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In Our Time: Clausewitz and On War

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Melvyn Bragg Melvyn Bragg 15:15, Friday, 18 May 2012

Editor's note: In yesterday's programme Melvyn Bragg and his guests discussed Clausewitz and On War. As always the programme is available to listen to online or to download and keep - PMcD.

Clausewitz and war



Not much to report from post-programme palaver this week.  Two-thirds of the guests had to push off immediately to give lectures.  The other third wanted a general chat about the reach statistics and broadcasting health of In Our Time.  Tom Morris happened to have the latest RAJAR returns in his hand and happens to carry the statistics around in an imperishable casket inside his mind, and I’m sure one satisfied professor left Broadcasting House.

Off into the streets, down Regent Street and Burlington Arcade and across Piccadilly to the barber’s.  And then down to the House of Lords via St James’s Park.

But hark!  What is that I heard in the distance?  Yes, it is the beating of a drum, it is the sounding of the bugles, it is the march of the soldiers; it is the rehearsal for Trooping the Colour.  I think that rehearsals are often much better than the main event and this was certainly a treat.  One of the facts that made it particularly piquant was trying to relate what was happening on Horse Guards Parade to Clausewitz’s notions of violence, annihilation, limited war and so on.

These, as it were, showpiece soldiers, who had certainly been fighting in some of the nastiest places on the planet, were in their red tops and bearskins and marching the slow march when I got there.  Hundreds of them, in various formations, preceded by an officer with a raised sword and another officer on a horse walking behind them.  The band seemed to be bigger even than the marching soldiers and that slow march is something to behold.  It’s one of the instant passages back to imperial ignorance and innocence.

It’s very moving to see who is watching this parade.  Tourists, of course, in their great numbers, but also many men who I assume would have been old soldiers.  Looking as keenly as trainspotters.  Muttering recondite facts to each other.  Not letting the bygone age go by without a salute.

The pelicans had fled of course.  It is well-known they don’t like the sound of the drum.  But the little ducks were bobbing along there in St James’s Park, crowding the edge of the lake, listening, I presume, to the music and paddling in slow motion underneath the surface.

At the end of Horse Guards Parade, a proper old-fashioned cyclist, i.e. with a real bike and an anorak and corduroy trousers instead of desperate Lycra, said to a policewoman, “I can’t go anywhere.  Why can’t I go through here?”  To which she replied, “They are rehearsing Trooping the Colour”.  He said “I’ve just tried to get to Buckingham Palace, why can’t I go there?”  To which she replied, “They’re getting ready for the Jubilee”.  And then he said “And I want to go round to Whitehall”.  To which she said, “There might be protests there”.

It’s surprising how tolerant he was of this.  It’s surprising how tolerant British people are.  It’s only their toleration that keeps this country going.

So over to the Palace of Westminster where many of the chief bogeymen and boys of Britain now tell us all what to do with – perhaps one may be allowed to say – a passionate intensity which, as you know, W B Yeats referred to in his famous poem in the lines:
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity”.

Is that a cruel thing to say?

Met Joan Bakewell.  Always seem to meet Baroness Bakewell which is very nice.

Fixed up a trip North to see my Mother over the weekend.  One of the nurses in the hospital said that it is absolutely tuming down.  You don’t hear tuming very often, so I thought I’d put it in this newsletter.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

PS: I went into the Chamber where the Lords were debating on the Queen’s Speech.  Lord Cameron of Dillington was discussing, in expert detail, the most effective way to help African farming which he saw as the great growth area for Africa.  The Bishop of Wakefield followed and talked first of all about his great sorrow for the loss of men from the Yorkshire Regiment recently in Afghanistan, and then discussed the possibilities facing the British forces in that arena of war.

This was far, far away from the “passionate intensity” that I mentioned above.  I suppose that mainly refers to my reaction to the Question Time sessions I hear on Radio 4.  Am I the only one who finds their affected, fabricated, artificial, play-acting, overloud yelling not only raucous, but sadly and wearisomely tedious and way past its sell-by date?  I hope not.



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