Over the course of the Holiday Season it is inevitable that you will be dragooned by the wife into attending some kind of social event: a ‘dinner’ or other party. Equally inevitably the host at one of these gatherings will play the song ‘War’ by Edwin Starr. And, events marching resolutely onwards into a zone in which the word inevitable has lost all significance, some spindle-shanked, luxuriantly bearded Hipster stick insect will turn to you and say “War, yeah? What IS it good for?’
Apparently, nowadays, punching this sort of person in the face is considered a faux pas and may even be against the law. However no red-blooded Englishman should be forced to endure this kind of treatment without recourse to self defence, and over the years I have developed a crib sheet for precisely this eventuality. It is a succinct and easily memorised counterblast, designed to expose your interlocutor’s glib comment as symptomatic of the namby-pamby intellectual shallowness that it is. And, in the spirit of goodwill to all men, I am prepared to share it with you so that you too may be, as the Hindu deity said, four-armed. (Surveys the audience. Takes stony silence as evidence of intense interest) Splendid! We shall continue.
The first useful thing to do is scotch the myth, still trotted out today, that Edwin had himself seen active service, often cited as having been a sergeant in the US Marines. Not so. Edwin, real name Charlie Hatcher, was born in the West Midlands and had, certainly before his successful bid to position himself as the black Joe Cocker, never been nearer the Mekong Delta than Tipton or the Wolverhampton Ring Road.
Secondly we can, freely and of our own cognisance, admit that war is never a pleasant thing; but we can robustly assert that it is often a much better thing than a given alternative. Would you, you can rhetorically ask, have preferred that the Third Reich had lasted ten centuries, or that the Killing Fields had expanded to drag the whole world back to Year Zero? Of course not. Your opponent will by now have realised that he is on shaky ground. It is time to focus on specifics.
Even the most blinkered pacifist will not deny that war speeds up the pace of technological development but the general tactic is to underplay the breadth of increase, limiting it to those things which increase the lethality and scope of weapons and their deployment. This kind of reductive sophistry presents no hurdle to a man in his stride and full of righteous ire. Taking your adversary by his lapels, you can cite Larrey’s ambulance, triage, sepsis and antisepsis, antibiotics and epidemiological prophylaxis, prosthesis, nutrition, anaesthesia and analgesia, Thoracic Chamber surgery, transplant and transfusion as aspects of medical knowledge and technique which were furthered, if not originally conceived and developed, by impulse from military interest.
Retaining your grip, and remembering to maintain eye contact and to pitch your voice in a low, throaty growl you can list those technological breakthroughs which we all use in our quotidian lives: aeronautics and avionics, wireless transmission and the internet, the cathode ray tube and radar, mass transit and modern logistics, the internal combustion engine, preserved food, nylon and synthetic fibres, polymers and plastics, the integrated circuit and micro circuitry……At this juncture I find it useful to let go of one of your adversary’s lapels, fish around at the back of his collar until you have found the maker’s label on his shirt, and then suddenly yank it round as far as you can so that he is able to read the writing thereon. ‘See this?’ you say more in tones of sorrow than anger, ‘Mass manufacture of clothing to standardised sizes. First introduced during the American Civil War.’
By now it is likely that you are the focus of considerable interest, and also that somebody has alerted your wife. Time is short and your exit is inevitable. In order not to leave a sour taste, I find it politic to ameliorate any suspicion of personal malice by broadening the issue to one of the folly of ascribing any depth of subject knowledge to pop singers, outside of the craft of writing jaunty ditties. No, Anni, Agnetha, Benny and Bjorn; Napoleon did not at Waterloo surrender. He abdicated a week after the battle, and finally surrendered to the captain of the British naval vessel Bellerophon on the 22nd of July, almost a month later. Lowering your new friend gently back into his seat you can graciously concede that Boney M’s Ra-Ra-Rasputin, however, is a pretty fair, broad strokes of the brush analysis of the situation pertaining in St Petersburg in 1917. And that its actual depiction of the assassination of Uncle Grigori is spot on. You can perhaps gently dust his jacket down, and solicitously rearrange his shirt front, so as to demonstrate no hard feelings
All that remains is an invigorating draught of cold air at the front door, and the prospect of an interesting conversation with the wife in the car on the way home. Good bye, every one! Thanks for having us! See you again next year!
© Bobo 2016