In common with the rest of Britain I'd like to express my deepest sympathy with our American friends. There are no words adequate to express the grief, horror and shock we all felt on that terrible day. I really don't know what to say except that, for what little it's worth, our thoughts were with you and continue to be so.
People come here for distraction from the cares of the day, and it's absurd to editorialize to an audience of tens. Nevertheless it would feel slightly surreal never to mention the current crisis, especially given some of the things, which right now seem relatively insignificant, that I've banged on about here in the past. Just two weeks ago, for example, I was preparing an impassioned screed about the relative scarcity of free toys in breakfast cereals nowadays. This has now been shelved until such a time as it can be given the attention it deserves.
All I want to say about this particular crock of shit is that I hope everyone will support the civilized world's efforts to erase this evil. I hate to be banal and unoriginal but we really are in a war. Not, as some have compared it to, a poncey, abstract war like the 'War against Drugs' or the 'War against Poverty' - not two of our most notable martial successes - or the 'War against Oprah Winfrey' - another failure - but a real war, like the Second World War, or as the PR men of the time dubbed it, 'The War Against Bad People Who Want To Kill Us.'
Really, it seems as though I've come through many wars in my time, and my remote-control hand still bears the scars. There was the Gulf War, which I was in favour of, and the Kosovan War, which I was against, at least in its execution. It seems our governments have cried wolf many times, demonizing this group or that petty tyrant every other year. This time there really is a wolf. This is the real thing, and it is all too possible that those of us who spend this war going about our daily business, watching the news on TV, or, as in my case, cowering under the kitchen table surrounded by sandbags and a twenty-stone farmer's daughter named Elsie Wainwright, will be on the frontline almost as much as the troops.
The thought of war is horrible to us all, not just from considerations of our personal safety, but because of the suffering we will inflict on innocents. There are many, good people but in my opinion misguided, who want us to refrain from it. We all hope that further civilian casualties are minimal, and the signs are that pains will be taken to avoid them where possible, but some would have us do nothing at all in hope of breaking the cycle of violence.
War is evil, but, as George Orwell wrote, sometimes it is the lesser of two evils. We may have to endure and witness bloody horrors in the days to come, but the real horror would be if we lacked the will to fight. Orwell also wrote words to the effect that sometimes it's necessary to kill people in the name of human brotherhood, but the really bad thing is to hate them. Only the saintly, among which I certainly do not number, can have been immune to hate and rage in the past couple of weeks, but we should strive to live up to this sentiment as far as humanly possible. The job has to be done, but it would be nice to do it without hysteria. Certainly I have no wish to witness further scenes like the one in the local village last week, when Mrs. Ponsonby's Afghan Hounds were hung from a lamp-post.
Our enemies are not the citizens of this country or that, but a number of evil megalomaniacs, deluded fanatics and poor desperate shlubs with nothing to lose, who are as much a menace to their own countrymen as to us. They must be destroyed, ruthlessly and efficiently, not merely from motives of justice, vengeance or deterrence, but quite simply to ensure the survival of our way of life, of our lives themselves. Even if negotiation were thinkable it would not be possible. What they want from us is that we die. Even if we forcibly removed the Israelis to the Australian outback, even if we withdrew every military base and every Western business from the East, even if we ended our support of moderate Muslim governments and meekly allowed the maniacs to bomb their way to power from Algiers to Karachi, they would still hate us. They hate us for our freedom, our science, and our prosperity. They hate us for our liberated women and our gay discos.
When we strike at them they will attempt to attack us in horrific ways. On the other hand, were we to fail to strike at them, they would still attempt to attack us in horrific ways. If the world is to have a chance of some day evolving into a place of even relative peace, fairness and security, their power to harm others must be eradicated forever. The job must be done thoroughly and completely no matter the cost. Even if we are filled full of horror it must be seen through to the end. It would be almost be better to do nothing at all than to leave the job half-done. If we do not have the resolution to be bold and, when necessary, bloody, it will be the end of our flawed but intermittently beautiful civilization.
There have been a few commentators on the left who have already seemed to suggest that the Western nations or America in particular are somehow partly responsible for the atrocity that shook our world, that we brought it on ourselves somehow. This article by Christopher Hitchens, although I don't agree with all of it, skewers this view more elegantly and states the bleeding obvious more patiently than I could.
This isn't a war between good and evil. The democratic nations aren't purely good. We are morally ambiguous and complex, badly shaven but interesting, like a Denholm Elliot or James Mason character. But it is a war between those who aspire to be good and those who would drag the world back into unending barbarism.
Our grandparents' generation gave their lives and their strength and their loved ones to keep us safe and bequeath us the freedom we take for granted. (In Britain at least, they are often repaid now by being allowed to freeze to death in unheated flats, or be trapped in their homes terrorized by yobs.) They endured terrible things, and did terrible things, because it was the only way to defeat a barbaric enemy that threatened everything they knew and loved. If we shirk this war for whatever reason, they will despise us; and so will our grandchildren.
But that isn't going to happen. We have the courage of lions and the best fighting men in the world, and we will not fail no matter what.
And life will go on despite it all. When I return it will be with the usual silliness, and a nude gallery of Vera Lynn.