General warns of WW3. Nobody seems to listen

Warhead: Russia is already using weapons more dangerous than this one, said Sir Nick. © Getty

How worried should we be? Yesterday, the alarm was raised in The Telegraph newspaper and on BBC1 by General Sir Nick Carter, head of the British armed forces. But life carried on calmly.

The threats are changing, spreading and worsening rapidly.

The whole world today is a place of constant confrontation. We are going back to a time when the great powers were at each other’s throats.

Ambitious states such as Russia, China and Iran are getting more aggressive in ways that truly threaten our safety. Especially Russia.

And it will only take one small mistake to trigger an all-consuming disaster, just like the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand triggered World War One and the death of 40 million people.

Sounds bad? It surely is. Those sentences are a summary of what was said yesterday by one of Britain’s most senior commanders, Sir Nick Carter.

He could scarcely be a grander military figure. Currently serving as Chief of the Defence Staff, he is the professional head of the British Armed Forces and the number one uniformed military adviser to the Prime Minister.

Aged 60, he has commanded operations in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Educated at Winchester and Sandhurst, he has so many medals that they can hardly squeeze onto his uniform.

The article that appeared under his name in The Sunday Telegraph, yesterday, would have been polished and pored over by dozens of advisors, strategists and spin doctors before it was released to the newspaper.

His live appearance on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show would have been rehearsed to within an inch of its life by highly-paid media consultants.

And the timing — the morning of Remembrance Sunday — would have been marked on the office calendar many months ago.

All of which supports the notion that his message, far from being an impulsive outburst to be taken with a pinch of salt, could scarcely be more weighty. It could have carried a note at the bottom: “Army rations. No salt needed.” Very different, then, from most of the other political fodder on offer in the media.

And yet. Despite its literally apocalyptic conclusion that we now live under the imminent threat of a third world war that could destroy the planet, nobody paid much attention to the general’s appeal.

By 10pm last night, it merited barely a sentence on the BBC website. Hardly any of the papers this morning have even mentioned it.

Life goes on, as during the fall of Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun, in W.H. Auden’s famous poem. “The dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse scratches its innocent behind on a tree”.

How strange. How worried should we be?

News literacy

Very worried indeed, say some. This is a glaring example of how superficial society has become. Like addicts of a soap opera, we obsess about every twist and turn of whichever drama turns us on — Brexit, politics, football, floods, the royals — and we can’t see the real news. THE WORLD IS ABOUT TO END. Even if you shout it, nobody cares.

Relax, say others. People are really quite shrewd. There is something deeply tawdry about this action man covered with ribbons and gongs, who tries to get some attention by scaring everyone over their Remembrance Sunday Weetabix. He says that we need to be more news savvy to avoid being brainwashed by Russian propaganda. Ironically, we are already savvy enough to dismiss him to page 24 of The Daily Express. No wonder we don’t trust the establishment.

You Decide

  1. Are ordinary people shrewder than they seem? Is there such a thing as “the wisdom of crowds”?
  2. Is it irresponsible to raise World War Three when society is remembering World Wars One and Two?

Activities

  1. Think of a person who you respect more than anyone else. Jot down a list of reasons why you respect them so much.
  2. Sweeping predictions of doom are easy to ignore. Why is this? Write a short letter of advice to the general, advising him how he might get more attention next time.

Some People Say...

“Crying wolf may have been the boy’s undoing, but the true irony was that the wolves were always lurking nearby.”

Wes Fesler (1908-1989), American football player

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
In January 2018, General Carter used a speech in London to enter publicly into the debate over defence spending. According to Carter, failure to keep up with Russia will leave the UK exposed, particularly to unorthodox, hybrid warfare. He also said that one of the biggest threats posed is from cyber-attacks that target both military and civilian life.
What do we not know?
How much to trust and respect him. Carter has been criticised on several occasions by American officers for his conduct and command while in Afghanistan. He was criticised by Lieutenant General Daniel P. Bolger, who claimed that “young riflemen paid the price” for Carter’s “risk-averse” mentality and his unwillingness to allow his troops to defend themselves. Bolger also claimed that Carter refused to visit the front line and only visited safe positions by helicopter, while frequently refusing requests for aircraft and artillery support from troops under his command. Bolger said, “He’s not the type of general I would put in charge of anything.”

Word Watch

Archduke Ferdinand
The heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire and his wife were assassinated by a gunman during a drive through Sarajevo in 1914. One month later, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The killing of Archduke Franz Ferdinand would trigger one of the most brutal wars in modern history, eventually pulling the Russian Empire, Germany, France, Italy, China, the US and Japan into World War One.
Winchester
Winchester College is an independent boarding school for boys in the British public school tradition. It was founded in 1382.
Sandhurst
The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst is where all officers in the British Army are trained to take on the responsibility of leading their soldiers. During training, all officer cadets learn to live by the academy’s motto: “Serve to Lead”.
Pinch of salt
Meaning “hard to sallow” or “hard to believe”, the idea comes from the fact that bad food is more easily swallowed if taken with a small amount of salt to disguise the taste.
Apocalyptic
A very serious event resulting in great destruction and change.
Icarus
In Greek mythology, Icarus is the son of Daedalus. He dared to fly too near the Sun on wings of feathers and wax. The wax melted and he fell to Earth.
Poem
Auden’s great poem Musee des Beaux Arts is precisely about nobody paying much attention to an amazing act of attention-seeking — flying up to the Sun.
Savvy
Shrewd and knowledgeable; having common sense and good judgement.
Establishment
A dominant group or élite that holds power or authority. It may comprise a closed social group, which selects its own members either in government or in specific institutions.

Subjects

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