All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise

Share

"Apocalyptic." "End-of-days strategic vision." "Beyond anything we have ever seen." "An imminent threat to every interest we have." "Beyond just a terrorist group." "We must prepare for everything."

So are they Martians? Alien invaders from Planet X? Destroyer spacecraft from the movie Independence Day?

The word movie is the clue. Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. It only needed Tom Cruise at their press conference to utter the words “Mission impossible”. Who writes this God-awful script? Can’t the US Defence Secretary and his joint chiefs chairman do better than this?

Even the titans of World War Two – Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin – never used this kind of rhetoric when they confronted real-life evil empires.

Churchill talked of Hitler threatening “a new dark age” and Stalin urged the Soviets to destroy the “robber hordes” of Germany. Roosevelt described the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour as “a day which will live in infamy”. Did the victors of the 1939-45 conflict ever use such trashy semantics to define their mortal enemies?

Never. They said what they meant. They would not dream of insulting our common sense by referring to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s crackpot “caliphate” as apocalyptic. Even at his most insane, General Gordon (of Khartoum fame) wanted only to “smash up” the Mahdi – the latter being the 19th century equivalent of Baghdadi – and look what the Mahdi did to Gordon!

The followers of Mohamed Ahmed ibn Abdullah, against orders, chopped off Gordon’s head. Revenge took many forms, including the Battle of Omdurman where the British destroyed the Dervish army of the now-dead Mahdi’s successor.

One of those Britons was Churchill himself, who commented eloquently that “the weapons … and the fanaticism of the Middle Ages were brought by an extraordinary anachronism into dire collision” with modern organisation, adding generously that his opponents were men “of the most desperate valour”.

Those were the days. You could slaughter your cruellest enemies without exaggerating their power or ignoring their courage.

But the art of rhetoric – of exaggerated and artificial language – is intended to deflect reality. At one point, almost unnoticed, a White House official, Ben Rhodes, said that the US would not now be limited by “geographic boundaries” – after Dempsey had told the world that the Iraqi-Syrian border was “non-existent”.

Odd that. It wasn’t non-existent a few months ago when the Assad regime was about to be given the Isis treatment. But now Assad’s lads are chatting – so I hear – to Dempsey’s lads about their mutual apocalyptic-visioned enemy, which has just beheaded an American journalist who (so American officials claimed not long ago) was in an Assad jail.

Long forgotten now is that one of the journalists viciously murdered in Gordon’s 19th-century war against the Mahdi was Frank Power, Khartoum correspondent of The Times who tried to make it through enemy lines down the Nile. He was tricked with his companions into eating with the rebels – who then murdered the lot. They say Power was beheaded. Certainly his severed head is produced in that old Hollywood clunker Khartoum when Gordon (Charlton Heston) meets the Mahdi (Laurence Olivier).

But Obama can relax. He called Isis a “cancer”, but Gordon never met his adversary – that bit of the movie was a hoax – until the Mahdi saw Gordon’s own chopped-off head in a leather bag. Someone should tip off Chuck and Martin on the difference between Hollywood and reality.

Oh yes, and I noticed that Chuck said of the “Islamic State” that it was “as sophisticated and well-funded as any group we have seen.” Sophisticated? Really? And funded by whom, I wonder? If our new enemies have an end-of-days vision, where does the cash come from, Chuck?

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in the new political order

Michael Ashcroft
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power