It was 28th June 1914. An obscure member of a Bosnian Serb nationalist group lurched out of a doorway in Sarajevo to assassinate the Austro-Hungarian heir, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Within a couple of months the whole of Europe was at war. Some 8.5 million soldiers and 13.5 million civilians were to die, countless more physically and mentally damaged for life. Yet few people today could succinctly explain ‘why?’
At the end of March 1982, a party of Argentinian scrap metal merchants landed on the distant, inhospitable and uninhabited island of South Georgia. None of us had ever heard of South Georgia, yet 255 British soldiers and 679 Argentinians were to die in the resulting Falklands War.
On 24 February 2022, Russia invaded a country few of us knew well, Ukraine. Iranian (and perhaps Chinese) backed Russian forces have been bogged down fighting the American and British backed Ukrainian forces ever since. We have given Ukraine 10 Multiple Rocket Launchers, 178 artillery systems and 100,000 shells for them; 250,000 anti-tank shells, 359 tanks, 629 armoured personnel carriers, 8,214 short-range air defence missiles, and 88 armed drones. Tens of thousands civilians are dead, millions displaced; 500,000 troops are dead or injured; economic turmoil has been sown across the world.
On 7 October 2023, Iranian backed Hamas terrorists carried out a war-inducing atrocity in Israel, who have now flattened a large part of the Gaza strip with an artillery tornado, very probably followed up quite soon with a ground invasion of catastrophic consequences for all concerned. If Shia Hezbollah now attack Israel from the North; and if Netanyahu carries out his threat to ‘strike the head of the snake’, namely Tehran; if the Iranians react as they surely must with some kind of Jewish-destroying Jihad, countered by the two American Carrier strike forces in the Mediterranean; if any or all of that were to happen, then we are facing something which may well become akin to a Third World War. None of us quite knows why it’s all happening, nor can we imagine in our worst nightmares what the consequences will be.
Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia was a necessary consequence of Gavrillo Princip’s single pistol shot; Britain could not let the Argentinians stay in the Falklands; we had to throw Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait; America could not ignore 9/11 and let Usama Bin Laden plan more attacks from Afghanistan’s Bora Bora mountains; the West had to react to Russia’s illegal occupation of Ukraine; Israel was more than justified in its military reaction to the unspeakable atrocities of the Hamas attack.
But a combination of Iran backing both Sunni Hamas and Shia Hezbollah; the Jewish American vote demanding a defence of Israel at all costs especially in an election year; Iranian backed Russia in Ukraine; all of that adds up to war across many different potential theatres. And if it were to spark off other military aggression - China invading Taiwan; Russia striking out at the Baltic states in a NATO ‘Article 5’ moment; then we are indeed facing Armageddon.
So the World’s statesmen must find a way to satisfy national outrage; to correct injustice and do what is right in the world without risking that catastrophe. ‘Arms are the balance of peace’ is the motto of my own regiment, the Honourable Artillery Company. Warfare is a failure of diplomacy. At this delicate and crucial moment in the worlds’ history, our leaders and statesmen must remember Gavrillo Princip in everything they do.