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: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Will George Osborne turn his back on people's post-election tax hopes in Wednesday's 'emergency' Budget?  

Budget 2015: Time to take on the Tories' brutal myths and give George Osborne the fight he has had coming for a long time

Andy Burnham
Rafida Bonya Ahmed spoke with heartfelt eloquence during last week’s Voltaire lecture  

Machetes fail to maim this human spirit

Joan Smith
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test