We need to relinquish the idea of Britain as a great military power

The Dutch and Spanish have long since come to terms with dwindling status

Share

Halfway through Joseph Heller’s magnificent anti-war novel Catch-22, the old Italian man in the whorehouse uses the eponymously-named logic to argue that Italy is doing better in the war than America because as Italy has already been occupied, Italians are no longer being killed. Moreover, America probably won’t last as long as frogs, who have been around for millions of years.

His hapless debating opponent, Captain Nately, is reduced to arguing in favour of America’s international supremacy and the values it represents. But his faltering patriotism and idealism fall on deaf ears.

This unforgettable exchange has often haunted me, possibly because of my dual heritage. I’ve grown used to incessant jibes about Italians allegedly being cowards, and the racial insult WOP apocryphally standing for Prisoner Of War backwards. No matter that it’s incorrect and the etymology is actually southern Italian dialect: from guappo meaning swagger (since you ask).

The old Italian came to mind over the weekend as Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague  became the latest politician to argue defensively that Britain’s role in the world has not been diminished by last week’s parliamentary vote over Syria.

Hague’s well-meaning defence presupposes that our standing in the world continues to be defined by our ability to act as a global policeman. It touches upon our  preferred definition of ourselves as a global military power alongside America, Russia and China and – arguably – the French.

Mr Hague also acknowledged that there was a great deal of unease about intervention in Syria among the British public in the wake of the Iraq war. And in that regard, the Commons did its job. In rejecting the Prime Minister’s wishes, it was reflecting the majority opinion of the people.

When I talk to so many foreigners about what they admire about Britain - and they usually do admire Britain – it is never because of our military might.

Conversely, they often have a more positive view of our democratic process than we do. It is exactly because we put such matters to the vote and adhere to the outcome that they do admire us. It’s a tricky thing, democracy. It doesn’t always go the way our leaders want it to, both at home or overseas – look at Egypt.

Even trickier is Britain’s quest to find peace with itself as a 21st Century middle-ranked power. The Italians, since Mussolini, have no greater global aspirations, preferring to focus on their culture, history, flair and other attributes. The Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese have long since come to terms with lost power. We still cling on. We need to let go, and stop apologising for its loss. We should be proud of who we are, not keep harking back to who we once were.

Stefano Hatfield is editorial director of London Live

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas