February letters

Questioning Cameron, cautioning Houellebecq and disputing the image of God


This article is taken from the February 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Thinning the ranks

In his review of Richard Dannatt and Robert Lyman’s Victory to Defeat (MILITARY HISTORY IS SET TO REPEAT ITSELF, DEC/JAN), Patrick Mercer suggests that the savage cuts to Britain’s defence budget were not a consequence of “a peace dividend once the Soviets had imploded” but rather a calculated decision by Tony Blair’s successors who “had seen Tony Blair unseated and humbled by his decision to go to war in Iraq and took the easier, less obvious option of making the Armed Forces simply incapable of foreign interventions”.

If mitigating personal political risk by emasculating the means of fighting in foreign wars was David Cameron’s intention, why did he jump at the first opportunity that came his way — getting Britain involved in attacking Gaddafi’s Libya in 2011? It was precisely the sort of regime-change intervention that Blair’s hapless experience in Iraq should have warned Cameron would end in chaos.

Unperturbed by the disastrous consequences in Tripoli, Cameron next tried to get British forces involved in Syria’s civil war by launching air strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s government in 2013. It took the resolve of the House of Commons to stop him doing so. Two years later, Cameron did get support for launching bombing raids on Islamic State in Syria.

This is not the foreign policy of a politician who believed the world could be saved by international aid alone. But it is possible to discern in Cameron’s grasp of geopolitics a desire to limit British intervention to air strikes rather than boots on the ground. Perhaps this was indeed motivated by a reticence to repeat the losses suffered by the British Army in Blair’s wars.

Yet, even this assumption seems flawed. On Cameron’s watch, the British army was shrunk by 20,000 soldiers and the Royal Navy lost its aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious. But the 2010 Defence Review no less targeted the RAF in its proposals to cut its personnel by 5,000 (to a mere 33,000) and scrap the Harriers, the VC10s, the Nimrod MRA4 along with RAF Kinloss and bring forward the retirement of the C-130 Hercules transport fleet.

This suggests not that Blair’s successors cut defence so that our armed forces could only intervene (in imaginary safety) from the air, but rather that the Cameron administration scrambled to make cuts across the services in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash and did so without any real strategic prioritising.

They diminished Britain’s military capabilities and morale so successfully that we are still suffering the consequences — not just despite, but because of such cuts, all three branches of the services now cannot even find enough recruits to fulfil their functions.

Daniel Rutherford

Perth, Scotland

Blunt questions

“How can someone who is so sharp be so stupid?” was the question raised by Laurent Lemasson of brilliant but barmy French novelist Michel Houellebecq (THREESOMES, SKIN-FLICKS AND FRANCE’S PHILOSOPHER KING, DEC/JAN).

Houellebecq’s own cowardice and dishonesty, from meekly backing down from criticisms of Islam to his bizarre claims of being tricked into porn, are consistent with the flaws he so brutally explores in his literary protagonists.

He’s never claimed to stand on the ramparts of Western civilisation, he’s just here to watch it all burn down with some wry observations along the way.

Those looking for answers from the literary bad boy might be better off looking elsewhere. Whilst Houellebecq declares he would have “run away” if asked to fight for his country, I can’t help but compare him to Charles Péguy, the socialist and Catholic poet who died fighting for France in the early months of the First World War: there’s a man who had some answers, not just searching questions.

Francis Doyle


Blessed are the weak

No one should be surprised that, as Laurent Lemasson observes, Michel Houellebecq embodies that which his novels mock. Who could have doubted that his expansive contempt turns inwards? Houellebecq’s success, indeed, is symptomatic of civilisational self-hatred.

He tells us that we are weak, and pathetic, and corrupt, and we applaud him for it without being any stronger, nobler and more honest with ourselves.

Thomas Prior

Winchester, Hampshire

Not in my image

Marcus Walker (SOUNDING BOARD, DEC/JAN) writes that, like all other women, I am a “sister of Christ, born in the image and likeness of God”. He does so, he says, to prevent people from being dehumanised, like the Israelis who were murdered by Hamas on October 7.

I am a Jew. We do not accept that Christ was the Messiah. I am also an atheist. I do not believe that He was divine.

Making us over in your image is another form of dehumanisation — not violent, but immensely patronizing.

Rhoda Koenig


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