Magazine article The Spectator

Time for Vengeance

Magazine article The Spectator

Time for Vengeance

Article excerpt

Just as we British have always earned much of our living on the high seas, some of our bolder spirits have traditionally taken their recreation in remote and dangerous places. Much of the finest travel writing is of British origin, as were many explorers, missionaries and map-makers. None of this was achieved without cost; for every household name now entombed in the Dictionary of National Biography, there are innumerable scattered, nameless bones among the deserts and savage mountain ranges.

No one could complain if the grandeur of the challenge exacted its penalties; the serene willingness to embark upon danger is part of our national heritage. But now a new, squalid risk has emerged, adding an additional and unacceptable liability to that traditionally British sport of risking one's neck far beyond the protective shores of civilisation: hostage-taking.

Throughout most of the Third World, life is cheap, because of famine, disease and misgovernment. But the spread of knowledge, while not engendering enlightenment, has ensured that even in the most backward political dispensations, there is awareness that the advanced West values human life.

So the barbarians believe that they have a weapon which they can use against us. We respect life; they do not. They calculate, therefore, that if they kidnap and murder Westerners, as has just happened in Uganda, we will capitulate to their demands.

There are various responses that we in Britain could make. The first and most obviously worthless is surrender. Any such surrender might save individual hostages, but what would be the result? Fifty-nine million Britons would become potential hostages. We learned more than a thousand years ago that you do not get rid of the Dane by paying danegeld.

The second response is apparently more subtle: in reality, just as worthless. It was Robin Cook's on Tuesday: to question the details of the police operation which led to the hostages' deaths, in order to throw the blame on to the locals. It is of course quite likely that the operational efficiency of the Ugandan police falls below that of Scotland Yard but that is almost certain to be the case wherever British tourists are most at risk. There is no point in pious invocations by British ministers that will neither bring the dead back to life, nor protect the living from harm.

There is only one way of trying to avoid further Ugandas: to invoke the law of retaliation; to inflict disproportionate bloodshed upon those who shed British blood. …

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