Clever forms of war may save lives, but do not sort out our divisions

by georgehep

When George W Bush proclaimed the mission was accomplished on the deck of USS Abraham Lincoln eleven years ago next week, he could not have foreseen the troubles ahead. At this point, Saddam Hussain was toppled and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan subdued but stabilising the Iraqi nation was to prove far more difficult that the President realised. Another war was still to be fought in Afghanistan which is only now about ignominiously concluding.

The President had spoken too early. The hopes of defeating the Al – Qa’ida movement and winning the war on terror were misplaced. Terrorists attacks have increased in the last eleven years in places as far apart in London, Madrid, Istanbul and Bali.

In the latest Hexham Debate, Prof Paul Rogers explained that the lessons of two ‘bad wars’ for the American people have been to accelerate a trend already apparent in military thinking before 9/11; of replacing ‘boots on the ground’ with smart warfare dubbed as ‘war lite’.

Having slain the dragon of the Soviet bloc, the West faced, as James Woolsey, President Clinton’s Director of Intelligence, told the Senate, a world akin to a jungle full of poisonous snakes. To face the threat of unpredictable uprisings in far flung parts of the world, Rodgers explained that the American forces have been reconfigured so they can be swiftly deployed and special forces have been expanded for ‘small footprint’ operations like the assassination of Osama bin Laden and to provide military support ‘beneath the radar’ in countries including Yemen, Somalia, Syria and Mali. In the United Kingdom, the SAS and SBS have also been reinforced.

The other key weapon in waging war by remote control has been the use of drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. The United States flew over 1000 missions up to 2012 and the United Kingdom over 350 from a base at RAF Waddington near Lincoln. Originally reconnaissance weapons, drones were quickly equipped with missiles to assassinate Al Qa’ida leaders.

The Allies claim that the pilotless aircraft are highly accurate and avoid civilian casualties although this is disputed by the peace groups like Amnesty International. Drone operations are shrouded in secrecy, criticised by the United Nations and open to accusations of violating human rights and constituting war crimes.

These clever forms of warfare and subterfuge may save American lives and dollars but are unlikely to solve the global divisions between the rich and the poor which give rise to well educated but marginalised extremist groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Naxalites in India. They will not avoid the civil wars predicted to follow from climate change.

Sadly the solutions to the worlds troubles seem unlikely to be found by an American government so influenced by military minds and defence contractors and which does not address these underlying problems of global inequality and climate change. ( go to for a video of Paul Rogers talk)

A Mystery, poorly understood, in the morning mist

The prescribed passage in church yesterday was from St John’s gospel which describes the events of Easter morning. According to the Journal poll on Thursday, 87% of you were not in church this Easter but still may find this story as inspiring as I do.

Very early in the morning, Mary Magdalene goes to the cave where Jesus’s body was laid to rest after his crucifixion. She plans to anoint his body but discovers the tomb is empty. The body has gone.

Mary runs back to summon the senior disciples. The headstrong Peter rushes into the tomb and looks around. The more reflective John follows and gets some hankering of what has happened.

The disciples are utterly dejected. They have spent the previous three years following Jesus all over the country in the belief that he was the Messiah who would liberate the Jews from Roman occupation. Only a week ago, Jesus had been cheered into Jerusalem by the crowd.

Within a few days, the crowd had turned against Jesus and he was crucified by the Romans with the connivance of the Jews. The whole dream had gone terribly wrong and the disciples were, with good reason, in fear of their lives.

The disciples leave in confusion and Mary, alone and in tears, sees a man she takes to be the gardener. She thinks the Romans have removed the body – as Americans did with the bodies of Hussain and Bin Laden – and asks him where the body of Jesus has been taken.It is only when the man speaks her name that Mary recognises him to be Jesus.

Why is it such a moving story? The two male disciples, perhaps full of their self importance or just plain petrified, run off to do the business and raise the alarm. It is only Mary who hangs around and allows herself to enter into all the emotions of what has happened and so has the revelation of the risen Christ.

Although there were clues in the writings of the prophets, and hints from Jesus himself, no one expected the Messiah to be killed and to rise again. The victory over death was not in the script and it shows how victory can come from defeat in mysterious ways that we cannot fully understand.

In the series of ‘Barefoot Prayers’ that Stephen Cherry, Canon of Durham Cathedral, has written for Lent and Easter, he acknowledges the mystery of the resurrection on Easter morning.

Help me to be clear about this at least:

that I know little;

that I miss more than I see;

that I am surprised more often.

Far more often, than I ever admit”

The tale of Easter morning is about how the least important person is quietly and privately shown a vision that gives her hope and unexpectedly transforms her view of the world. It challenges us to allow ourselves to be surprised, to have our expectations overturned and to accept that some mysteries may only ever be poorly understood in the morning mist. Amongst others, American generals should take note.