The World at War has finished a repeat run on one of the cable channels and what strikes you immediately, from the opening titles onwards, is this - it treats World War II as a horror of unimaginable proportions, an unspeakable thing full of monstrous hate and cruelty, rather than a wild adventure filled with derring-do.
No, come back! Okay, so that's hardly a cheery start to a blog post, I know, but it's a point that I consider relevant when I stumble across the likes of Hitchens complaining about the "legality and propriety" of the stabby-punchy-shooty execution of Muammar Gaddafi.
Hitchens isn't the only one suffering a bout of buyer's remorse over our North African escapade, lemme tell ya - my favourite has to be the calls from Human Rights Watch to investigate bi-partisan war crimes throughout the region. That's the same Human Rights Watch - an org that knows what a civil war looks like, by the way - who were among the most vocal advocates for intervening in and thus prolonging a really nasty civil war, complaining that their desired outcome resulted in terrible enormities and atrocities. Damn.
It really is astonishing to me that the death of a vicious, ridiculous tinpot goon like Gaddafi has caused such an outbreak of red-faced shuffling and pencil-fiddling amongst our latest war's erstwhile backers. To be clear - the brutal execution of Gaddafi by a baying mob outside the ruins of a whole city, while Nato jets scream helpfully overhead, is absolutely not the worst thing that has happened during our latest war. It would function wonderfully as a horribly apt metaphor for the whole thing, but it certainly wasn't particularly objectionable, by comparison to the jaw-dropping levels of violence the war unleashed.
If anything, Gaddafi's execution stands out as a glaring exception in the conflict, in that it happened to someone who deserved it and that crucially, it was repeatedly shown on television, in graphic detail.
This is what upsets yer Hitchenses, of course, not that he'd like to admit it - not the murder itself. After all, who ever felt sympathy for Nicolae Ceausescu or his missus? All the hand-wringing; all the impassioned pleas for impartial justice and restraint, all of this self-serving bullshit is down to the fact that Gaddafi's shot-up corpse was splattered across the front page of The Sun under a belligerent, triumphant headline. Looks bad, makes the whole thing seem a bit bloodthirsty and a bit less "humanitarian" than we might have been led to believe, I think.
Consider it - how many articles have you seen saying Perhaps we need to rethink this whole "Bombing entire cities to rubble while the inhabitants are still living there" malarkey? How about Yo, arbitrary execution of civilians and captured, restrained combatants is totally uncool? How many times did you hear the words Oops, Nato appears to have massively exceeded its mandate to protect civilians?
Ladies and gents, I bet it's damn few. I've gone on about this subject at such great and tiresome length - and God, please let this be the last time that it's necessary, since I don't like it any more than you do - because as a nation, we need to be reminded that none of this is unusual or unexpected. As I said back in March, this is what happens in wars.
Back when all the talk was of No-Fly Zones and arming the rebels, I was asking what would happen if we had to step up to Maximum Violence to get the job done, and what we'd say if Human Rights Watch started reporting war crimes throughout the region. Well, most of you will know what the answer was then, and I haven't heard any answers since, beyond the usual I bet you love the Colonel stuff.
You do have to marvel at our current generation of civilian war enthusiasts, though. After all the bombast and the amateur renditions of Ride Of The Valkyries, they manage to watch an entire war right up to its bloody climax, and yet somehow draw precisely the wrong lesson from it.
Jesus. The execution of Gaddafi doesn't stain the whole war, guys - that was one of its most justifiable events!
The stuff that really called it into question and demonstrated the crazed volatility of war in even its most humanitarian guise, for the umpteenth time this decade... Well, that shit happened far from the cameras, while Bernard Henri-Levy was still poncing around North Africa, force-feeding trite anecdotes about the wondrous contents of Pandora's Box to indifferent NTC dignitaries.