‘If only he could stop these damned little wars’, Morris wrote of Prime Minister Gladstone on 10 February 1881. It’s a colourful condemnatory phrase, though not having quite become a socialist at that point, Morris clearly had not yet grasped the systematic and necessary nature of such wars to British Imperialism, of which he would later become such a courageous critic.
For a good part of my adult life this country has been engaged in a series of damned little wars: among others, Margaret Thatcher’s escapade in the Falklands/Malvinas, Tony Blair’s Iraq and Afghanistan wars, David Cameron’s bombing of Libya and now his proposed bombing of Islamic State in Syria. Never mind how these have turned out in practice (reducing both Iraq and Libya, for example, to the very chaos and rubble in which ISIS thrives in the first place). If you have one of the biggest arms export industries in the world, as we do, you have to regularly show your customers the weapons at work. And there’s that minor matter of Middle Eastern oil supplies too.
The wars may be little, but the lies that attempt to justify them to the British public are often very big indeed. Tony Blair’s lie to us – those weapons of mass destruction at Saddam Hussein’s disposal that could hit this country in 40 minutes – was the grossest of them all; there were no such WMDs, and Blair must have known that all along. And David Cameron is at this very moment in the process of telling us a similar whopper: those 70,000 moderate Syrian rebels whom he has suddenly conjured up out of thin air.
Until we manage to stop this machismo cycle of ‘damned little wars’, British governments and British forces will just continue making the world out there a more chaotic and dangerous place, and putting us at home ever more at risk of terrorist reprisal.