It is painful to see the decline of Great Britain.
Greatness in individuals is rare; in countries it is almost unique. And Great Britain was great.
It used to be said that "The sun never sets on the British empire." That is how vast Britain's influence was. And that influence, on balance, was far more positive than negative. Ask the Indians -- or the Americans, for that matter. The British colonies learned about individual rights, parliamentary government, civil service and courts of justice, to name of few of the benefits that the British brought with them. Were it not for British involvement, India might still have sati (burning wives on the funeral pyre of their husband), would have no unifying language, and probably no parliamentary democracy or other institutions and values that have made that country a democratic giant, now on its way to becoming an economic one as well. But today, the sun not only literally sets on an extinct British empire; it is figuratively setting on Britain itself.
Two recent examples provide evidence:
One is the way Britain handled the recent act of war against it by Iran. Everything about the British reaction revealed a civilization in decline.
Whether the British sailors and marines should have put up more resistance -- i.e., any resistance -- to the unprovoked Iranian military attack is something for military and other experts to decide. Whether the captured sailors and marines offered more information and more cooperation, and more smiles than was necessary to the leader of their kidnappers, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will also be determined in ongoing investigations. Whether the British government engaged in appeasement of Iran or ineffective diplomacy will also have to be judged.
What does seem clear, however, is that the British government did not confront the Iranians in any way reminiscent of a great country, let alone of Britain's great past. If we judge the British government's reaction alone -- without any reference to the behavior of the British sailors and marines -- Iran was the feared power, not Great Britain, which acted like the supplicant.
But what really makes one weep for Britain's lost greatness is what has happened since the sailors and marines were released.
The UK Minister of Defense, Labor MP Desmond Browne, announced that the released sailors and marines were all free to sell their stories to the media, "as a result of exceptional media interest." If this is not unprecedented, it would certainly be difficult to find anything similar in the annals of military history. Some of the captured sailors and marines have already earned large sums of money. The Guardian newspaper said the one woman who had been captured, Faye Turney, agreed to a deal with The Sun and ITV television for approximately $200,000. (American soldier Jessica Lynch, who was captured when her Army convoy was ambushed in 2003, received a $500,000 advance for her book, "I Am a Soldier, Too." But that was a book published later and she had never charged the news media when interviewed by them.)
And John Tindell, the father of another of the hostages, said the marines were planning to sell on eBay the vases given to them by the Iranians.
As The Australian reported, "Some of the sums being offered to the captives are higher than the money paid to service personnel maimed in Iraq or Afghanistan. The standard tariff for the loss of an arm is 57,500 pounds."
The Labor government's decision was described well by the mother of a British soldier killed in Iraq. As reported by Reuters: "The mother of a 19-year-old British soldier killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq at the weekend said she would be 'very shocked' if any of the detainees were paid for their stories. 'If you are a member of the military, it is your duty to serve your country,' Sally Veck, mother of Eleanor Dlugosz, told the Times. 'You should do your duty and not expect to make money by selling stories.'"
That pretty well sums up the revulsion many feel at the British government's decision.
The other current example of Great Britain's decline is the widely reported (in the UK) decision of schools in various parts of that country to stop teaching about the Holocaust in history classes. The reason?
As reported by the BBC, "Some schools avoid teaching the Holocaust and other controversial history subjects as they do not want to cause offence, research has claimed. Teachers fear meeting anti-Semitic sentiment, particularly from Muslim pupils, the government-funded study by the Historical Association said."
No comment necessary.
But a word of caution: If Great Britain can cease to be great in so short a time span, any country can. All you need is an elite that no longer believes in their country, that manipulates history texts to make students feel good about themselves, that prefers multiculturalism to its own culture, and that has abandoned its religious underpinnings. Sound familiar, America?
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