Magazine article The Spectator

Reluctant Warrior

Magazine article The Spectator

Reluctant Warrior

Article excerpt

Radio has covered the war with Iraq with some distinction in its extended news and current affairs programmes. Radio Five Lives more flexible format enabled it to report some of the more fast-moving developments and stay with them on air. As I write, United States forces are close to Baghdad after an astonishingly quick push northwards from Kuwait. Of course, when television captures battles or fighting the coverage is more dramatic, though in the absence of action the medium does rely heavily on reporters being interviewed by presenters and pundits in the studio.

Twenty-four hours or so before the first attack on Saddam Hussein and his leadership in Baghdad, Radio Four broadcast a timely account of how the United States has moved from its isolationist roots to the role of policing the world. In Pentagon Power last week (Tuesday) the presenter Allan Little reminded us that today the US military is ten times larger than those of the next ten nations combined. Its annual military budget is $400 billion and it has 500 bases. He noted the paradox that despite its power it is not in its heart and history a militaristic nation. Those, like Harold Pinter, who foam at the mouth at the very mention of the United States, will not agree with Little's view, `It is the world's reluctant warrior.'

A glance at American history proves this to be correct. After the trauma of the Civil War and apart from a short war with the Spanish in the 19th century, America retreated into itself. It only emerged again in 1917 in the last year of the first world war. After Versailles it decided to withdraw again in the belief that its oceans protected it from the outside world. As Dr Richard Stewart of the Centre for Military History in Washington put it, America was militarily insignificant. `The United States army was truly pitiful between the first and second world wars. It was somewhere underneath in pure numbers the Bulgarian army. The Argentine army would have been able to whip us in a fair fight because the mission that was driving the United States army was hemisphere defence, fortress America.' The country felt safe and secure behind its borders.

What changed, he thought, was observing the menace of nazism and communism in Europe in the 1930s and the Nazi Blitz on London and the realisation that the oceans were not going to be a defence much longer. Distance began to matter less. …

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