iraq who in fact earned the Victoria Cross for exceptional acts of bravery under combat:

Private Johnson Beharry's courage in rescuing an ambushed foot patrol then, in a second act, saving his vehicle's crew despite his own terrible injuries earned him a Victoria Cross.

For the BBC, however, his story is "too positive" about the conflict. . . The BBC's retreat from the project, which had the working title Victoria Cross, has sparked accusations of cowardice and will reignite the debate about the broadcaster's alleged lack of patriotism.

Read the story here. One, what does it say about a country that will not give publicity to its true heroes, but will give publicity to the story of 15 hostages who betrayed their country? Two, one of the first steps in restoring reality, sanity and morality to the UK has to be getting the news division of the BBC off of the public tit.

Update: The Telegraph has an op-ed that shows, one, that there is a segment of the population that understands just how wrong and inappropriate this action by the Ministry of Defense was. Unfortunately, it also shows why the conservatives in Britain will not be effective in addressing the problem. The Telegraph decrys the problem with what can only be described as a shrugging impotence. There is no demand that anything be changed, there is no call for people to be fired or relieved, there is no call for the public to organize and march on Downing Street. I cannot imagine how beaten down the conservatives must be in the UK only to criticize this situation and nothing more. Is their no leadership in Britain that will not just criticize, but challenge the insanity?

Update: Perhaps my criticism of the UK conservatives is not quite fair. The UK has reversed itself is now refusing to allow the sailors and marines who have not already done so to sell their stories, and there is an excellent op-ed in the Telegraph that fully notes the rot in the MoD and calls for change.

Update: As to the effect on the morale of British soldiers, see here.

1 comment:

Always On Watch Two said...

the actions of the 15 sailors and marines in this instance were craven by any measure. The sailors and marines were held captive for thirteen days. They suffered "psychological pressure." They participated with Iran in a propoganda offensive against the country they were sworn to serve.

I've been thinking the same, but when I speak of it, people look at me as if I've got three heads.

Glad to see someone else having the same thoughts as I!


View My Stats