Friday, 4 February 2011

Great Nations and Small Wars

The Duke of Wellington apparently said ‘great nations do not have small wars.’ We can take this two ways. Perhaps it is a cautionary apothegm, a reminder that no state, no matter how large and mighty, can avoid being bogged down in a war with even the smallest adversary (that the USA, say, cannot get quickly and happily in-and-out of a war with Vietnam, or Iraq; that the same thing obtains for Britain in Ireland, or France in Algeria). But we might want to take it another way. ‘Great nations do not have small wars because, really, they don’t want them. If the US fights in Greneda and achieves a quick and easy victory then, after momentary jubilation, there’s the risk of people saying ‘wait, we’re spending trillions of dollars a year for this?’ If the US fights a large-scale, interminable and even (yes) unwinnable war on—let’s say—drugs, or terror, then there’s no space for people to question the insane levels of expenditure. For the military, the problem with victory is that the elation is short lived, and in the subsequent latency period called ‘peace’ the folk who actually pay for the military will start to demand a peace dividend ...

No comments: