Northern Ireland was Britain’s Vietnam. It dragged on for years. And it ended in that most abject of defeats, when all political and popular support at home has dried up, and when the penny has dropped that the local guerrillas are never going to go anywhere because they have nowhere else to go.
The Vietnam veterans were shunned for a long time. None of them has ever become President, and now none of them ever will. By contrast, the people who opposed the war, even those who did everything short (if that) of backing the other side, came to be treated as having been right all along, and continue to be so treated.
The factual accuracy or even the morality of all of this is not the point. It is the political reality, both in relation to Vietnam in the United States, and in relation to Northern Ireland in Britain.
The bafflement and even hurt of the military lobby that no one cares about its gripes against Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell bespeaks an unawareness that the English and the Welsh, at least, have profoundly distrusted their own Army since 250 years before even the Old IRA was created, and have historically tolerated it only because most of it was abroad most of the time.
The only exception to this was during and immediately after the Second World War, but resentment of National Service rapidly revived the old attitudes. Can there be another country on earth where the mere existence of the Army has to be approved by Parliament every five years?
Then there are the causes in which that lobby takes issue with Corbyn and McDonnell, both of whom were elected as London MPs during the Troubles, in Corbyn’s case four times.
Ken Livingstone also managed that three times, and he went on to win two London-wide elections, in no small measure on the back of his prescience with regard to Northern Ireland; the serious prospect of his becoming Leader, as indeed he did, did not stop a Labour victory in the elections to the GLC even in 1981.
There are other examples that could be cited. Thus has spoken, over and over again, the city that bore the brunt of the IRA’s campaign, whatever leafy Home Counties hacks may think. It is singularly disagreeable to expect the price of one’s principles to be paid by other people.
In truth, mainstream Mainland opinion always included a very pronounced steak of resentment at having to pay, whether in blood or in treasure, for a Unionist tribe across the water that was incomprehensible when viewed from over here. By the end, popular feeling in Britain simply refused any longer to tolerate the intransigent entitlement that it saw as the root of the problem. Never in Britain has Northern Ireland been a popular cause.
But even in Northern Ireland, Unionists of the old school, whose position seems to be presupposed as common sense and common decency by the more securocratic sections of the media, are now lucky to take two per cent of the vote, and never manage three per cent.
One Irish Republican bomb in London would now lead to an immediate and unilateral British withdrawal from Northern Ireland, whether or not the Republic would take it, and no matter who wanted us to stay. They would hardly be the first people whom Britain had simply upped and left behind. We have done that on every continent.
But no such bomb is going to be set off, because the Republican leaders have never had it so good. The political system is designed entirely for their convenience. Former British soldiers of the same generation are preparing to be brought back to stand trial. If the IRA was riddled with British agents, then was it to those agents that Britain surrendered?
There was more public support for the Falkland Islands when they had been invaded. But they are not going to be invaded again. The world has moved on.
Latin American interests would instead threaten to move to somewhere else more jobs in the United Kingdom than there were people on the Falkland Islands. There are fewer than three thousand people on the Falkland Islands. Thatcher’s original scheme for a transfer of sovereignty, followed by a leaseback, would then be a done deal.
As it probably would be if there were any serious threat of a second invasion. People on the Falkland Islands do not pay tax in this country. Nevertheless, a Labour Government would not dare be seen to sign over the Falklands. So Argentina and its allies would only play either of these cards while there was a Conservative Government in Britain.
The very last threat to the present situation, therefore, would be the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.