Un-politics and its dangers

Q.  What's the connection between (1) the public comments on Iraq policy by General Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff, and (2) the television comedy drama "The Amazing Mrs Pritchard" in which a lively supermarket manager finds herself (without at any stage really intending it) standing for parliament, heading a new political party, winning her seat and becoming prime minister?

A.  The response to both reflects a deep-seated mistrust of professional politicians of all parties, and of party politics.  This is entirely understandable after the lamentable performances of the leaders of both our main political parties in recent years, up to and  including the present.  But it is deeply dangerous, and should be sending up alarm flares.

General Dannatt's Daily Mail and Today Programme interviews have prompted much editorial and commentariat approval as an honest assessment that most of us believe to be accurate: that our military presence in Iraq (having been established not by invitation but by our having 'kicked the door in') is not welcome, that it is part of the problem rather than of the solution, that it didn't cause but does exacerbate the violence, and that we should withdraw very soon.  Amen to all that! 

But many of those who agree with the analysis are also pointing out that a senior serving officer who publicly challenges the declared policies of the elected government of the day commits a serious breach of a fundamental constitutional principle.  In a democracy, the elected government is entitled to the obedience and discretion of all its public servants, both civilian and military.  Ministers need to heed, but not necessarily to comply with, the warnings and recommendations of its officers and civil servants, who in turn have a duty to give frank and uninhibited advice based on their professional skills and experience even, indeed especially, when they know that their advice will be unwelcome.  This continuous flow and counter-flow of advice and response between officials (military and civilian) and ministers can't, though, be conducted publicly, mainly because the likelihood of publication has a fatally inhibiting effect on what both officials and ministers will feel free to say to each other, but also because public knowledge that senior officers or civil servants have expressed disagreement or reservations about a particular government policy constrains the government's freedom to pursue that policy if ministers so decide (as they must be constitutionally free to do) notwithstanding officials' disagreement.  

The implication of this doctrine for officials is clear.  They must be free to give their political masters frank advice in private without fear of adverse consequences for their future careers or influence with ministers.  They are entitled to know that their advice is properly considered.  But the opinions of unelected officials, however sage, can't override the policies of their elected masters.  The duty of the official whose advice has been considered but rejected by ministers is to accept their decision and to do everything possible to ensure its successful implementation (and public defence).  If the official feels so strongly that government policy is misguided, unjust, fraudulent, or immoral that he can't in conscience participate in its implementation, then he may either seek a transfer to another area of government, or else resign.   (Even after a resignation there will be constraints on the former official's freedom to go public with his views where this may entail publication of classified information whose disclosure may damage the public interest.  But that raises several different issues.)

It follows inexorably that General Dannatt was wholly out of order in going public with his opinions in the way he did:  he should have resigned if he feels unable to carry out government policies with which he so strongly disagrees, and if he won't resign, he should be dismissed.  It is a measure of the weakness of the government that the prime minister clearly feels unable to sack the erring general for fear of the storm of protest that would break out if he did so.  "How could Blair sack him for telling the truth?", a Daily Mail lady journalist asked plaintively in a television programme this morning.  It's because so many innocent people in and out of politics would ask just such a wrong-headed question, and because there's such widespread agreement with the General's views, that the prime minister couldn't indeed fire the General, and was forced back into the humiliating strategy of pretending, however implausibly, that he entirely agreed with everything the General had said.  Many British people have come to trust an army General's analysis of the crisis more readily than that of their elected prime minister.  We may still be grateful, all these years later, that President Truman was not similarly inhibited by fear of popular outrage from dismissing General MacArthur in 1951 despite that General's enormous status as a hero of the second world war.

"The Amazing Mrs Pritchard" depends on the same assumptions about most people's deep distrust of professional politicians and their instinctive preference to listen instead to those outside the political establishment.  The idea that an apolitical supermarket manager could run for election to parliament, found her own new political party, win the election on a tsunami of popular enthusiasm, and form a government, all in the course of a single election campaign, is of course far-fetched: only the extraordinary talents and Jane Horrockscharisma of the magnificent Jane Horrocks make you half-believe in the fairy tale while she is on-screen.  But there's a significant underlying message — that an honest and ordinary citizen, untarnished by the deceipts and compromises of the party system, just might attract sufficient popular support for a brave challenge to the politicians to sweep her (or, much less likely, him?) into power.  And a less scrupulous populist leader than Ms Horrocks's Mrs Pritchard might prove more difficult to sweep out of power than it was to sweep her into it. 

So there's a question to be answered:  has public distrust of politicians of all parties sunk so low that there might be broad popular acceptance of the hi-jacking of policy-making by unelected generals, perhaps retrospectively sanctified by a sufficiently charismatic general being democratically elected as head of a political party, either new or already established? We have been protected from any such perversion of democracy hitherto by the professionalism and commitment to democratic principles of our senior military leaders: but how firmly committed to those principles does General Dannatt seem to be, judging by his actions last week?  Of course I am not suggesting that he himself harbours personal political ambitions; but once the principle is breached with impunity, as it has just been breached, others less scrupulous may be encouraged to exploit the precedent. 

On the whole I would prefer to see a supermarket manager in No. 10 rather than a General, especially if the supermarket manager is anything like Jane Horrocks, and despite the grim precedent set when a grocer's daughter did actually govern us from Downing street for more than a decade.  But a decent democracy requires that power be exercised by men and women who have been tried, tested and honed in the heat of the political kitchen, whose views and foibles and limitations we know, whose innate honesty we believe in, and who demonstrate that we trust them by winning election within, not from outside, the political system.    In short, by politicians, alas.


18 Responses

  1. Phil says:

    Well said. I couldn’t find much to disagree with in Dannatt’s reported comments, but the fact that he made them at all is genuinely alarming.

  2. Carl Lundquist says:

    MacAthur and Dannet occupied/occupy a different political universe.   Dannet reports to a prime minister and defense minister, officers of a legislative executive.   MacArthur, or any American military or naval officer, 2nd lieutenant on up, reports to an elected Commander In Chief and an elected Congress.   The American officer owes an honest reporting to both.  

    It is a rare general officer who does not have formal and informal connections Up On the HIll.   Many of those connections precede the current administration and will persist beyond it.    The members of the House and Senate  Armed Services and Intelligence Committees are well acquainted with the upper echelons of the services.  They talk with each other.  It was MacArthur's connections thru Congress that lead him into the thickets of public insubordination.   That insubordination, because of MacArthur's personality, did not carry much of the officer corps with it. In fact, it was quite the contrary.  He distressed that corps with his excessive egotist and political gaming.  Out there alone, he fell and Matt Ridgeway, a brilliant choice by Truman stepped into his role and made good with it.

    Brian writes:  Thanks for this, Carl.  I am adding a separate comment.  

  3. I think General Sir Richard Dannett is to be commended.  The breach of constitional protocols is academic I feel given the extraordinary circumstances of his outburst.  We have a government led by a man/cabal that has flouted international law and committed the supreme crime of planning and waging aggressive war.  Worse than that – the government conspired with a foreign power to deliberately mislead partliament and the electorate – the government themselves are traitors. 

    Under the Nuremberg Principles, Gerenal Dannett would be perfectly entitled to refuse orders given that the war is blatantly illegal.  This he hasn't done.  He has spoken out against the government as they lie and lie and refuse to listen to the chiefs of staff in the miltary.  If anything, Dannett is heading off a mutiny by giving voice to the troops. 

    Given that Blair and his junta have pretty much destroyed the separation of powers in Britain and consistently undermined the rule of law, I think the general's intervention is both timely and welcome. 

    Brian comments:  This seems to me an understandable and indeed predictable reaction, essentially based on the maxim that my enemy's enemy is my friend.  But to counter with another cliché, two (or more) wrongs don't make a right.  By breaching constitutional principle in the way he has done, and thus undermining his relations with ministers, General Dannatt has probably destroyed his ability to function effectively as head of the army and champion of its soldiers with the government.  The likelihood must be that his increasingly untenable position will eventually force him to resign — an analysis persuasively spelled out in yesterday's Sunday Times by Simon Jenkins.  If and when this happens, Dannatt will doubtless be replaced by a reliably obedient yes-man.  The victims will be our soldiers in Iraq.  Dannatt could have preserved his ability to protect and defend his men by playing the game by its sensible and necessary rules, i.e. by arguing the case with ministers privately, not publicly.  Now he has almost certainly blown it.

  4. Brian says:

    Carl’s comment above is characteristically interesting and insightful.  I accept his point that a major difference between the US and UK systems is that senior service officers in the United States have to answer not only to the elected government (the President) but also to the Congress, via the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees of both Houses and on other channels, which very often entails the obligatory and constitutionally proper expression of opinion on policy issues in public.  In the British system the senior officers are answerable primarily (and have the right of access) to the prime minister and the defence secretary, although the gradual growth and expanding role of parliamentary select committees in Britain, largely under the influence of the American system, is easily overlooked and is not to be underrated.  However it’s hard to imagine a UK parliamentary committee demanding a personal opinion on a major political controversy from a serving officer of the armed forces, except by implication or innuendo.

    I believe that the surviving differences between the States and the UK reflect the much greater politicisation of the American public service, whose upper ranks (at any rate in the civil service) are appointed on a political basis and who change when the party occupying the White House changes — unlike the British public service, anyway until the reign of Mrs Thatcher, which traditionally has no party allegiance and is able and willing to serve governments of either party with equal loyalty and discretion.  For a senior public servant (such as the chief of the general staff) to come out publicly against a central and highly controversial aspect of government policy is thus a much more conspicuous, indeed shocking, challenge to the system than perhaps it would be in Washington DC.

    Incidentally our senior generals, admirals, etc., if they are any good, also cultivate good relations with key parliamentarians (and academics, editors and other journalists) very much as their American counterparts do, although perhaps necessarily more discreetly.

    I agree entirely of course that MacArthur and Dannatt are very different kettles of fish (to coin a cliché — when was the last time anyone had fish in a kettle?).  Apart from anything else, hardly anyone here had ever heard of Dannatt until last week.  But a number of commentators have observed that Dannatt’s strong commitment to his Christian faith and views, and his comments in the Daily Mail interview about the need for the country to return to specifically Christian values as a necessary ingredient in the fight against terrorism, raise a question mark in many British minds (though probably not in American ones?) about his political judgement, making his emergence as an implicit standard-bearer of opposition to continued British participation in the occupation of Iraq a distinctly questionable development.  Such doubts are reinforced by the impression he gave of wanting to get British troops out of Iraq principally in order to transfer them to Afghanistan, in the view of many of us an almost equally objectionable and doomed enterprise, whatever the merits of the original action there.

    Another point perhaps worth making in the comparison between the US and UK situations is that Americans have recent (and generally benign) experience of supreme executive power being exercised by a general, not to mention the even more benign role of another general in the foundation of the American state:  whereas we Brits have to go back to the Duke of Wellington in the first half of the nineteenth century to find the last example of government by soldier, an arch-conservative and enemy of reform at that.  For all therse reasons, the idea of a serving general exercising major and independent political influence is perhaps even more obnoxious to the British system than to the American.

    Please also see the comment that I have appended to that of Antipholus Papps, above.

  5. Aidan says:

    I'm very much in two minds (or perhaps more) over this. The first question to my mind is, what exactly did Dannatt say that contradicted apparent government policy, and was it as far apart as some commentary has implied.

    Tony Blair seemed to go much further than he needed to. He might have come out with some placatory guff about 'difficult decisions' and 'sharing the general's concerns' and so forth which would have put him close enough to Dannatt to defuse the situation, but leaving him some room for manoeuvre. He didn't – he wholeheartedly endorsed them.

    Is it possible that Dannatt merely drew attention to some facts which the government has internally accepted, but not chosen to draw attention to. Much of Dannatt's 'controversial' statements were nothing new – just established fact.

    Personally I think that Dannatt knew he was pushing the boundaries a bit, but has been genuinely surprised by the storm. Could this be in part because as far as he was concerned, most of it was fact and common sense? Looking at some of his more noted points. (I had quite a struggle digging out his words, so here's a link.

    1) "our presence exacerbates the security problems" – this sounds alarming, but the UK is in competition with a number of warlords/militias who would otherwise be getting on with the business of ruling their patch. I think there's a tendency to equate lack of fighting with peace, but it's not an open attack on No. 10, although many have wanted to take it as that.

    2) "History will show that the planning for what happened after the initial successful fighting phase was poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning".  This is clearly right at the border between military and political, but few would argue against it. There were clearly some critical mistakes at the start, some of which could have been avoided or mitigated with more careful and less optimistic preparation, and we are still paying the price. To me this is a military, making a fairly middle of the road effort to explain some of the problems we are having in Iraq.

    3) "The original intention was that we put in place a liberal democracy that was an exemplar for the region, was pro-West and might have a beneficial effect on the balance within the Middle East. That was the hope. Whether that was a sensible or naïve hope, history will judge. I don't think we are going to do that. I think we should aim for a lower ambition." – This bit appears to have given rise to much misquoting. Dannatt isn't calling them naive. He's offering the possibility that it might have been, but he is leaving it open. Although he says that he doesn't think we are going to achieve that – (and that's a really interesting bit – so, what does he think we are going to achieve?), he doesn't pass judgement on the original decision.

    4)"As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited into a country, but we weren't invited, certainly by those in Iraq at the time. Let's face it, the military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in." – Again – pretty bare statement of fact. Tactless phrase, but we weren't invited in as in other places such as Sierra Leone.

    5) "There is a clear distinction between our status and position in Iraq and in Afghanistan, which is why I have much more optimism that we can get it right in Afghanistan."  – One has UN cover, the other doesn't. Who would argue that the Afghanistan justification isn't stronger? I think the situation is also a bit more hopeful, although still very dodgy.

    6) "Particularly with Iran — if we paint them into a corner I think that is being too simplistic. Dialogue and negotiation make eminent sense and military posturing doesn't." – Going right back to the politics here – it's rumoured Jack Straw got the sack for this sort of talk, but again this has a very military basis. There's been a lot of talking up of the military option for Iran, by professional idiots like Melanie Phillips, but the reality of attempting to bring Iran to heel with airstrikes is very risky and is really a last desperate gamble.
    7) "We need to face up to the Islamist threat, to those who act in the name of Islam and in a perverted way try to impose Islam by force on societies that do not wish it. In the Cold War, the threats to this country were about armies rolling in. Threats now are not territorial but to the values of our country.

    "In the Army we place a lot of store by the values we espouse. What I would hate is for the Army to be maintaining a set of values that were not reflected in our society at large — courage, loyalty, integrity, respect for others; these are critical things.

    "I think it is important as an Army entrusted with using lethal force that we do maintain high values and that there is a moral dimension to that and a spiritual dimension.

    "When I see the Islamist threat I hope it doesn't make undue progress because there is a moral and spiritual vacuum in this country. Our society has always been embedded in Christian values; once you have pulled the anchor up there is a danger that our society moves with the prevailing wind. "There is an element of the moral compass spinning. I am responsible for the Army, to make sure that its moral compass is well aligned and that we live by what we believe in.

    "It is said we live in a post-Christian society. I think that is a great shame. The Judaio-Christian tradition has underpinned British society. It underpins the British Army." – He really stretches his wings here. Personally I'm very suspicious of using religion to justify a course of action which you wouldn't otherwise take <A xhref="http://www.hollynear.com/lyrics/i.aint.afraid.html" target="_blank">(This song sums it up quite nicely)</A>, so this bit probably worries me more than anything else. However, I am reminded of a major criticism of the training which UK soldiers were providing them to Iraqi police recruits, which was that they were teaching them how to shoot a gun, but not the moral framework of what being a 'proper' policeman means. Apparently that wasn't their job. Anyway, getting back on topic, I suspect that Blair probably agrees with Dannatt on this more than I do, so no rift on this one.

    Dannatt's most dangerous points come in his Today interview when he says

    8) "we don't want to be here another two, three, four, five years". – Here he is committing us to getting out within a year or so – and No. 10 has never allowed any such timetable to be imposed. You could argue (in a fairly standard piece of political weaselling) that he is merely stating an aspiration, not making any sort of commitment.

    He points out himself that it isn't very newsworthy to say that the liberal democracy etc. etc. isn't likely to happen. Various authoritative leaks have made a similar point, in addition to the daily barrage of bad news. If you think that Iraq is going to be a pro-West, liberal, exemplar democracy in the foreseeable future then you are either ignorant or crazy. You can't really take him to task on this.

    9) "Time is against us, because time is money, time is particularly soldiers' lives"

    Another statement of the obvious. Arguably one of the major failings of the coalition planning was that it didn't really recognise that we had very little time to achieve stability in Iraq, and that 'staying the course' wasn't good enough. We needed to make fairly rapid progress or it would become progressively harder to achieve the initial objectives.

    10) "Don't let's break it on this one" – the strain that the army has been put under is clear. We don't have the manpower to keep this many troops in the field on a permanent basis. He knows it, I know it, Blair knows it, the insurgents know it. Is this really newsworthy?

    Having taken what he said point by point, I can't see where the resignation point is, and it's not even that unfeasible that Tony Blair does agree with him, although he must feel pretty cut up about the situation. He has soured his legacy beyond any hope of recovery, and he has been the number two player in an act which has caused the deaths of, as the Lancet has revealed, approximately 650,000 people.

    Personally I'm unhappy about the position Brian and others seem to be endorsing, which is that the military can only make comments which agree with the political viewpoint of the government. If there is to be no criticism, even on military matters, then they shouldn't be making direct statements to the press at all – and that includes the carefully orchestrated press releases, which have become such a part of modern war. This government is all to keen to have the JIC or the Metropolitan Police Commissioner talk up their line, and we desperately need a bit of balance.

  6. Carl Lundquist says:

    Minor quibble, Brian.  Washington was not a professional soldier — he was rather a professional Virginian planter with militia experience against the French and Indians.  He wanted to be a professional, but in one of the great goofs of history, the British Army refused to have colonials as professional officers — in particular GW.   They preferred sprigs from minor Irish peerage. 

    Eisenhower was a pro as was Grant.   The Army lived in fear and trembling that Eisenhower would be another Grant.  He did not, but he did severely cut the Army in the wake of the Korean armistace and the asymptotic growth of the Air Force.

    American officers do defer to the civilians and certainly to the Congress.  However, upon retirement they tend to speak to issues often at variance with their former CinC.  You  see that now.

    Brian adds:  Thanks for the correction regarding George Washington. But Eisenhower was the general I had most prominently in mind, of course.   British officers (and civil servants and diplomats) also have a growing propensity to go public with criticism of government policies after they have retired — witness for example the letter of the 52 British ex-ambassadors and others, including myself, in April 2004, strongly attacking British (and American) policy over Palestine/Israel and Iraq.  This and other similar manifestations by retired public servants have prompted some controversy here about the appropriateness or otherwise of former public servants drawing on their knowledge and experience to contribute to public debate where this entails expression of dissent from government policy, with some people in that category arguing that it's improper;  but on the whole it seems to be accepted as legitimate and useful.  Certainly the letter of the 52 had a far greater impact than any of its signatories expected.

  7. Tim Weakley says:

    My initial reaction to General Dannatt's public comments was very much that expressed by Antipholus Papps.  Nevertheless I have to agree with your analysis and your comments on AP's remarks.  If Dannatt reckoned he could make no headway banging on his Chief's desk, and on the PM's, and felt he needed to go public for the Army's sake, he should have resigned his commission, a gesture that would have made a considerable impression.  I am only surprised that he has not already been asked to do so; in a similar situation fifty years ago (over Suez) he would have been.

    On the subject of withdrawal from Iraq: let me commend to you an interesting article from the American side in the October Harper's Magazine entitled 'The way out of war: a blueprint for leaving Iraq now' by a former Presidential candidate and a Middle East expert, George S. McGovern and William R. Polk.  Sorry I can't cite a Web link.

  8. Brian says:

    Aidan, many thanks for the scrupulous and informative analysis, in your comment (above), of General Dannatt's actual statements in his Daily Mail interview — and not least for its URL.  I'm sure that it was some such analysis that enabled the prime minister to say that he agreed with "every word" of Dannatt's remarks, a neat device to enable him to escape from the quandary over whether to sack him and the knowledge that he couldn't.  Your defence, as it were, of Dannatt against the charge of publicly dissenting from government policy is ingenious.  But I doubt if many will find it plausible.  Each individual sentence, taken in isolation, can just about be defended as more or less reconcilable with government policy (or as a statement of the obvious, not quite the same thing).  But the net effect of the passages on Iraq is surely one of unmistakable dissent:

    Sir Richard adds, strongly, that we should "get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems".   "We are in a Muslim country and Muslims' views of foreigners in their country are quite clear.  As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited into a country, but we weren't invited, certainly by those in Iraq at the time. Let's face it, the military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in. That is a fact. I don't say that the difficulties we are experiencing around the world are caused by our presence in Iraq, but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them."  He contrasts this with the situation in Afghanistan, where we remain at the invitation of President Hamid Karzai's government.  "There is a clear distinction between our status and position in Iraq and in Afghanistan, which is why I have much more optimism that we can get it right in Afghanistan."

    I don't believe that Blair or any other senior minister would ever admit that "our presence [in Iraq] exacerbates … the security problems" — or even that it exacerbates  "the difficulties we are experiencing around the world", even if they, and we, know it to be true.  The government's position, if I understand it correctly, is that we should leave Iraq only when the Iraqis are ready to assume responsibility for their own security and when there is a degree of political stability.  This is the direct opposite of Dannatt's position, which is that our presence actually makes the security situation worse and that for that reason we should "get ourselves out sometime soon".   Dannatt gives no indication of accepting that the timing of our departure should depend on the achievement of specific objectives in the internal situation in Iraq:  indeed, he virtually says that no such objectives are achievable.  

    Another major difference between the Dannatt and government positions is surely over the respective statuses of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and our position in them.  The government asserts that in both cases our presence is explicitly sanctioned by the UN Security Council and that in both cases we are there with the explicit agreement of the elected government of the country.  Dannatt, on the other hand, makes a sharp distinction between Iraq and Afghanistan, with the plain implication that our presence in Iraq is both counter-productive and illegitimate (as being unwelcome to the local population) whereas he argues that our presence in Afghanistan is capable of achieving its objectives (if properly resourced, which it can only be if we withdraw from Iraq) and also legitimate because welcome to the local people (or some of them).  Personally I don't accept Dannatt's case for claiming that the two situations are that different, since both are technically legitimate (having been sanctioned by the UN and by the local elected governments) but both exacerbate local violence and both are in pursuit of wholly unachievable objectives;  but whatever view one might take of that, it seems to me clear that Dannatt is effectively questioning the government's position on the status of our military presence in Iraq.

    Finally, I think that you may have misunderstood my position as regards public statements by senior military officers.  Of course such public servants must be free to explain publicly what is happening in their areas of responsibility and the reasons for it, especially where such public expositions require a degree of military expertise.  But that's a far cry from being free to criticise government policy or actions publicly as being mistaken, ill-advised, doomed to failure or undertaken in the teeth of contrary advice and warnings from civilian or military public servants.  No public servant can enjoy the luxury of seeking to undermine public support for government policy, whether or not the official or officer agrees with it, and whether or not he or she has privately advised against it.  Effective government becomes impossible if ministers can't rely on their own officials (including their generals) to keep their personal opinions to themselves in the public arena and not to divulge publicly any disagreements they may have voiced in the process of private policy formulation.  I speak as one who knows, having frequently had to explain publicly the rationale and intentions underlying government policies with which I privately disagree (and in some cases which I have privately advised against).  This is no more 'dishonest' or 'hypocritical' than a lawyer making the best possible case for his client in court even though he may have the deepest doubts about its validity.  I was never required to lie in the course of anything I said publicly about policy matters and it was never necessary to express my own personal view of them, which is anyway of no interest or relevance in the case of an unelected official.  You give your best advice, and if it's rejected, you accept that elected ministers are entitled to differ from officials, and you then make the best case you can in public for whatever ministers have decided.  Generals should do the same.  If their consciences prevent them from doing so, they should resign, and only then go public.  If they can't accept this unavoidable constraint on their freedom to express their personal views in public even when these are at variance with those of the government which they serve, they have no place in the public service and should seek employment in journalism or teaching.

    I was extremely fortunate that the two great criminal and fraudulent acts by British governments which I would have been unable to defend in public, Suez and Iraq, took place before and after my time in the public service respectively.  General Dannatt has been less lucky with his timing.

  9. John Miles says:

    You say, "It follows inexorably that General Dannatt was wholly out of order in going public with his opinions in the way he did: he should have resigned if he feels unable to carry out government policies with which he so strongly disagrees, and if he won’t resign, he should be dismissed."

    .Technically I’m sure you’re right, and this is certainly the traditional view.

    But I’ m incined to think it’s out of date, and just the least bit unrealistic.

    The days are not all that long gone since you had to buy your commission, and in any decent regiment an officer’s pay was barely enough to cover his mess bill, let alone his hunters and polo ponies.

    In these meritocratic days most of us – including generals – need our salaries to support our dependents and to pay our mortgages and taxes.

    So a resignation on principle probably probably involves much more personal sacrifice today, together with the sacrifice of the interests of your wife and children, than it did not so very long ago.

    What’s all this got to do with General Dannatt?

    I know nothing about the general, but I would guess.that he’s more or less devoted his life to the army, that he loves the army (I find this quite inexplicable, but I know it happens) and that, now he’s its boss, he feels responsible for the it’s members.

    I would also guess that he thinks his people are being killed and wounded for no sensible reason: simply because a shower of arrogant fools aren’t prepared to admit thy’ve got it wrong.

    So what would I do in hs shoes?

    My thoughts would probably go something like this:

    "I suppose I ought really resign.

    "That would mean: all kinds of things – we might even have to sell our home.

    "So what the hell? Why make a martyr of myself?

    "Why not shoot my mouth off, and let them work to hang me?

    "If they sack me, so be it.

    "I’ll be no worse off – and probably – better than if I resigned."

    If he thought like that he probably got it more or less right.



  10. Carl Lundquist says:

    And now for another matter entirely Brian.  If you wish to involve yourself with a modern day kettle of fish, simply go to your nearest Italian restaurant and order a nice bowl of chiappino.

    Just thought you would like to know.  <g>

    Brian is grateful:  Good heavens.  One learns something new every day, however old one gets.  I'm slightly concerned, though, by one thing, Carl.  Do the Italians in question use the same kettle for fish and for making a nice cup of tea?  I think we should be told. 

  11. John Miles says:

    A further thought has just occurrred to me:

    What important difference would it have made to anything if General McArthur had adecided to resign before he gave utterance about China?

    Brian writes:  If I remember correctly, he was on the point of doing more than merely give utterance about China:  he was on the point of invading it!  Carl will no doubt enlighten us.

  12. Carl Lundquist says:

    1.   Italians make tea?  They do make chiappino, obviously in a fish kettle.    A kettle is not only a wee thing that goes tweet on a stove, but also "A metal pot, usually with a lid, for boiling or stewing."  

    2,  MacArthur wanted to drop the bridges over the Yalu, attack PRC bases and depots in Manchuria and deploy nuclear weapons to the command in Korea.   Truman's answer was no.   He canned Mac and appointed Matt Ridgeway (CG 101st Airborne, WW II).  Matt got back to business and ground on the Red Army until an armistace was agreed to. 

    Brian says thank-you:   But Carl, you may not know that over here in Europe we have invented a wonderful device called the electric kettle — you just plug it in (preferably after putting some water in it) and switch it on, and hey presto!  in no time at all, it boils.  Very few of us these days boil our kettles on a stove.  It's a source of constant wonderment to all of us over here that Americans haven't yet apparently invented such a thing.  Perhaps your pathetically feeble voltages wouldn't be able to cope.

  13. John Miles says:

    On reflection, I’m sure you’re right about General MacArthhur.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but my impression is that constitutional purists would have been more or less happy if general Dannatt had either (a) resigned before he said his piece, or (b) said his piece and then been sacked.

    So he is clearly guilty of not being sacked.

    What is a fitting punishment for this heinous crime?

  14. Carl Lundquist says:

    Brian:   Ackchwelly old fella, we have all those modern but useless gizmos too.  The Japanese have been peddling electro-garbage to us as long as you folks.   However, what we have in CA at least is dirt cheap natural gas piped to our houses.   With an winter electric bill in the low $200s and a gas bill in the low $100s, my choice seems simple.  

    You folks do have a  heating appliance that I have never figured a rationale for.  I has been explained by estate agents, and householders several times, but it still remains a mystery comparable only to the virgin birth.  It is the Aga Cooker.  It is very significant to Brit cookers and estate agents,  but how it differs from a cotton-picking stove, I have no idea.

    John:   One would think that Gen. Dannat would be looking for an instant retirement to half pay in our political evironment.   Sacked no.  Farmed out, yes.  Not only that, but he hshould have bought his Carribean cruise tickets already.

  15. Tim Weakley says:

    In response to John Miles’s comment:  I I don’t think General Dannatt would have to worry about sending his wife on the streets and his children down a coal-mine to make ends meet if he resigned.  A junior officer, perhaps: but surely an ex-CIGS (or whatever the post is nowadays) would find businesses queuing up to add him to their Boards of Directors, as a useful source of contacts for Army contracts?

  16. Carl Lundquist says:


    Over here military officers with 20-30 years of service under their belts are fully entitled to retire with decent retired pay.    They do it all the time.   Surely Her Majesty’s forces have a similar arrangement?

  17. Tim Weakley says:

    Carl’s right, of course – I think i was intending to say that a senior officer after resigning might actually be better off as a director or adviser plus his pension.

  18. John Miles says:

    Tim’s quite right about generals and the like being, by normal standards, filthy rich.

    .But I don’t suppose they all see it that way themselves.