No Christian lightly advocates war, but Britain is now facing much the same challenge as we faced in 1939. We were war-weary, the last huge conflict having ended but 20 years earlier. Millions had died. Husbands, sons, fathers and brothers had not come home, while others returned disfigured, disabled and traumatised. The very last wish in any sane person’s mind was for another major confrontation.
Yet Churchill knew we had to face up to just that because the evil with which we were confronted was not going to go away, deals with Hitler could not last and the Nazi vision was world domination. He stood out against appeasement and against the reluctance of an entire nation.
Today, although the scale is very different, we are again war-weary. Iraq and Afghanistan have left us unwilling to watch any more processions of the dead through Royal Wootton Bassett. Nevertheless, we are now faced with an evil which is not going to go away. ISIS’s vision is for a radical Islamic world.
We face a horde of barbarians who crucify, behead and burn alive. They sack and destroy communities as the Vikings did. They take pleasure in tearing down historic sites. People flee from them in their millions.
And still we dither, somehow hoping it is nothing to do with us. The growing refugee crisis has focused attention on the plight of those who cannot return while ISIS runs amok. While people were ending up largely in camps on the borders of their homeland, the refugee situation was principally humanitarian, being seen as all about food, shelter and medicine. Suddenly it is political as well as vast numbers arrive in Europe demanding not immediate help but long-term stability and settlement and the member states argue over who should take how many.
The argument may be fierce but it is also a distraction, because there will be no end to the flood of displaced persons and its concomitant human misery unless there is also an end to the war. That means force, and it is time to face up to that as a previous generation was forced to do.
This is not Britain’s war or America’s war or even the West’s war, but rather that of the entire civilised world. Until ISIS is stopped in its tracks, civilisation will not be safe. A huge coalition of all concerned nations, including those in that area, is what is needed to rout ISIS decisively and restore peace and re- building. Without that approach, anything we do is mere sticking plaster on a festering wound.
We have hesitated too long, and while we have been havering and hovering, millions have suffered horribly. The original proposal to bomb Syria, which Parliament threw out two years ago, was boneheaded.
It effectively proposed support of an opposition which even then contained al-Qaeda in pursuit of regime change. Now the very man we were trying to oust is providing the most concentrated resistance to ISIS. He is brutal but so was Stalin, and we allied with him against Hitler. War is never straightforward and sometimes we have to hold our noses when finding allies.
There is no sign of any such reality other than a tentative suggestion for beefing up airstrikes. How much worse has the situation to get before the truth is faced? How many more must die or be wounded or forced to flee? Beheaded? Crucified? Burnt alive?
What are we waiting for? The crumbling of Syria? The establishment of the Caliphate? Oh, Churchill, where art thou now? As I said at the beginning, no Christian rushes into war. But most of us accept the wisdom that for evil to flourish all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing. Had we done nothing in 1939 genocide itself would have flourished. The scale is different and the enemy is different but the moral challenge is the same. Yet good men do nothing – or at any rate too little.
Ann Widdecombe is a novelist, broadcaster and former prisons minister
This article first appeared in the Catholic Herald magazine (18/9/15)