A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Hooptedoodle #15 - One Man's Democracy

Like countless other people, I have been very moved by the TV coverage of developments in Egypt. Also, like most people in the UK, I have to confess that, prior to the last week or so, I had little knowledge of the situation in Egypt, and probably never thought about it. I am reminded of another evening - not so terribly long ago, really - sitting up late, watching the destruction of the Berlin Wall, wide-eyed, aware that something unimaginable was happening, yet fearful that the shooting would start at any moment. Watching from behind the sofa.

I have no views that I wish to express on the political or religious issues (so spare me the hate mail), but the impact of seeing live TV coverage of ordinary people, children even, carried along by such enthusiasm, uplifted by such collective jubilation, is very powerful. Our UK media have been very sympathetic, as they always are to anyone who wishes to move towards our own local definition of democracy. I wish the Egyptian people every possible success - they have a lot of work to do - I hope things stay peaceful. It looks promising at the moment - may God (their god, the gods, whoever) watch over them.

In the midst of all this euphoria, that little imp of perversity speaks up, somewhere in the back of the brain. History is ultimately written by the winners. I come from a generation and a nation which was taught that the WW2 French Resistance were freedom fighters, yet the IRA were terrorists. Interesting distinction. A lot depends on who you are, where you are and at what date you are considering the matter. I can't help wondering how positive the BBC coverage would be if suddenly the streets of London were filled with protestors, attempting to overthrow our own government. And how would it be if President Obama started giving Britain directions on how to get our democracy act up to the required standard? It suddenly would not be the same thing at all.

Such ideas are far-fetched and probably unworthy on such a historic morning, but when the Egyptians get organised it will have to be done to suit themselves. It would be great if it lines up with some Western model of what we would like to see, but this astonishing public mobilisation and unity is looking for something for themselves, not for outsiders. We'll have to bear this in mind when the time comes.


  1. "I come from a generation and a nation which was taught that the WW2 French Resistance were freedom fighters, yet the IRA were terrorists. Interesting distinction."

    But a necessary one. If you want to suggest that the British Empire was morally equivelant to Nazi Germany, I'll happily argue you over every inch of ground.

    "A lot depends on who you are, where you are and at what date you are considering the matter."

    The problem with this line of reasoning Tony is that it can lead to a sort of moral relativism - where there is no distinction between right and wrong. Nothing is wrong because everything is merely a point of view. It's a superficially attractive argument, but the consequences in real life are sickening.

  2. Eamon - thank you for attempting to put me straight. Naturally I should hate to deflate your point, or spoil a good fight, but I don't think there is even the faintest suggestion of equivalence between Nazi Germany and the British Empire in my post - certainly it had not occurred to me that there was such equivalence.

    I was merely contrasting the BBC's reporting on (for example) the recent student protests in England with the enthusiasm with which they greet unrest on the streets of any state that we don't quite approve of.

    "Moral relativism - superficially attractive". Holy Moses - are you suggesting, even for an instant, that our view of history would be just the same if, for example, Germany had won WW2? Are you suggesting that each and every revolutionary prepared to die for a cause is, to a man, absolutely wrong or absolutely right, because we say so?



  3. I hate to say this but I agree completely. (calling on not only history in general but having lived through the 1970 FLQ "crisis" in Montreal).

    The Berlin Wall was in my mind listening to reports, but also Tiananmen Square.

    It also seems worth noting that I've only heard 1 talking head refer back to the 1881 Revolt in Egypt and later events.


  4. In the days when I was a suitable age, I played football (soccer) for a team whose manager had been a British liaison agent during WW2 in Yugoslavia. Given enough beer, he would tell us tales of his experiences there.

    He told us that the situation was almost unbelievably complex - he laughed at the depiction of heroic solidarity in the Kirk Douglas movie - the reality was that, when the Germans were in the vicinity, the Red Partisans, White Partisans, Serbian Nationalists, the People's Liberation of Croatia and numerous other groups would collaborate and use their British-supplied weapons as intended. When the Germans were not around, the groups would tend to use the equipment to fight each other.

    I know little of the history, beyond the pub tales, and I am not (repeat, NOT) expressing any sympathies or partialities here - I offer the story only as an illustration in support of my belief that the world is not, and never has been, filled merely with good guys and bad guys. It is far more complicated than that. This does not deny or in any way compromise the existence of good or evil, but it sure as hell suggests a wide range of shades of grey.

    But what do I know?


  5. I do not dispute the shades of grey argument - but I would argue that what distinguishes the freedom fighter from the terrorist, is not tactics, but rather the calibre of the opposition - are they so vile that violent resistance is the only possible option?

    My suggestion that you were comparing the British Empire to Nazi Germany grew from your juxtaposition of the French Resistance and the IRA, an organisation I often find it difficult to remain calm about.

    Secondly, I doubt very much that I would have had the same view of anything had Germany won the Second World War - as an inhabitant of a small and rather mealy mouthed neutral, I don't expect I would have been allowed have the freedom to make my own mind up about anything much.

    I couldn't agree more that there are infinite shades of grey in the human heart. But I think attempting too deeply into those shades of grey is likely to lead to a sort of existential crisis which will lead to a paralysis of indecision. Albert Camus wrote of this in his famous essay in Combat about the ethics of sharing a cigarette with a German soldier. What ones duty calls one to do is not always what one wishes to do.

    I am not at all suggesting that the world should be divided into "goodies" and "baddies", there are no politics without dirty hands, but that does not mean that politics can be divorced from conceptions of right and wrong.

    As for the boys of Tahir square - I don't know. It looked an awful lot like an angry mob to me.