General Sir Michael ‘Mike’ Jackson, GCB CBE DSO ADC
On: A General’s reflection
26th February 2008
“Ladies and Gentlemen, my lords, barons, ladies and gentlemen, diplomats are here as well. It’s such a pleasure to see you all on this very grand occasion in this delightful setting. And can we, first of all, I insist on this tonight, thank Justin Glass for all his hard work. Justin has a few announcements to make later on this evening and he also wants to record some special thanks from us all for other people who have helped with tonight’s event. It is a great pleasure on my right sitting there tonight is Richard, or Rick, Wellesley, ex Royal Navy and now Augusta Westland coming here tonight instead of his colleague Mr. Cohell, the chief executive officer. They’re both welcome, if he was here, he’d be welcome as well. We thank them for their support, and we thank Richard Wellesley for being our main financier tonight. Richard Wellesley.
There are different kinds of military figures, ladies and gentlemen, and they often appear, even in the modern world where things are less troubled, to be austere and the loveliest stock of uniforms and a little bit removed from the rest of us human beings, particularly homespun, cold-hearted politicians like Liz Symons and myself. But just as you are a distinguished and famous guest tonight. We’re so grateful to General Mike Jackson for coming. We bid him, Sir Michael, a warm welcome for spending your time here with us tonight.”
General Sir Michael Jackson: “I would wait until I’m done until you make such a grand statement.”:
The Lord Dykes: “We’ll make the judgement. His media abilities are so great, he has just the right kind of gruff voice that is obviously very good for giving orders. And he is a soldier’s soldier and that is the title of his book, written a year ago, Soldier. We’re going to make copies of that available later on and you can still get it in the sensible book shop not too far from here. Very economic price of £18.99. And there are cheaper ways of getting it on eBay and on the internet, which General Jackson will explain with his commercial inclinations later on this evening.
But the only other thing I’m going to say is that this time of the year we were discussing, like after General Jackson has spoken, is that can I take you back to 1999 as all the dreadful events in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in that part of the world, the former Yugoslavia, where General Wellesley Clarke, the American commander and chief and supreme allied commander in Europe, gave an order to General Sir Mike Jackson to block the runway of the Russian-occupied ________. He refused to do this, because he knew it would isolate the Russian troops, and everybody now who observed this amazingly compelling moment of military history realized that if had General Jackson complied with General Clarke’s order, there was a chance that the British troops under his command would have come into armed conflict with the Russians. Notice that defying orders by a general would have lead to his dismissal. And that could have been, ladies and gentlemen, the beginning of World War III. So in a way, we say a certain word of thanks to General Jackson for having had the wisdom for having said no the order issued by General Clarke: With those words, I ask all of you to give a very warm welcome to General Mike Jackson.”
General Sir Mike Jackson: “Well thank you very much for that more than generous introduction. You’ve covered most of what I am here to say this evening. _______ You’re not getting off the hook quite that easily. I do apologise the main purpose from point of view this evening was fobbing books, and the baroness will tick me off yet again, but my ____ people every book sold is another fish finger in my grandchildren’s mouth. Well they may go hungry for awhile because, unfortunately, the books did not make it. Sorry about that, first time transporting the goods. Anybody who has got a copy I will sign, of course. Otherwise, it’s a bit of a _________. You’ll have to find me. As you’ve heard, on eBay, you’ll get them for six quid second hand. I wouldn’t look any further.
My remarks are going to be drawn largely on the narratives of the book, which is, of course, a chronological narrative. And there’s nothing wrong with that provided we don’t dwell too long on what happened too long ago. It’s a book about my life and times as seen through a military prism. It’s episodic, but I won’t spend too much time on that, the language is dull, I wouldn’t want much. I mean, I’m only going to spend a bit of time on that, which was rather more interesting. It’s about events being in ____ and it starts, I’m very old, but looking around the room I realize I may not be quite the oldest person present.
An extraordinary year happened not long after I joined the service in 1968. I’m not going to give a mars bar for the answer, but it is extraordinary in military terms as it was the only year since the second war that no British soldier became a casualty on operations. The following year, before ____ began, there was perhaps the final fling of colonial political venture, which was the invasion of the small Caribbean island called Angila, where our second battalion accompanied by a very fine selection of her Majesty’s finest from the Metropolitan police have set out to the Caribbean to subdue revoking natives, revoking in the active sense rather than passive. It could be a misunderstanding. The extraordinary story of that expedition is, of course, in chapter 3 of the book. There will be more of that, I am shameless. More seriously, ladies and gentleman. Later that year, the troubles of the colony began and I normally read trouble written before that was in 1968 however I’m very clear that I’m being judged on every word by somebody who knows far better than I do.
In 1969, the British army were central in assisting the civil power in the maintenance of the rural area in very difficult circumstance. What happened? On the 31st of July, last year, you were all there, but just in case there are one or two slightly ____ members on the matter, the British Armed forces went non-operational in Northern Ireland after 38 years of war. A remarkable achievement, I reflect on this, it gives us a couple of lessons or yardsticks by which, not to template, not to send to their mirror images, but to guide our judgements in other areas. Northern Ireland, 1969, two groups of people on the same small piece of territory, quite different ideas of who they were, where they’d come from, and where they thought they were going. That’s the political problem. It is all political. And, although the security forces have to play their part, at the end, the solution will have to be a political one. And winning, as far as I’m concerned, representing the _______ position on this, winning meant that at the end of the day, constitutional arrangements were not in return by illegal vows against the clearly demonstrated wishes of the democratic majority. That is not glory, it not great victory, but, my goodness, in today’s world it is something of huge importance. Bear that in mind, as I move my little narrative off.
We had joined this group as well before this. Anyway, here we are. You win some, you lose some. We won, of course. But seen as something of elaboration, because throughout all this period of course, the strategic background was that of the union of the Warsaw Pact and the ideological superpower hostility between NATO on the one hand and the Warsaw Pact on the other. And then we come to event one in the sense of strategic consequences. And you’ll recall, I’m sure, the extraordinary things no your television sets of East Berliners sitting on top of the Berlin Wall with sledgehammers, jackhammers and knocking it down with impunity. And it was over. The Cold War was over; it never went hot, thank heavens. And we all thought Nirvana was suddenly uplands. Thank heavens for that relief and euphoria.
Francis Fukuyama, you remember, the American academic wrote a book at that point, well quite later, 1991, which he entitled The End of History. Events sadly, as a Soviet would say, have shown to be somewhat previous, because it wasn’t the end of history. But he did capture, I think, a mood. But no, what the cold war had done, amongst other things, was to put the lid on the pressure cooker of several, many, oh, hostilities, oh the regional differences, ethnic differences and they’ve been helped.
But as that lid came off the pressure cooker, those pressures brewed up and they became very apparent as we saw, tragically, ’92 onwards, with the disintegration of the former republic of Yugoslavia. In which, I have this memory- and again this may be an uncomfortable thought for some of you but it is the European-Atlantic Group- that in 1992, the then rotating, an interesting position to be in, a rotating president of the European Union was a Luxembourgian who rejoiced under the title of monsieur Jacques Poos. He announced, rather portentously, that this was now the hour of Europe. I think that what he meant by that was this was in Europe’s so-called backyard. Europe, now, as of one, will bring this to a clips.
Ladies and Gentlemen, whether we like it or we don’t, it wasn’t until 1995 and the eventual decision by the United States to apply its political will backed up by its military power to bring the matter to an end that we got the ____ to talk and an end to the Bosnian war. That may rest uncomfortable with some of you, but that is a simple fact and we need to reflect on that. That the relationship between the United States and Europe, on which more in a moment, is perhaps the heart of some of our difficulties or the misunderstandings, shall I say more clearly, of today.
And the Balkans follows by Kosovo. ’99 it came to a head. I am very conscious- Your Excellency where are you? We’ve had a conversation. He was quite courteous toward me, perhaps more courteous than I deserve. But, of course, we’re not quite out of those woods either, because, sadly, the endgame in Kosovo was imposed. I say endgame – I’m going to knock on wood- that it is the endgame. It was an imposed solution rather than one arrived at by mutual negotiation. But then so was the Dayton Agreement over Bosnia: really imposed, it was a take it or leave it.
We then move on to other events- great and small. May 2000. Hands up who’s seen the film, Blood Diamond. Yeah, half at least. I’m told the most accurate, chilling though it may be, the most accurate portrayal of what was going on in Sierra Leone in the early summer of 2000. At a very small intervention, under 1,000 British sailors, soldiers, and military men who flew victory there quickly, for once, there was sharp and very acute political decision making. It was done quickly, and the results were extraordinary. This brought along side again whether we like it or we don’t. The United Nations force of 17,500 soldiers in Sierra Leone who seemed incapable of stopping the obscene brutality as portrayed and as reality had it in Blood Diamond. They liked chopping people’s arms off so they couldn’t vote. And the question was do you want a short sleeve above the elbow or a long sleeve below the elbow?
Now, all of that is rather serious and very tragic. Let me just lighten up your load for a moment. My eldest son, by name Mark, was then a young officer in the army. He followed me, showing huge imagination. At that point, he was second in command of a platoon of 16 noblemen who played a major role in that intervention. Mark’s mission with these merry men, 20 of them, was having gotten himself landed at the airport than to go to the residence of the British High Commission to ensure that the great man was well, to give him a briefcase full of, no doubt, huge, great secrets, and to prepare the garden of the residence for a helicopter evacuation of British and other ex-Pats.
Mark gets there, with his merry men, after a little adventure or two, and comes to the outer gate. Now those of you who know part one territories where the buildings were built in high colonial times, you can imagine it, can’t you? Six foot wall with the broken glass and the concrete at the top and the two large steel doors. Well, what about getting in? There were some shocking shell, but this was British territory. “So I rang the bell, dad,” he said. But nothing happened. Behind him was one of his young soldiers who were a trained demolition expert who in his back pack had explosives and detonators. “Leave it to me, boss,” he said. “I’ll get that door down; ten seconds and I’m done.” Well, perhaps it wouldn’t be quite smart to blow down the door at the British High Commission. But eventually Mark was like, and then I realized, “why don’t you give it a push.” And, low and behold, the damn thing opens.
Down, down the gravel drive they go that might give a sort of crunch. And again, house built in the mid 1880-90’s- whatever- white, two stories, and big grand columns. The front door: same problem. Pushed it; nothing happened. Then the young, demolition expert soldier said, “Give me just five seconds.” Rang the bell, and-low and behold- it worked. Door opened. A very tall, large, imposing black gentleman in starch whites answers.
My son says, “Is the high commissioner in?”
“May I see him?”
Down the corridor, banished out of sight. A moment or two later, round the same corner, in the opposite direction, comes the unmistakable, if not slightly more _______ of the British high commissioner in, what to say, smart casual clothing in that _____ face Brixton.
Mark thinks, my goodness, some meeting here, for he is a very smart man. “Captain Mark, Sir, here of the British Army, here to make sure you’re okay and
Eventually if I may borrow your gun. All the violent warfare revolves around the great men.”
“My dear boy, I knew you’d make it. Would you like a drink?”
Which Mark said, “Well I would.”
And I’m thinking, oh come heavens. So even these great events have their, perhaps, lighter sides.
There’s also this time in the British Armed Forces, a prolonged sort of bout that is no operational in that sense. Events going on at home, which are, perhaps, easily forgotten but at the time they were very important. And there remains the time in the army that is the critical hour before x: blood, fuel, violence, and fire.
Remember those days? When we had to step in as the last resort and just keep the show on the road? Of course, really in the army, they’re not known as the fortress, they’re known as the A-tress (?). I believe it’s your imagination. Oh, and fucking. Fucking blood. Fucking blood. Fucking. And all the rest of it. But, while I just make the point that it’s not that long ago that we did say that— the civil power in those areas.
Moving on to event two. 9/11. With the utter sense of shock that that appalling atrocity had put forth for us all. And it is, whoopingly, 12 years or so since that first shock, which wasn’t shocking, but delightful, the Berlin Wall coming down. Thank goodness for that, folks. And then really, in history’s time, the blink of an eye passed, and the gauntlet is thrown down again by al-Qaeda who made it perfectly clear that they are at war with what we stand for, with our values, our ancient liberties, indeed perhaps our very identities and our souls. And they made this utterly clear. And we are, perhaps, little inclined to draw from that because we find it most of all uncomfortable. Well they are uncomfortable, but I think they are also utterly real, packed on.
9/11, of course, to an American is the eleventh of September. To a Brit it is, of course, the ninth of November. Who was is that said, “Two people divided by the same language”? But what is bizarre about this, outright uncanny, but bizarre, almost hair rising off the back of the legs: that date, that awful date, of 9/11 to an American, to a Brit is the night the Berlin wall came down. Make of it what you will, but I find that juxtaposition of digits to be, as I said, slightly uncanny.
And as a result, as a result of that dreadful day, and what followed afterwards here in London and in Madrid, of course, that great question of Lent. “Chto delat,” for the Russian speakers among us, “what is to be done?” And what was decided to be done was to take action against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, to remove it, and thereby remove the safe haven, which they had provided for al-Qaeda to train, equip, and live.
It was a remarkable operation, mainly done on the ground by Afghani indigenous forces, lost an awful lot of lives. But of course assisted in the air by the West, and, indeed, on the ground by the Special Forces. And then I think we missed a bit of a trick, because what we set out to do- removing the Taliban, frankly removing the Taliban’s head- militaristically is not going to be very difficult.
What follows is the huge challenge. More so, I think, than any of you in this room will understand, because what you are trying to do is either replace or, in some cases, invent a country. Here we go, which is very easily settled, a bloody difficult issue, a country which is at peace with itself, at peace with its neighbors, with a representative government- not necessarily a western liberal democracy- but a representative government with which the people will, in general, identify.
With an economy which is starting to move, with refugees and ex patriots having come home, with _____ having to handle demobilization of armies on both sides of the country, those words slip off the tongue, but ladies and gentlemen, please don’t underestimate how complex that task is and how long it may take. There is no quick fix. Iraq: I see a light at the end of the tunnel. Iraqis are fortunate. They sit on huge natural resources, the two great rivers, their oil, their gas, their education. They have a much more Western outlook. We can get that right; they will be fine.
Afghanistan is a much longer war. And believe you me, in my judgment, were we to withdraw, should we find the need there has passed, were we- and when I say we I don’t just mean the United Kingdom, but the whole of NATO and those who are not NATO members- I have very little doubt that the Taliban will be back. They would overthrow Karzai and the newly elected government. We would be back to square one or worse. So ladies and gentlemen, we need to hold our nerve. Someone in our company said to me before dinner, “We can’t win.” Well to hell with that. Because if we can’t win, then go the hell home. We are, we will, and we have to see this through. It is in our strategic interest to do that.
Now, the last of the book talks about my last three and a half years in the army. I did 45 years less a month, can’t quite do the arithmetic in my head. But 41 and a half of them, or there about, I thought absolutely fantastic, doing something I loved among some of the best people this country produces. The last three and a half in the Ministry of Defence, the people there amused me. But that’s right; that’s what you’re required to do. But those three and a half years were governed by operations. They were governed by getting the army right for the future and somebody’s already taken me to task on that, incidentally enough in America and not in Britain. That to get the army ready for the future and to get the best capability, we would start in an organization, which was a half way house and we had to do war in that.
The law became very dominant in my time, though not to say that we dodged the law before, quite opposite. It means that matters of legal became much more pressing in my time. Who saw Panorama last night? Yeah, I mean here we go again with a couple of bloody people, lawyers, who frankly chase money. And that’s all that it is. And they all chase wild allegations about who’s the baker maid with the money. And then there’s no consideration to what happens to the reputation of the British Army as a result.
And that’s another issue, which became very abnormal during my time, was our reputation. We are, as your army, we are the servants of the nation. Directed, of course, by the dually elected government of the day. And that understanding, that absolute- how do I put it? – without questioning everything. That while the glory of this ancient democracy of ours is the rule of law. And the fact that there is, in many areas of democracy, no, dare I say it, individual comprehension of what the rule of law means. And part of our problem is to instill that. Again, easier to say, very difficult to do.
I conclude the book with one or two reflections. That the old simplicities of the Cold War have gone. They were awful simplicities, but they were simplicities. That nowadays we live in a very uncertain world and I cannot stand up here tonight and in any sense forecast a more certain future. There are many currents. Sometimes cross currents which flow. We have that declaration by a pretty unbending opponent, which I don’t think there’s much negotiation to be held, to be had with al-Qaeda. And now we have a battle which seems to be even more so of intellect, a battle for the sole terrain and rather importance. And we have the worries of the access to future energy.
So, in all of this, the Euro-Atlantic Group, how is it Britain responds? I sometimes, not often but sometimes, get fortress Britain. Let’s put up the old drawbridge. To hell with the whole lot of them. To hell with the United States. And to hell with Europe too for that matter. And we’re fine. Well, we cannot be fine. Those days, which I’m sure you very well know, are long over. We do live in a globalized world. Well, certainly an economically globalized world, but I would not necessarily say in a culturally globalized world. A culturally diversifying world or diverge, I’m sorry, let’s get the right word: diverging.
But it ultimately seems to me, certainly since the Second World War, but you could argue before, that it is the fate of any British government and in particular any British Prime Minister, as some academic choice between North America, the United States and the mainland, continental Europe. To make some sort of final, strategic choice is nonsensical. We are an island, and history to a large extent, in my views, derives from geography. And we can’t change it. And therefore it seems to me to be the basis of the United Kingdom, given its geography and its interests, to sit on this fence. And sitting on the fence is not always a remarkable privilege. In this case, I mean it as a mark of applause. That said, of course, sitting on a fence is particularly is the thought of the ______ state and those ____ are a delicate part of the anatomy. And therefore it can be a little bit uncomfortable from time to time. So be it. But any fall or final jump to one side or the other seems to me to be an absolutely and irrefutably disadvantage.
I think I’ve had my time. I’m trying to keep on track. But if I may just give you a few final thoughts. Your armed forces and, dare I say it, your army in particular is working pretty hard. The pride of high operational intelligence. Now that’s fine. And whatever you read in the press, and I’ve talked to a lot of people coming back from operations. There was a young captain, aged about 28-29 who I know particularly well, great friends with my oldest son, who was just back, and he said, “General, the boys are awesome.” The boys are the soldiers. The extraordinary thing about this country- yes we’re recruiting hard, we always have been- but the extraordinary thing about this country is that we still produce young people with red blood in their bones who will go out, they will take the risk, and they will act on your behalf in the some difficult challenges and situations, and I hope you are very proud of them, ladies and gentlemen.
Now, that said, there are a few pips, a few squeaks, because, forgive me Elizabeth, the reason a few pips squeak is because way back when the current government was quite young, they did something intellectually quite brave. They came up with the ______. Where are you? And I don’t want anyone to tick in the box. That typically meant four or five structural capabilities. Four or five of those, I’d say, were ahead. Others would argue you just can’t spend the money properly. Well, I’m not pleading guilty to that.
A couple of figures points. ______ cost you 34 billion quid, roughly, a year. Just over two percent of GDP. Thirty-four billion pounds a year is a lot of money. Next year’s totality of government spending is approaching 650 billion pounds. So I hope that gives you just a look at the perspective. Or to put it another way, I’m not sure what math figure I have in my mind, but in two years or possibly three years, we’re sort of _____. But that told, we’re _______. So, my theme in all of this is that we are in a difficult period. I’m not sure we’ll quite make it through. This country’s pretty good at tactics, less good at strategy. My final theme is that ministers, generals, permanent secretaries are of nothing, unless there is that unique person, that unique being- the British Soldier, down there at the end of the day who will do our bidding, do it with courage and commitment, enthusiasm and a huge sense of humour.
I will try and bring all of this together in one anecdote if I may, which is almost exactly five years ago when I found myself having only recently, three weeks before taken over and, taking stock, talking, ‘how are we?’ And there were some worries. Not of any great consequence, but there were some worries. And I found myself talking to a young, infantry soldier, and I said, “Alright, lad, any worries?” He said, “No.” Oh, I tended to laugh. He thought for a minute, and he said, “Well, actually yes.” Ah, I thought, oh here we go. I said, “What’s your worry?” He said, “When? When are we going?” I said, “A week, 10 days; it depends on the political decision making, but that’s my judgment for you.” And here it comes, some of you in the commercial world I know have mission statements and vision statements and performance indicators and all that sort of stuff rung out of your ears, here’s the best one I’ve ever heard, which came from this young, infantry soldier. I’m going to have to go into his vernacular, so that you get it in all its richness. He’s a northerner, this boy. He said, “All we have to do, Sir, is get across that bloody border, kick that bugger’s ass, get home and have a few bloody beers.” And that sums it up- a British soldier. Ladies and gentlemen, all yours.”
The Lord Dykes: “I think anyone who knows Mike Jackson’s book from the previous statement will know that anecdote particularly appears in the last paragraph. Now, it is with great pleasure that I open the discussion. But may I just add, by the way, that it is a great reward to able to welcome tonight the Serbian Ambassador and also the Ambassador from Finland, thank you for coming, and the minister from the Croatian Embassy. We also thank you very much for coming. You are very much supportive, all of you. And I needn’t remind you, as members that you have, as much as any other member, to ask questions and make comments and join the discussion.
But for me if is of particular pleasure and honour now to welcome our new chairman, Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, who was installed as chairman last October. She is going to lead off the discussion and then there will be a talk of the discussion, why I must thank you for being so kind. Normally we finish religiously at 10:30 for practical reasons, but tonight we’re going to go a little bit after that time tonight. Baroness Symons.”
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dead: “Your Excellency, my lords, ladies, and gentlemen, please, thank you so much for that very fine introduction of mine. Thank you so much for such a great introduction into our discussion this evening. I have a little confession to make before I really get into perhaps what Justin would want me to talk about, because I was for a couple of years the minister of defence for the security administration from 1999-2001. And I also have the peculiar distinction of being the first ever woman to have been in any military capacity in the ministry of defence and of course they were all thunderstruck by having a woman wished upon them so much so that my colleagues at the time were incredibly nervous at any time that one of the issues of defence was taken rather seriously. General Mike, as he is known throughout the Ministry of Defence by his friends, decided as his duty to get on with my education which was of course fully needed. And one of the ways he did this was not by sitting there and lecturing me about things that were going right and things that were going wrong, but by taking me out to meet the soldiers.
And I do remember quite specifically being taking off my comfort zone, if you do remember. And two things stand out from that. And I too, I should say, have to use a bit of the vernacular. We had a bit of a problem with some rifles. And I for one, thought, I’m going to tackle this issue and have a word with the soldier and I’m going to use my wits to get to solve the problem.
I asked, “How’s it going soldier.”
“Really good, really, really good. It’s got really good aim. We never miss. When we use this rifle and have the target in sight, I shall never miss.”
I thought, “This is great, completely different from what everyone else is saying.” “Only trouble is, ma’am, fucking trigger falls off.”
And immediately General said, “Soldier! I am appalled sir.”
The use of vernacular was what had thrown me, but I was absolutely delighted
That the message had got across.
The other great occasion was when I spoke to General and we had ordered the B17 plane. I can’t remember on any other occasion, at the moment, being picked up and swung around the room, but that’s exactly what happened. Mike, that was an incredible speech you gave just now, and thank you for all your insight and precision and your use of a great deal of humour.
Some of the things that stick out, I think for all of us, are really where we’ve got to now. Given that extraordinary background that you’ve described, given everything that we have asked of our armed forces over the last 10 years- and way before that but very specifically these last 10 years- these various military campaigns, the fact that there are now such different forms of military conflict, we can no longer identify enemies in the same we did historically and coming from more specific directions and as you said yourself some of the courses ain’t right, what have you, are that people simply don’t buy into any of our concept of values and life as we want to see it.
And I was just wondering, as you were talking about that last anecdote with the soldier and how the soldier sees it, very particularly about the issues you have already talked about so eloquently, about the military contract, about the military covenant, and what you-and, to be frank, many others in the Armed Forces- now see as the British idea on that covenant. We had very recently your colleague in the House of Lords; the colleagues who would chose the defence staff, making a very serious set of criticisms about the government of now. And it raises a lot of issues about this relationship and about what we do expect in terms of our military leaders. I’ll give you a very common example. If it’s right that military leaders do speak out in that way, now what people forget, but is it right that military leaders who in some ways are not constitutionally not so disciplined, to be certain, actually do speak out against the elected government of today or should this be done much more by applying the huge pressure of getting a big group of people to go over to Number 10 and making those arguments?
I do wonder whether if the argument has that level of criticism applied. It doesn’t matter which government- it doesn’t matter Labour or Conservative or Liberal Democratic government- but does it mean that that open-ended relationship and really allows for some quite serious criticisms going in the other way. It does worry me, if I do really think it has come to quite a difficult point for those who want to support the Armed Forces, to know quite how to deal with this sort of criticism and how you also manage to keep the morale of the Armed Forces going in these very difficult circumstances.
And in light of that, the question of the law. And whether or not now we have not put too much burden on our Armed Forces over this whole question of what they are and are not allowed to do in moments of extreme pressure and difficulty when so many people that they are engaged with have no restriction upon them in terms of what they may or may not do in the use of force.
I just wonder, Mike, whether you might give your thoughts on that. What we might mean by the military contract? What exactly do we expect the armed forces to do? And is the law really helping our armed forces at the moment to behave the way that we want them to or does it actually mean that we have put the pressure on them which is simply unfair given the people that they are having to deal with? Thank you.” (Applause)
The Lord Dykes: ‘Thank you very much indeed, madam chairman; we are grateful for your remarks opening the discussion. Now we will open it up to the audience as usual. There’s a roaming mic; a colleague has it ready for anybody who wants to ask a question or comment. Diplomats, included. By the way, half the population of the United Kingdom is women, so that includes women please. Would you please state your name and relevant organization as well when you ask a question?”
Ms. Anna Hodson-Pressinger, council of E-AG: “Going off of Baroness Symons, and I say this so that Mike will not escape over it because it is of great importance, and I can say so because my name is Hodson-Pressinger, Hodson from a great line of military dating back to 1779. I feel a very passionate admiration for, obviously, the soldiers who risk their lives daily. What I’m touching on is something everyone has touched on really but only to a small degree- torture, which the British soldiers in Iraq have been accused of at the moment and I think it’s a very worrying thing. But on the other hand, it’s probably a fault of the country that it has become such prominent a subject that we have passed so used to it that it bears no significant meaning. Or is it something that we have to accept that happens in all armies, behind back doors, and all governments has participated?”
Mike Jackson, in response: “The last few questions really hold together quite poignantly and I will abreak from the first. You said it’s probably something, madam, that’s happened in armies down and down the centuries, perhaps. You said that it’s sort of acceptable. It is not. None of you in this room, I trust on this, would wish your army to condone behaviour which over 48 hours of leafing would result in one Iraqi- whose guilt or innocence we don’t know and now never will- dead. Eighty something and I can’t remember the second digit, wounds on his body. This is not an action which can be condoned in the British army, or I would argue, any other, certainly of a western democracy.
I have a little bit of trouble. Not that I, when head of the army, took the position as much misunderstood or deliberately got wrong depending on a commentator’s point of view. Decisions to prosecute lie in an independent prosecuting authority. And I would like terribly, you know Jackson not standing up for his soldiers, because the Army prosecuting authority charged a number of soldiers including an officer who were involved in these appalling incidents. All I will say is that to do the other thing, to condone, would be a step down a slippery slip down which I personally would never allow the army to go, because that is to be ignoring the rule of law and you heard me speak earlier on my own views there. And so if we lose the moral high ground, particularly in circumstances that are confusing, if we lose the moral high ground then we will not be the army that I have known for the last 45 years and I hope it will go on that way for at least that multiplied by ten.
In general war, in a war of national survival such as we had to fight in the beginning of the last century, and arguable in the beginning but certainly in the middle, perhaps between two competents, you can go further down that road. And that’s not trying to bend morality, but Iraq, or any post-conflict situation, is a very different place. The division between mobility, order, maneuvers and a former type of insurgency almost policing, is very blurred and difficult. The law is not terribly clear, and I’m afraid that option- whatever law tells me- operation tells me is madness. You’re not going to win many hearts and minds that way, which is what a lot of this is about.”
Baroness Symons: “I think has raised some quite profound points, or two, two profound points. There is the argument that the law is part of an unwritten constitution largely. Nothing to say about the limits of freedom of speech, of this or that concern. It’s very interesting how much of white hall, and I use that term in its broadest sense, operates not under law but under convention or policy or precedence. When I was still in the army, I wanted to do certain things I had to apply to a very old dust body which rests in the cabinet office for permission to do so. I’m not required to do so by law at all. It is merely policy. And you know, the true born Englishman, you still have the slightest inclination that I can do whatever I want to so long as there is no law against it, putting in these wretched office. And I thought why do I need it? To satisfy some sort of concern. To satisfy some Germans, actually, who would otherwise be very crippled if General Jackson deems the army as his mat to walk over. And I thought well I am a free man, I’m perfectly entitled to do that like everybody else. Sorry, I know my bricks and I will get off my hobby horse.
We’ll just get back to this point about crown servants and freedom of speech. Crown servants are in effect the servants of a government elected by the people of the day. And I think at the end of it all, if you live by what the government’s doing, if that sticks in your skull so much you have one thing that you can do- shove off and go and do something else. It’s a difficult area. I have been more forthcoming since retiring, because I feel I am now properly able to do that by my position. I make no bones about it, I know where I am. While in office, yes I know we closed the window I suspect on one or two occasions, but one has to be very careful because I do believe that commentators, not just military ones but whomever, start signing off, even if it goes unwillingly. This is not a personal point, far from it. It applies to whomever. Justice wouldn’t work very well and nobody would trust anybody. Perhaps they don’t anyway, but modicum of trust is required to keep this whole thing going. But the good Baroness has also, I think, conceded that over the last 12-13 years we have asked more and more of the Armed Forces without I think attending to a really honest judgment- not about today’s politics or electoral attractiveness- but a true judgment on whether they’re properly funded not only to do the things we ask them to do but to live a reasonable and decent life with fair earnings, decent housing. Not luxury, but decent housing. And I think we’ve slipped there. (Applause)
That has led increasingly to a sense of frustration, ladies and gentlemen. And I keep saying the things internally, but war happens. So how do we do better? But I also say, ladies and gentlemen, that I have no doubt that whatever the colour of the gentleman or lady in Number 10. I have no political leverage what so ever. You, the electorate, do. Was defence an issue at the last general election? No. The one before that? No. The one before that? Can’t remember, but I doubt it. So, you know, sorry brickbats may be a better boomerang and come back so you have to grab it as well.” (Applause)