It’s 2003. March, I think. I’m nine years old, sitting on a bunk bed in Stirling, crying my eyes out, utterly terrified. My parents are watching the news in the next room, and I’ve just overheard that Britain is going to war, against a country I’d heard of for the first time just a couple of months previously.
At this age, my only understanding of what war is or involves comes from recent history lessons at primary school on the second World War. Battles at air or sea, troop movements, supply chains, D-Day, the atomic bomb: these weren’t, to my memory, really discussed. The main focus was “life at home”, in particular the Blitz. At nine years old, my understanding was that any war would automatically have a home front. I thought - and struggled through gasps to explain to my bemused and more than a little concerned parents - that we were going to be bombed.
I was sixty years too late to ever experience something like a bombing, but the thought petrified me, and frankly still does to this day. I can remember little else from this time relating to the Iraq War - Game Boys and Bionicle were largely of greater concern at nine - but this scene in our Stirling hotel room is still irreversibly etched into my mind. I can remember, too, exactly what my mother said in an effort to calm me down:
“I don’t think it’ll ever come to that.”
What didn’t trouble me then, but does now, is that mum wasn’t entirely correct. While the horrors of war never visited us in sleepy Jordanstown, they kicked down the doors of people in Iraq who were not so very different from us. Estimates peg the number of civilian casualties as a result of this war at over 140,000. How many of these were nine year olds? I don’t know. We don’t hear their stories. I doubt primary school kids are told stories of the plucky Iraqis living through wartime. I doubt they’re taught to sing whatever the Iraqi version of “Kiss Me Goodnight, Sergeant Major” is. I doubt they’re making their own Iraqi ration books in art class.
One would think, given that our wars in recent years have not resolved the turmoil in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya, that we’d have learned our lesson. We’d have learned that lobbing a load of explosives at a problem will at best not make it go away, and at worst will turn it into several problems, usually at the expense of thousands of innocent lives.
We know what ISIS - ISIL, Daesh, whatever - want. They’re not terribly secretive about what they’re up to. They have a magazine. You can read it online (I wouldn’t). They’re fairly up-front about the fact that military intervention aligns neatly with their goals. They’re also pretty bare-faced about their greatest concerns, and one of these is a lack of resources. Islamic State’s income is believed to largely come from the sale of oil from the oil fields it controls - who’s buying? Who’s selling them weapons? Who are their allies? Which of our allies are their allies? Why are we not more actively pursuing these answers?
I have read David Cameron’s proposal for the extension of our bombing campaign to Syria, and it did not make a convincing read. Too many unanswered questions about ground support or plans for after the campaign, not enough reasons to believe this will have any part in stopping IS. Several other nations have already been running bombing campaigns in Syria, and saw just how much of a difference that made in Paris. One might consider civilian deaths in warfare to be unavoidable, but the fact that we’re doing this for what seems, to 223 MPs and many others, to be no good reason utterly repulses me - and I do mean we. These are our elected representatives. We, the United Kingdom, have just legalised the murder of probably thousands of Syrian civilians, in exchange for what may well be just a token gesture of support to our allies. Well done, everybody. Drinks all round.
In the House of Commons tonight, there was laughter after the vote. When the result was announced, there were cheers. The fact that our politicians cheered the deaths of Syrian civilians chilled me to the bone, and I have no words to express just how much. I have already witnessed colleagues and acquaintances - not friends, thank God - post celebratory sentiments on social media. I hope these people know what exactly it is they’re celebrating.
This Christmas, just three weeks away, I have no doubt that David Cameron will once again profess to following the Christan faith. He might sit in a church in Witney at a carol service, listening to a choir deliver Glory To God from Handel’s Messiah. He might even sing:
Glory to God in the highest
And peace on earth.
Good will toward men.
And maybe, then, he’ll think there might be a nine-year old boy in Syria, watching the sky. He might think that, if this child’s mother is even with him, she won’t be able to tell him, “I don’t think it’ll come to that”.
I doubt it, though. Merry Christmas, Dave.