Monday, August 21, 2006

From Culloden to Iraq

There is a moment in the bloody battle of Culloden that everyone in my clan knows by heart.

It's the moment when the victorious Duke of Cumberland was riding through the battlefield piled high with Scottish dead and wounded and came across the 20-year-old colonel of the Fraser regiment Charles Fraser.

"Who are you for" Cumberland shouted at the badly wounded Fraser.

Fraser replied defiantly "For the Prince!"

Cumberland turned to a young officer riding next to him and said "shoot him."

The 19-year-old officer refused saying his honour was worth more than his commission. His name was James Wolfe. Fraser was killed by another soldier who shot him in the head.

Wolfe would die on the Plains of Abraham thirteen years later. He's remembered for what happened there. But his real moment of glory came at Culloden.

Flash forward a few hundred years to a scene recounted in Thomas Ricks' excellent book Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. When an American soldier Lt-Col Alexander Holshek challenges his commander Col. David Hogg. Just after the fall of Saddam.

HOLSHEK --- Sir what is the battlespace?

HOGG -- Wherever the enemy is

HOLSHEK -- Sir, wrong answer. The battlespace isn't physical, it's psychological.The battle is for the can kill every bad guy and there will be two more tomorrow. Until you start focusing on their support, active or positive, in the resident population...

They didn't listen to him, of course. And we all know the result.

Which leads me to what a young Canadian soldier wrote not so long ago... shortly after he arrived in Afghanistan.

"We all wait anxiously for the time we can leave this camp and head there to join the scrap, we can't wait to fight. The war drums are beating louder."

I wish him and his friends the best of luck. But I hope they remember that you don't win that kind of war by just killing a lot of Taliban. It's a question of winning hearts and minds.

And they should also remember a couple of other things too.

The Battle of Culloden, and the War in Iraq didn't need to be fought. All those people didn't need to die.

Chimp Bush is a bloody idiot. So is Stephen Harper.

And so was the Prince...


Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Simon. I never thought of Cumberland and Prince Charles as analogies for Bush and Sadaam (they aren't very exact analogies, after all), but Wolfe is still a model for the thoughtful and, dare I say, honourable soldier.

As a side note, I'm the Town Crier of Yarmouth, NS, and my new uniform is based on that of the Fraser's Highlanders, c. 1760. Aye, je suis prest.

Simon said...

Hi Smurfy thanks a lot. I wasn't really trying to make an analogy. Just trying to point out that in these dangerous times we have to tell it like it is, act honorably, keep our cool, and be really smart.
If we want to win. As for your job and uniform I'm really impressed! That's really cool. If I'm ever in Yarmouth I'll be sure to check you out. As well as hear you out of course!

Marc PAGEAU said...

I don't think that there is any honour of being a soldier, especially these days when the civilians are suffering much more than never before in History because of wars.

It is only Hollywood propaganda.

All the soldiers, the warmongers and the terrorists should be put in the same place and be nuked.

Then the civilians would be able to talk calmly about the better way to live in peace together.

Simon said...

Sacre bleu mon baron! I share your desire for a more peaceful world. But your solution does seem a little extreme, even by my standards. The problem is you'd have to make sure you nuked every single soldier, warmonger, and terrorist. Because if you missed just one they would rule the world. And there would be nobody to defend us...

Anonymous said...

Wolfe also felt it was no great mischeif for Highlanders to be slaughtered piecemeal at the Plains of Abraham. He wan't really much better than Cumberland in the end.

Simon said...


Och mon, he was English after all.So you can't expect perfection.
And he wasn't the only officer to object to the shooting of prisoners. But at least he didn't post guards around the battlefield to make sure that the enemy wounded could not be helped, as Cumberland did.Wolfe did have his faults, but Cumberland was a butcher.

The Mound of Sound said...

Baron Bleu is an idiot. There can be great honour in military service just as there can be great dishonour in it. I do believe we have fallen far too much under the sway of American militarism and, for that, we are going to pay a price. That said, until we can find a way to overcome human nature and all our foibles and failings, we will remain dependent on some degree of military protection.

As this century unfolds, Canada will be one of less than a dozen countries that will remain genuinely desirable places to live.
If we're not ready to defend ourselves there will be plenty ready to exploit that.

As Gwynne Dyer puts it in his book "Climate Wars" the country each nation need fear most is that which lies immediately between it and the equator.

Anonymous said...

The Road of Tears by the Battlefield Band ( band named after a road in Glasgow , I believe ) - which links Highland Clearances , Irish Hunger , Native American Genocide and Iraq