Ted Harrison is concerned about the tendency to glorify or sanitize war. That is a quite proper concern: anyone who gives serious thought to the subject of war ought to be aware of how much human suffering it causes and of how much of what happens in war adds weight to the case that it is something to be avoided, except where some other great evil is threatened and cannot be held off without resort to the force of arms.
Harrison plainly knows all this; and yet he writes as if the exception clause in that last paragraph, once acknowledged can be forgotten about. After the 'years of pointless, industrialised slaughter' of the First World War, he says, the spirit of remembrance included 'the common pledge that war must never happen again'. Never? Not really. Because of a bungled peace, he continues, the Second World War soon followed, and with it came 'a resigned sense of duty that another war had to be pursued to defend the world from tyranny'. Right there is the problem: a need to defend the world from tyranny. The Second World War is an inconvenient one for advocates of an end-to-war without qualification. It poses sharply the question whether a world under Nazi domination should have been countenanced so as to avoid war; or, to put the same thing slightly differently, whether the military campaigns of the Nazis should just have been 'taken on the chin'; or, to put it differently again, whether war should be OK for them, the forces of oppression or barbarism, but renounced by us, those in favour of peace. Like: we must renounce self-defence and/or punishment, but those so inclined may freely commit crimes. Anyway, as I say, Harrison sort of knows all this, for he writes:
The second world war was, in one sense, a very unusual conflict, in that it had a clear moral justification - something that cannot be said about the first, or many of the subsequent conflicts involving British troops.
If there can be a clear moral justification, war as such cannot be consigned to the category 'never again'. Even if many subsequent conflicts have lacked a clear moral justification, this validates the logical inference that some subsequent - or future - conflicts might have such justification.
By the end of his article, Harrison is not merely opposing glorification of the profession of arms, but wanting 'to ensure that they [our service personnel] are never called upon to prove their heroism on the battlefield'. But that cannot be ensured unless wars with 'clear moral justification' as well as those without one are renounced. Let us not re-argue particular cases, over which we might not agree: Vietnam, the Falklands, the first Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq. Just hypothesize a country, C, subject to unprovoked and unjustified aggression by country A. How is C to ensure that its service personnel aren't called upon to prove their heroism on the battlefield?