Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Sons of the Desert Gather Flowers of the Forest

Commentary by Martin Kelly
October 19, 2004

It was a disaster from start to finish.

They had refused to learn from the mistakes of their forebears, that people who are invaded are people who will resist; they failed to understand the culture and psyche of the country they were invading; they failed to bring sufficient forces; and the forces they did bring used tactics appropriate to previous wars.

Yep, the Scottish invasion of England in 1513 was a real quagmire.

It did, however, leave one very special legacy. The Scots met the English at Flodden Field in Northumberland, and were slaughtered. In memory of the disaster of Flodden, a lament for a lone piper was written that is used by the British Army to this day to remember those who fell in wars far away from home. It is called The Flowers Of The Forest, and it is to us what ‘Coming Home’ is to you guys.

The neoconservative war planners have made such a mess of ensuring that adequate forces are in Iraq that, last week, the commander of US forces in Iraq, General George Casey, requested that his Brit counterpart, General Bill Rollo, provide Brit soldiers to assist in the Baghdad theatre of operations, specifically in the areas of Iskandariya, Latifiya (reckoned to be Zarqawi’s ‘hood) and Mahmudiya, thereby enabling Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz to concentrate all resources on their ongoing attempts to level the town of Fallujah. The Brits are to be under the command and control of American officers, ‘fighting for’ as opposed to ‘fighting with’ (a very sensitive political distinction in relation to the national sovereignty of the United Kingdom), and following American rules of engagement. 650 men of the Highland regiment The Black Watch, recruited from around Perth, the historic heart of Scotland, are being dispatched.

So as in 2003, 1991, 1950, 1944 and 1917, Jock will once again be fighting beside Dwight, and Tam and Rab beside Juan and Clayton Lee. It looks like Tony and George, The Sons Of The Desert, shall soon have more flowers for their garden.

The attitude of the neoconservative movement to the men and women serving under arms in its Iraqi war of aggression has been abysmal. It considers all soldiers to be automatons, only useful for the implementation of their grand designs of Empire, to be sent into harm’s way without regard to details such as whether they are properly equipped, whether there is adequate or even verifiable intelligence of the threats they might face and certainly without regard for their morale. They abuse the special nature of the volunteer soldier’s contract with society, relying on his obligation of obedience for the furtherance of their plans, and, if he is killed, they do not give a damn about the other, higher part of the soldier’s contract - that he is entitled to be publicly mourned, honoured and remembered. George W. Bush’s news black out on returning caskets is ample proof of their contempt.

Case in point. The Black Watch is four months into its second six-month tour in Basra. By all accounts, they had been looking forward to being home for Christmas – now, that’s not going to happen. That’s a great bonus from your country. But they are British soldiers, and they will do as they are told, as they must.

The British Army has not been having a picnic in Basra recently – like their American comrades, they have been subjected to sustained terror attacks, which has resulted in a massive increase in the volume of ammunition that’s been used. And it’s from this arena that they are going to Baghdad.

Will The Sons Of The Desert ever apologise for what they have done in that country? For the civilian lives they have taken needlessly? For the peril in which they place their own citizen volunteers? One would certainly hope that leaders and statesmen would possess the intelligence to reflect on mistakes, and not continue doing the same things in the hope of achieving a different outcome – the classic definition of insanity. But as time passes, it seems clearer that neither Bush nor Blair is temperamentally inclined to self-examination, although both have tremendous capacities for self-justification, self-belief and self-promotion. The question is, both tout themselves as moral and prayerful men – does neither of them, in the quiet of the night, ever feel ashamed of what they have done?

When they have to, the Scots fight like demons – during World War One, the kilted Cameron Highlanders were so ferocious that the Germans gave them the nickname ‘The Ladies From Hell’, and they won the lifelong admiration of at least one of their opponents, a certain Corporal Hitler. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders held their ground at Balaclava so stoutly that they earned a name now common throughout the language, ‘The Thin Red Line’. In every one of Britain’s wars, the Scots have been at the front, and whatever else one thinks of this war, right now I wouldn’t want to be in any neck-smiter’s shoes, because the boys from Perth and Pitlochry are coming.
Let’s hope they won’t be there for long, and that there will be no more need to hear the strains of The Flowers Of The Forest, whether it’s in Dundee, Arbroath, Calumet City, Illinois or Thousand Oaks, California. It’s called a lament for a reason.