The Germs of an Idea

'"I think we should give Saddam a taste of his own medicine," said the vicar. "Now, I have to go and exorcise a poltergeist. Good night"'
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The Independent Online

AN IDEA

We were talking about the war against Iraq, over the first drink of the evening in the local pub, when the local vicar paid one of his rare visits to the place for a quiet pint. He didn't get it. As soon as he entered, he was assailed by both sides of the argument, trying to enlist him on their side.

We were talking about the war against Iraq, over the first drink of the evening in the local pub, when the local vicar paid one of his rare visits to the place for a quiet pint. He didn't get it. As soon as he entered, he was assailed by both sides of the argument, trying to enlist him on their side.

"So, padre, I take it you are in favour of going in there and finishing off the antichrist?" said a warmonger.

"So, father, are you going to stand by and let thousands of innocents be massacred?" said a peacemonger.

The vicar raised his hands in a gesture that usually means Compromise Coming Up.

"It's a very complex and difficult issue," he began.

"Now, reverend," said the man with the dog, "don't fob us off with all that Thought for the Day, on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand stuff and nonsense. Just give it to us straight. What do you think about the war against Iraq?"

"I think we should give them a taste of their own medicine," said the vicar.

This led to a brief pause. What on earth did he mean by that?

"What on earth do you mean by that, vicar?" said the lady with the brown hairdo.

(This is the lady who changes her hair colouring according to her tipple of the moment – red for Campari, black and white for Guinness, etc. This evening she had come in with a new brown dye, and we had all waited for her to enjoy a pint of bitter. So there was a bit of a gasp when she asked for a coffee.)

"Just this," said the vicar. "Saddam Hussein is supposed to have a whole medicine cupboardful of biological weapons, by which we mean things that cause disease and worse. Right?"

We all nodded, grunted and yawned.

"With these weapons he intends, presumably, to make the enemy sick and dead. We all throw our hands up in the air as if there were something terribly unfair about this. But any student of military history will tell you that the vast majority of deaths in war are caused by diseases. And I'm not talking about civilians. I'm talking about the combatants. Whether it's the Crimea, or the Dardanelles, or the Somme, or anywhere, more soldiers died of illness than in action. We think it's odd when Lord Byron rushes off to fight for the Greeks against the Turks and then dies of fever, or when Rupert Brooke volunteers for the Great War and dies of malaria. Not a very soldier-like death, we think. But it is! It's a more soldier-like death than being shot! Because more soldiers die that way!"

After another pause, following this unexpected speech, someone bravely said: "Your point being?"

"Nice to hear people still using Angus Deayton's lovely old phrases," twinkled the vicar. "Such a spirit of forgiveness. Well, my point is that if Bush sent in the American forces to defeat Saddam Hussein using only infectious illnesses, germs, bacteria, food poisoning etc, we would be giving him a taste of his own medicine and defusing the criticism of those who expect him to blast the Iraqis with bombs and rockets."

"Think we could make enough people ill to bring them to their knees?" asked the man with the dog.

"More people died in London in the flu epidemic of 1919 than died in one year of the Great War," said the vicar.

It was one of those statistics that sounds good even though you have no idea if it is true or not, and which you therefore ignore.

"Yes, but I can't see the American public buying it," said the resident Welshman. "The Americans like a bit of gung-ho action. I can't see them standing by while their boys go into battle carrying syringes and wearing masks."

"And kicking ass with an infected boot," said the man with the dog.

"You may well be right," said the vicar. "That's not the point. The point is that you asked me for my opinion. I gave you one. Now I have to go and exorcise a poltergeist. Good night, all."

There was a respectful silence after he left. We all felt he had acquitted himself well. Except the local doctor, who said that when you bombard people with deadly diseases, there must be a more doctor-friendly phrase for it than "giving them a taste of their own medicine".

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