Sunday, March 23, 2003


Sunday, 23 March 2003

Now that some of the mental clutter has been cleared up, there's space for a more considered post on Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins' address to his troops. This post is suggested by James Russell's post here, where he remarks on the contrast between Collins' sober speech and the rhetoric of our political leaders. On balance, I'm not surprised that the most considered speech that I've read on the Iraq war should come from a professional soldier: they are, after all, the best placed to know and understand war. There are some lessons in it for our politicians and the rest of us. I hope I'm up to bringing [some of] them out.

First of all, I'm assuming that Collins didn't address his men in the wretched "Listen with Mother" tone that both John Howard and Simon Crean adopted in their recent addresses to the nation. It's difficult to imagine these remarks being delivered in the tones of a doting parent reading a child's favourite bed-time story:

It is my foremost intention to bring every single one of you out alive but there may be people among us who will not see the end of this campaign.

We will put them in their sleeping bags and send them back. There will be no time for sorrow.

These are the sort of words that you address to mature adults who face serious risk and know that they face serious risk. Although there are obvious differences between Collins' situation and that of Howard & Crean when they addressed us on this war both speeches could have benefited if we had been addressed not as worried children refusing to go to sleep without the lights on but as citizens of a democracy. Collins' respected his men enough to address them as soldiers: it's long past time that we received similar respect from our politicians.

You might notice something missing from this section of Collins' address: he makes no mention of his own responsibilities beyond stating his intention to bring every single one of them out alive. Does he ask them to trust him? Only by implication. Does he demand that they respect his willingness to accept the burden of command? Only by stating his clear intention to carry out his responsibilities.


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