Dec 28, 2003 7:09 pm


Mow that Q’addafi is playing nice with Washington and London, hawks on both sides of the Atlantic are boasting even more loudly of the wisdom of the war in Iraq. This screaming hawkishness caused me to recall one of William Gladstone’s early Parliamentary speeches.

This speech was delivered, in 1850, in the wake of some treachery by the Greek government against some British citizens there. In response to this treachery, Lord Palmerston supported belligerent action by the Royal navy against Greece. (Palmerston was then, I think, Prime Minister.) Gladstone was outraged at Palmerston’s might-makes-right justification for unilateral British military and diplomatic action. George W. Bush and too many other modern hawks would be applauded by Palmerston – but excoriated by the great Gladstone. My lot is with Gladstone. Here is part of Gladstone’s speech:

“Sir, great as is the influence and power of Britain, she can not afford to follow, for any length of time, a self-isolating policy. It would be a contravention of the law of nature and of God, if it were possible for any single nation of Christendom to emancipate itself from the obligations which bind all other nations, and to arrogate, in the face of mankind, a position of peculiar privilege.... Does he [Palmerston] make the claim for us that we are to be uplifted upon a platform high above the standing-ground of all other nations? It is, indeed, too clear...that too much of this notion is lurking in his mind; that he adopts, in part, that vain conception that we, forsooth, have a mission to be the censors of vice and folly, of abuse and imperfection, among the other countries of the world; that we are to be the universal schoolmasters; and that all those who hesitate to recognize our office can be governed only by prejudice or personal animosity, and should have the blind war of diplomacy forthwith declared against them.”

Gladstone went on to warn against being a military bully, calling for the House of Commons to oppose this use of military might, saying that those who join him in his opposition “shall enjoy the peace of our own consciences, and receive, whether a little sooner or a little later, the approval of the public voice for having entered our solemn protest against a system of policy which we believe, nay, which we know, whatever may be its first aspect, must, of necessity, in its final results be unfavorable even to the security of British subjects resident abroad, which it professes so much to study – unfavorable to the dignity of the country, which the motion of the honorable and learned member [Palmerston] asserts it preserves – and equally unfavorable to that other great and sacred object, which also it suggests to our recollection, the maintenance of peace with the nations of the world.”

2003 was a lamentable year for peace-loving people. Let’s hope against hope that 2004 will be better.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Richard Jensen - 12/30/2003

I'm happy to note that George Bush received the strong official support of the British Parliament for his actions in Iraq. Saddam's supporters and Bush haters did indeed march by the thousands in the streets of London, but crowd counts are not exactly how democracy works in Britain. Gladstone, by the way, had no end of trouble with his foreign policy, especially regarding the Middle East. (He bombarded Alexandria in a pique, and after sending General Gordon into the Sudan refused to support him--finally relenting two days too late & Gordon was massacred in a super-Mogadishu episode.)