On a Rhine cruise some years ago my wife and I visited the beautiful town of Heidelberg and, while touring the castle, were informed of an interesting historical fact that contains a lesson for today's so called liberals and progressives. In the seventeenth century one of the Electors anticipated war and built strong fortifications. No one attacked. His successor discounted the possibility of war, weakened the defences and, unsurprisingly, saw the castle overwhelmed.
This is proof of the truth of the statement found in Latin author Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus's tract “De Re Militari” (4th or 5th century AD), where he says “Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum” which translates as “Therefore let him who desires peace prepare for war.". This adage is generally better known as “Si vis pacem, para bellum” or "If you want peace, prepare for war”, and indeed it is the motto of the Royal Navy, the Norwegian Military Academy, part of the US Marine Corps, and numerous other military organisations throughout the world. This is not because of any bellicose desire to fight wars, but because military men are well aware that the best way to avoid conflict is to be prepared in the event it should come, and to be able to counter, and deter aggressive moves by one’s enemy before these escalate to the level of actual warfare.
In would be unfair to characterise the people of the UK, and before that of England, as being warmongers, but, over the centuries, we have proved ourself no shrinking violets, having fought against more other nations than any other country, a result of being one of the world’s oldest nation states, the creation of the Empire, and the desire to preserve the balance of power in Europe.
However we have at times failed to give sufficient priority to the Armed Forces, most obviously in the inter war years of the 20th Century, when we failed to maintain an adequate military in the face of the growing threat from Germany, as the politicians sought to appease the fundamentally unappeasable. Thanks to the still overwhelming strength of the Royal Navy, the bravery of the Air Force, and the mighty allies brought to our side by the imbecilic decisions of a paranoid megalomaniac, we survived.
Despite escaping from destruction by the skin of our teeth, the post war years show that both politicians, and ordinary people, have, in many cases, not learned the lesson. When we were confronted by a totalitarian power, implacably opposed to our way of life, and possessing nuclear weapons, the reaction of those such as CND was to support disposing of our stocks unilaterally. Obviously many were fellow travellers, who wished to see Communism triumphant, but others adopted the stance of the ostrich, burying their heads in the sand, and apparently hoping the Soviets would just go away.
The reality proved to be that nuclear weapons, seemingly capable of annihilating the opponent in a single decisive blow, were never used, and eventually our enemies collapsed, thanks to the inability of their economic system to match that of the West. The reason they never resorted to using their H-bombs was that any ensuing victory would have been pyrrhic, thanks to the certainty of mutually assured destruction. CND could not have been more wrong.
How many times in recent years have we seen defence reviews, while claiming to to create a leaner, but meaner military, actually being based on saving money, while relying on the power of the USA to ensure that her allies would not fall before a common enemy. Not only is this dishonest, it is so short sighted as to be contemptuously cretinous.
The latest review appears, no doubt until all details become clear, to offer a more sensible programme than that proposed by previous governments. The good parts involve the greater use of AI and drones, more warships and submarines, and an expansion in the number of nuclear warheads held. Air power, if promises are kept, will remain significant, and the pivot to the Pacific is obviously rational as China grows more threatening. Cyber defences grow ever more necessary, so creation of the National Cyber Force, RAF Space Command and an artificial intelligence agency are all positives, particularly as the danger from terrorists always remains.
However the proposals for the Army are alarming. Less tanks, insufficient field artillery, and, above all, another reduction in the number of troops, would make the Kaiser, if he were still alive, repeat his remarks about a contemptible little army. Our soldiers are among the finest in the world, but there comes a point where there are too few to be more than a token force. Clearly our historic role has been that of a naval power, since augmented by the air, but if we are to neglect the army then even more must be allocated to the former. More aircraft carriers, frigates, and even destroyers, should be built in British shipyards, while the air force should be expanded.
None of this comes cheap, but the first responsibility of a government must be the protection of its citizens, and there is no point in having a marvellous social and health infrastructure if it can be easily destroyed by those who hate us.
Perhaps in the long term one of the most important changes which could be made would be to attempt to restore the sense of service to the nation which plays so little part in contemporary culture. We have the Army, Navy and Air Force reserves, but they could contribute more to our potential strength if they were treated with the respect they deserve, and not subject to the sneers of the metropolitan elitists, who dominate organisations such as the BBC.
No rational person wants conflict but, if you want peace, prepare for war!