10/03/2011

Aircraft or rail?

The green Party is saying that the Confederation should finance a third railway track between Geneva and Lausanne, rather than spending lots on new military jet aircraft.

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This morning, Monday October 3, the Green Party set up a stand outside Cornavin station in order to distribute flyers to rail commuters. Despite the early (for me) hour, many of the tenors of the party were in attendance. Since they also offered coffee and croissants, the stand had quite a success with some people. Most people, however, seemed to be in a hurry, so not all accepted a copy of the flyer, distributed with a small pamphlet showing the Green candidates in the forthcoming national elections.

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Personally, I am very much for promoting rail travel as much as possible: I find it disturbing to see so much short distance air travel at prices which are ridiculously cheap (in part because kerosene fuel for aircraft is tax free for international travel). Scientists will argue whether global warming is man-made or not, and even whether it exists at all, but the succession of extreme climate events is, to me, a clear indication that it is us (my generation) which is responsible. The airline lobby will argue that they are only responsible for a small part of this, trying to ignore the fact that high altitude emissions are much worse than those at ground level.

Where I am somewhat ambivalent is on the whole question of the need for military aircraft. As part of a generation born in England during the second World War, I know that without adequate military aircraft it is probable that the Germans would have invaded the country, so that I might have been brought up speaking German and shouting "Heil Hitler". Yet, in the years leading up to the conflict, there was a strong pacifist element arguing against military expenditure. The famous "King and Country" debate in the Oxford University Union in March 1933 finished by the motion

"That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country"

being passed by a clear majority. Many historians believe that this was the wrong signal at the wrong time, implying that England would not do anything in case of military agression, and thus actually being in part responsible for subsequent events. Of course, many of the students who passed this resolution later found themselves doing exactly what they said that they would not do, and doing it in extremely dangerous circumstances.

So should political parties (appear to) adopt an anti-military platform? I am all for having idealists expound their beliefs, and they clearly believe in what they say. Nonetheless, as Otto von Bismarck once said

Politics is the art of the possible

This is, to me, true today: a political party must have a credo (a soul), but it must never lose sight of what is realistic and practical. Its manifesto should be a suitable combination of the two.

Those who would be too anti-military might also remember another Bismarck quote

A conquering army on the border will not be stopped by eloquence.

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