The Sunday Tribune is what I read Sunday mornings. I’m not completely won over by the paper (It’s very anti-whoever’s in government at the time and employs some rather stupid people like Una Mullally) but apart from that its a decent read.
But the letter section, like so many letter sections, is full of absolute morons. I’m always annoyed by at least one letter, usually more, but this week it was on an issue that’s close to my heart: The Irish Army.
Mr John Cooney of 71 Wilton Road, Cork doesn’t have a high opinion of our army. He thinks it should be reduced 90% to a thousand active service personnel, with the best of the rest merged into An Garda Siochana. Why? He thinks the service is a waste of money and resources as it is.
I read this kind of argument over and over again, though with increasing regularity ever since the recession began in earnest. And I always respond with the same points over and over again.
Mr Cooney thinks, in this troubled financial climate, that the Army is a waste of resources. So, the answer of course, is to put 9000 men and women, with a very specific skill set, out of work. Genius!
Better still in Mr Cooney’s plan, if they don’t want to be unemployed, they can be Guards.
Excellent idea, really. Leaving aside the fact that if the Army boys wanted to be Guards, they would have joined the Guards, I think the best response to this comes not from me, or an academic, but from Admiral William Adama of the Battlestar Galactica:
There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.
I would also really like to know what field of work Mr Cooney is employed in, and how much of a financial drain it is. I wonder how Mr Cooney would feel if an Army Commandant went around stating that Mr Cooney’s profession should be radically downgraded?
Anyway, on to a few more serious points.
The Armed Forces are a symbol of our sovereignty and our strength, as low as it is. They protect our nation and our neutrality. But they have other purposes.
If you downgrade our Armed Forces to this extent, people will die because of it. They probably won’t be Irish people (more in a second) but they’re still people, and they’ll still be dead.
We have some of the finest Peacekeepers and Peace-enforcers in the world. There is a reason that the UN calls upon us a lot. We are good at the job. Our Army is able to go abroad, into a hostile envoirenment, put itself between two opposing forces, and keep people safe. The Congo, Lebanon, Timor, Cyprus, Chad, the list goes on and on. Our soldiers were there, they did their job with a degree of professionalism we should all be proud of, and people lived because of it.
Militias in Chad were curtailed. Terrorist groups in East Timor were stopped. Death Squads in Kosovo had to turn back. Because our Army was there. We wouldn’t have been if we didn’t have the numbers.
The argument can be made that the UN could simply get someone else, with a larger military to do that job. But, anyone with a passing knowledge of UN operations (take a look at Somalia in the mid-nineties for a good example) knows that frequently they botch it horribly. We have an excellent reputation as Peacekeepers. Most other countries don’t.
You downgrade our military, and take us out of the UN pool of Peacekeepers, and eventually you will have a situation where a less capable force will be the deciding factor in a village protected or a village massacred. I won’t name names here. If you know anything about UN operations you’ll know who the bad peacekeepings nations are. You take us out, and there a better chance they will be the ones who get put in. And people will not be protected adequately, peace will not be kept or enforced, and people will die.
I doubt Mr Cooney has considered that point. The chances of him reading this are very slim I know, but if he does happen upon it, or anyone else who has a similar mindset, I want you to remember that the next time you call for our Defence force to be downsized. And I hope you sleep well when it happens.
Ireland’s troops might not be doing much now, but there is always, always, another war, another crisis that needs attention. It will not be too long, before the UN or EUFOR calls upon our troops again. It could be Thailand or Indonesia, Haiti or Belarus, Palestine or Cyprus, but we will be busy again eventually.
And by the way, our troops, especially those in the Curragh Barracks, continue to train and support hostage rescue and anti-terror squads from around the world. So they’re not exactly doing nothing either. The next time you turn on Sky News and hear about Russian Commandos storming a hostage situation there is a good chance those soldiers were trained right here.
Anyway, maybe Mr Cooney would care more if Irish lives were at stake. After all, those Chadians and Timorians are far away and not his problem. He specifically states that the Air Corps and Navy should get more resources, but others have not been so generous.
You downsize them and Irish citizens will die. Whether it’s a boating accident, a plane wreck at sea, or someone overdosing on Columbian Cocaine that slipped through the net, Irish people will be dead. Because we valued a downgraded military over human life.
But hey, at least we’ll save some money, right? Good times.
Moving on to some of the more fluid arguments. The following may sound sensationalistic but please bear with me.
We need our Army in case.
In case the worst happens. In case things change in the world. In case we need it.
Look at our world 20 years ago. The USA and the USSR were at each others throats frequently, the North was a hive of violence, and Europe was a radically different looking continent politically.
My point being, things can change. Ireland doesn’t have many visible threats on the horizon right now, but things change.
Maybe Russia ups the ante, starts threatening Eastern Europe (more so). Maybe the US and Russia go back to aiming nukes at each other. Maybe Russia starts aiming a nuke or two at vital British interests. Interests like Lough Swilly as was rumoured during the Cold War.
Maybe problems develop in the North again. Maybe a resurgent nationalist or Unionist group, whether it’s the IRA, UDF or some other new group that forms up. Maybe they start bombings again. Maybe they bomb the Republic again. Maybe we have problems.
What if terrorists target Sellafield? What if nuclear radiation floods the east, what if they’re is panic in the streets,rioting, chaos? Wouldn’t ten thousand trained professionals be a boon in such a time of emergency?
And maybe, despite all our vehement denials and rejections of violence, and our neutrality or “triple locks” we end up being sucked into conflict. 20 years from now, 30, it doesn’t matter. It can happen. It nearly did happen in 1940 (Our lack of involvement in that conflict had little to do with our decisions I can assure you).
If it happens, a numerically weak, inferior force of a thousand troops will not suffice to protect us. Don’t laugh it off. It’s easy to act like Ireland is unhittable, a thousand miles away from Washington, Moscow or Baghdad. But things change.
To put it as simply as I can: You don’t need an army until you need it.
Think about it Mr Cooney.
Well said, I can’t agree more. It’s not like 10,000 soldiers for 4 million people is even much.
It’s 2.4 active troops per 1000 people, one of the smallest ratios in the world. And that’s based on figures over 5 years old. It’s closer to 2 now.
I wouldn’t pay too much attention to the letter’s page.
As Charlie Brooker said:
“We’re turning on the idiot magnet now. Tony from Bristol has this to say:
A duh duh duh buh buh duh. Duh duh duh a duh…. Bloody immigrants”
I could understand cutting their budget a little, but what he suggested was Insane, 1000 soldiers? That’s only a few hundred more soldiers than the swiss guard to defend a country with more than 6 million people living in it.
See also “Ordnance Corps: Frequency of Explosives Disposal Team Call-out”
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