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Hostage Sailors: Britain's impotence

Link: HOSTAGE SAILORS -- BRITAIN'S IMPOTENCE By ARTHUR HERMAN - Opedcolumnists - New York Post Online Edition.

Thanks to Iain Dale for pointing me to this article, of which he rather seems to have missed the point. According to the New York Post;

The latest report is that the Britons were ready to fight off their abductors. Certainly their escorting ship, HMS Cornwall, could have blown the Iranian naval vessel out of the water. However, at the last minute the British Ministry of Defense ordered the Cornwall not to fire, and her captain and crew were forced to watch their shipmates led away into captivity.

So New Labour is interfering politically in operational decisions at the front line. Iain approves of the decision  in this particular case, but that isn't the real issue.

Sunzi Sun Tzu the great Chinese general of ancient times and author of "The Art of War" was no gung-ho type. His most famous teaching was that "to win without fighting is best." But he was also clear that the authority of a general's political masters ends, when the general is in the field. Operational decisions must be taken by the military commanders on the ground. Only they are able to take the correct decisions on the spur of the moment. Any attempt to govern operational matters politically is usually fatal.

Taunted by a king and his courtiers about his martial abilities Sun Tzu once agreed to demonstrate them by marshalling the king's concubines. When the women made a joke of the whole process, Sun Tzu ordered the execution of the king's favourite. The king protested, but Sun Tzu told him that his authority as ruler ended once his troops were in the field. The woman was duly executed and Sun Tzu's point was made.

We have put our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen in harm's way to meet a political objective. Once that objective has been set, the government must allow their commanders the discretion to achieve it in their own way. It should rely on their professionalism, holding them accountable for the outcomes.

Morale in the forces must be appalling at this moment. They know this government's priorities better than any of us - and they are clear that they themselves are nowhere near the top of the list.

Quite simply, this government is unfit for power. The present hostage incident demonstrates that point as clearly as Sun Tzu demonstrated his. The Iranians are making us look fools, which is fair enough. Only fools would be led by such people as these.


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Courtney Hamilton

If only our political masters would have studied Sun Tzu's The Art of War, and preferably the Samuel B. Griffith edition, things would have been different. Well, it looks as if someone in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards certainly did read it - Sun Tzu once said, 'to subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill' - which the Iranians seemed to have achieved with regards to the 15 British servicemen.

The Iranians also appear to be for filling another Sun Tzu dictum, to 'treat the captives well, and care for them'. From what I can see, the servicemen haven't got hoods on there heads sitting in an open-air cages exposed to the Sun, unlike the inmates at Guantanamo Bay detainment camp.

It's been the precautionary diplomatic approach adopted by the British government that has got them into this predicament in the first place. If it's true that the UK government interfered with military operational matters, then that is akin to fire-fighters waiting for orders to put out a burning barracks, by the time they receive the order, the barracks have been reduced to smouldering ashes. It amounts to 'hobbling the army', as described by Sun Tzu.

Sun Tzu also wrote that 'if the army is confused, neighbouring rulers will cause trouble'. It could be argued that we have an increasingly demoralised and confused armed force, and Iran is certainly being opportunistic. However, a spineless, precautionary government like ours, seem far more dangerous to us than anything the Iranian authorities could do - as Sun Tzu reminds us that 'he whose generals are able and not interfered with by the sovereign will be victorious' - or defeat if your 'sovereign' is New Labour that is.


Sun Tzu is excellent for controlled and effective agression in a negotiating/conflict situation. The meditations of Marcus Aurelius are equally as powerful for directing the self in a moral manner. Tis a shame that our current 'leaders' do not have such a grounding in philosophy. Sometimes I feel we have lost something along the way with the way education has been a political football for the last thirty years, dumbing down is a national past time.


WL, I give a copy of Sun Tzu's "Art of War" to every new member of my team. All of his advice on war applies equally to negotiation. My favourite advice from him is excellent for aggressive young negotiators who want not only to win their point, but to have their victory acknowledged. He said that if your enemy's retreat is blocked by a river and the only material you have to hand is gold, then build him a golden bridge so that he is not forced to turn and fight. The old guy was generally very keen to avoid a fight.

Another great idea of his was that in war, even cowards are useful to a general as they show him where the heat of battle is strongest. This is a wonderfully Chinese way of saying that you should mix and match people in your team, as different skills are useful in different circumstances. It's what I tell would-be leaders who want teams composed entirely of people like them - always a bad idea.

There are lots of good modern editions with excellent commentaries. The old guy is well worth a read if only to be reminded that there's nothing new under the Sun. He died in about 496 BC.

Welshcakes Limoncello

A fascinating post again, TP. I'd not heard of Sun Tzu but was gripped by what you tell us of him. There was an interview with Lord Carrington on Sky at lunchtime and he said that he didn't think the sailors could have done anything other than what they did and agrees with you that only the commanders in the field can decide.


This is jaw dropping. I never realized that Blair's minions ordered them to hold off. Sickening.


Craig Murray, former Diplomat and who until 1992 worked for the Maritime Intelligence Unit at the FO has stated as had the previous Task Force Commander, that there is NO agreed maritime boundary between Iraq & Iran. In short Iran's actions was piracy and kidnap on the high seas.( See article in Mail on Sunday). The navy was entitled to defend itself, with the weaponry at its disposal. The neat redline put forward by Blair as 'evidence' has been agreed by nobody, the man is not fit to be in charge of a parish council.


I spent many years in the RAF & often look at this website to get an insight into today's RAF. It does not make for nice reading:

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