Sunday, January 08, 2006

Churchill and ruthlessness

Churchill knew how to wield power. He knew what he was defending and he could put it into such words that the listener felt that his own thoughts had never been so well enunciated. That was probably his greatest contribution to the war effort.
Neil Brown here quotes Churchill saying what should happen to Hitler and other Nazi leaders if captured.

"If Hitler falls into our hands we shall certainly put him to death like a gangster. This man is the mainspring of evil. Instrument -- electric chair."

Brown continues

...he [also] proposed that leading Nazis found on the battlefield should be identified and shot without trial. Crystal clear, once again.
Churchill's Cabinet colleagues were a little more cautious and their approach won through. If it hadn't, it may be that the Nuremburg Trials would not have taken place thus setting the template for all subsequent attempts to drag dictators to court. However, there is another point, and it is one that Churchill would know more about than most of us. Strategic aims.
For instance, Saddam Hussein. I don't think many people (other than the usual suspects) would have made much of a fuss over Saddam being shot through the temple the moment the Americans found him. However, one of the aims of the exercise (the invasion of Iraq) was to establish democracy in that benighted country, and that means the rule of law. Shooting Saddam Hussein would not have contributed to that aim whereas putting him on trail may (let's not be too optimistic). So it was not expedient to shoot him.
A further point, and one closer to home. This country, like many others, has often acted abroad in a way that would never be acceptable at home. This provokes outrage, which is not always to be disdained as it must often arise from the fear that such acts may claim asylum here and then be naturalised. My selfish fear virtually from the moment the planes hit the towers was that our freedoms, such as they are, would be eroded not by them, but by us. And it is happening. I wonder if one day we will hear, as justification for yet more surveillance and control, the fact that the Iraqis live with it, so why shouldn't we?

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