"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing is worth a war is worse... A man who has nothing which he cares about more than he does his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance at being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
I thought of this quotation from John Stuart Mill this week, on hearing of the death of Dr Karen Woo and her colleagues. Whether they were killed by the Taliban or not (and the big old heroes have certainly claimed responsibility for the killing of the unarmed aid workers as they have boasted of similar butcherings before), their murders have acted as a grisly litmus test for so many sentient souls back here at home.
It's common for people who are in favour of our armed forces surrendering to the Taliban – for that is what pulling out would be – to accuse those of us who believe that carrying on fighting is the right thing to do of being "armchair warriors", keen to put our brave boys and girls on the front line while being far too chicken to get out and fight themselves. This argument doesn't stand up, for several reasons. For instance, if our house catches fire we call on the brave men and women of the Fire Brigade to put it out, while we stand by gaping at their bravery. Is that chicken, too? Should we really not ask the Fire Brigade to put out our fires unless our sons and daughters are firefighters too?
Then there's the fact that our armed forces are not conscripts but volunteers. They chose to do what they are doing. There's something really creepy and morally dubious about people who do well-paid, useless, selfish jobs (ie, journalism) demanding that brave people who have often given up well-paid, useless, selfish jobs (or in the case of Dr Woo, a useful, well-paid one with BUPA) in order to protect others should simply throw in the towel and concentrate on looking after Number One, like the rest of us. Whether referring to the middle-class youth who leave the professions (a growing number) to enter the armed forces, or to the working-class kids who join the Army in preference to stacking shelves or working in call centres, the phrase "cannon fodder" is one of the most misleading and insulting around, and in my experience only used by those who lead parasitical, pointless lives.
People who volunteer to go into war zones, be it as fighters or as doctors, are not misguided and ignorant – they are simply far braver and more selfless than the rest of us. I can look at this difference, this lacking in my own character, and it makes me feel a simple, uncomplicated admiration for those who can do it. But other people – who once thought of themselves as idealists, perhaps, but who now have been castrated by comfort and consumption – feel (quite understandably) worthless when they look at the likes of Dr Woo, or at our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, and they react by lashing out.
More often than not they do it in a caring way, as Dame Edna would say, while putting the boot in. Bring the boys home! Stop this meaningless loss of life! Make cold calls, not war! But occasionally the sheer spite of the spiritual spare pricks who haunt the talkboards shines through. It's amazing how many vile variations there were on "she asked for it" – the rapist's classic justification – when the faceless flamers kick around the corpse of Dr Woo out there in cyberspace. Well, if the nearest you ever get to getting your hands dirty is pulling yourself off to internet porn, a human being like that would make you feel pretty shabby, too.
So the way I look at it, I'd rather be an armchair warrior – when we're talking about a volunteer as opposed to a conscript army – than an armchair appeaser any day of the week. The volunteers in Afghanistan and Iraq are the idealists of today, and the people who want the "boys" (they're not boys, BTW, they're men) brought home are total cynics. They'd be cheering Chamberlain if he was around today, the creeps.
They spout on about the brotherhood of man 'til the holy cows come home, but actually they are simply cowards who would never dream of risking their own necks for anyone else's freedom. After all, they're not "our" wars out there in Iraq and Afghanistan, are they? As with Mr Chamberlain on Czechoslovakia, they're "far away countries of which we know nothing".
Dr Woo, her dead comrades, the soldiers – "meaningless" deaths are the last thing they die. They die while seeking to protect and defend people other than themselves and their loved ones. That's about as meaningful as it gets. Standing for nothing, standing up for nothing, giving in to anything for a quiet life – it is the armchair appeasers among us whose deaths will be truly, deeply meaningless.
Charity: Calling rich Muslims... your number plate is up
Poor Pakistan. "We have nothing – no one cares!" comes the cry. It goes without saying that our country must give everything it can to assist them. But wouldn't it be absolutely brilliant to see the mega-rich Muslim world – for once – give aid in proportion to its means?
I don't know an awful lot about Islam – probably about as much as the average Muslim knows about Christianity or Judaism (for example, the fact they resemble apes and dogs, according to some Islamic school textbooks) – but I do know about the Muslim concept of "umma".
This refers to the one-ness of the international community of Islam, which is apparently the reason the sons of Saudi millionaires murder, by proxy, innocent strangers (including fellow Muslims) on London buses and in New York skyscrapers, in order to advance the cause of the poor Palestinians.
In a month when it was revealed that a Dubai billionaire paid NINE MILLION POUNDS for a NUMBER PLATE for one of his cars and that shoppers from the Gulf states are expected to spend £250m in London this summer, I hope that the sum these countries and individuals give to their brothers and sisters in Pakistan is very large indeed.
Or the filthy rich Muslim countries of the Middle East could well be laying themselves open to accusations of filthy hypocrisy, too.
Naomi Campbell: Not a model of happiness
I've always thought that the uttered phrase "If you look good, you feel good" was one of the surest indicators of a half-wit amongst us. Look at every miserable beauty from poor Marilyn Monroe to nasty Naomi Campbell – full of the joys of spring, much?
Campbell's self-pitying, see-how-I-suffer antics at The Hague were a great example of how beauty without character actually turns in on itself and eats the soul, making the possessor feel not one jot good at all.
Thank goodness, then, for contra-examples such as the incomparable Kate Moss, whose unschooled intelligence and joie de vivre shines through in every picture she takes, all the more the older she gets.
There – that's my sucking-up done for the year, now it's back to character-defamation all round, as per.Reuse content