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Something has been on my mind for the last six months or so but, until last week, I wasn’t sure what it was. You know the feeling, a vague concern that perhaps things are not right but you’re not sure what. Last week a true hero died, his name was Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown and he was probably one of the finest pilots that Britain has ever seen. Not only that, Captain Brown was a war hero in the truest sense of the word. He helped liberate the concentration camps and, thanks to his fluent German, he interrogated both Himmler and Goering after their capture. There are not many men like Captain Eric Brown.

My Grandfather on my Mother’s side was also a military veteran. In 1914 when the call came he was one of those bright, cheerful young men who headed down to the recruiting office and he then spent the next four years manning an artillery barrage on the Western Front. In 1939 he was again in uniform but, due to injuries received, he was an air raid warden encouraging one and all to “put that bloody light out” in the vain hope that the Luftwaffe would miss Manchester that night and lives would be saved. In 1914 when he signed on the dotted line my Grandfather would have been 22, Captain Eric Brown would have been 20, and Wing Commander Guy Gibson who led the Dam Busters raid in 1943 would have been 25 when he took off that night. Want an American example? Brigadier General Paul Tibbets was 30 when he dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. War is a young man’s game.

Fast forward to 2015/16 and Europe is in the middle of the biggest refugee crisis that it has seen since the second world war. Hundreds of thousands of people are moving from the Middle East north and north west into Europe by any means possible. This mass of people contains a large number of young men of fighting age and I’m curious why they are there. Seventy five years ago young men of their age would have been queuing up outside the recruiting office, eager to defend their country, but now they just want to get the hell out of there and head for Western Europe.

There are a number of theories about what is going on here. Firstly there is the Arab attitude of ‘Inshallah’ or ‘God wills it’. Nothing happens without the will of God and if President Assad wishes to wage war on his own people or Islamic State decide to take over swathes of the Middle East then it is just the will of God. Secondly, the young men you see are part of the Facebook generation and it has been my observation that a lot of people in their early twenties care about very little (voting turnout figures confirm this). Maybe they just want to get out of the Middle East in search of a better life and think that their country is not worth defending? Certainly there are no posters of the Islamic version of Lord Kitchener staring out of the paper with a plea to defend their country and join the resistance against President Assad.

One final thing. For years we had a family friend who refused to fight in WWII because he was a member of the Quaker faith. On September 1st 1939 he quit his job as a carpenter and joined the fire service where he probably saw just as much death and destruction as any soldier or sailor. On VE Day he celebrated the end of the war with a clear conscience and then went back to his carpenter’s workshop. That was a man I also admired.

So, when a border guard is processing his next refugee in the queue and he sees a healthy young man standing before him perhaps his first question should be “Why did you not stay behind and fight for your country”. The answers received will be of interest.

Peter Kennedy


9 Comments on "Syria Needs YOU!"

  1. mahatmacoatmabag | 29th February 2016 at 9:07 pm | Reply

    Peter Kennedy, the reason most Sunni Arabs are coming West is as old as Islam itself – to establish the Caliphate, that is why at least 80% of them are young fit men of military age. I could be more explicit but I don’t think Mr. Marshall will allow a fuller post on here which is a good example of the mindset of the extremists.

  2. You mentioned in your piece the “Islamic version of Lord Kitchener staring out of the paper with a plea to … join the resistance against President Assad,” and of course this is the essential problem with your false equivalency. Kitchener represented the British Government so the only way your argument makes sense is if that poster was exhorting these young men to join up alongside Assad rather than against him. Your grandfather, my grandfather and Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown all fought for our country against a clear and common enemy. Captain Brown was able to become such a celebrated hero because he was provided support, training and equipment – namely a fighter plane – by the British Government. No such luxuries await the Syrian men who would join the fight. Who they are fighting for and against is not clear either. Should they join Assad? Or ISIS? Or choose another rebel group? As a civilian how do you choose a side in a fight you do not believe in, when all sides seem intent on destroying your home? Perhaps their reluctance to fight is less to do with some spurious ‘facebook effect’ and more to do with the fact that they are ordinary people, without the support of a government military organization, who do not identify with any of the violent organisations tearing their country apart. Perhaps they simply want to keep their families safe. Our predecessors had a clear and common enemy and the means with which to attack them. For these desperate refugees things are not so clear.

  3. I’m not sure of your 80% figure but the theory of the caliphate is an interesting one. At present the only theoretical caliphate is the area controlled by ISIL however their authority to represent all Muslims has not been widely recognized beyond the territory they currently control (containing 10 million people). Any expansion by ISIL into Europe is really beyond their means, especially as they are currently fighting the Iraqi Army, the Syrian Army, the Free Syrian Army, Jabhat-al-Nusra, the Kurdish Peshmerga and People’s Protection Units plus a sixty nation coalition with access to much better weapons.

    • mahatmacoatmabag | 29th February 2016 at 11:45 pm | Reply

      Its not a theory, its the ultimate goal of Islam & Europe is the prime target for the establishment of the Caliphate .Bellow detailed is the plan behind the mass migration of Muslims to the West.
      “One day, millions of men will leave the Southern Hemisphere to go to the Northern Hemisphere. And they will not go there as friends. Because they will go there to conquer it. And they will conquer it with their sons. The wombs of our women will give us victory.”
      Taken from a speech made by Houari Boumedienne, president of Algeria at the United Nations in 1974, recorded on video & entered into the official UN protocol.Note: the Southern & Northern hemisphere reference dates back to ancient times in Islamic writings when the known world was centered around the Mediterranean , the South being North Africa & the North being Southern Europe from Spain to Greece

  4. Peter, while I agree with the general point that your making it is worth noting that in world war 1 the British Army had to introduce conscription in January 1916 as volunteers had dried up, by the end of the war the army had had more conscripts serve during the conflict than volunteers. A total of 2.8 million men were conscripted from 1916 onwards, would they have joined anyway?, the War Office obviously thought not. Recruitment in world war 2 of course was almost entirely by conscription. The thing about the whole migrant surge is that they are coming for economic motives, once they are in Turkey they are safe but clearly safety isn’t what they are seeking.

  5. Peter Kennedy | 1st March 2016 at 11:31 am | Reply

    Many thanks for your reply, WoolFall, if nothing else it demonstrates how complicated Middle East politics is becoming. Quite who a young Syrian man should join seems, at the moment, to depend on which area of the country he lives. It seems that somebody living in the east of Syria would join the fight against ISIL but somebody living in the west would join the struggle against President Assad and his Russian allies. Whilst I realise that this is an amazing over simplification it does point out that they should do SOMETHING rather than just abandon their homeland and head into Europe.

    Finally, the maintainers of this website have done me a favour in their selection of a picture for my article. I still maintain the belief that the young man in the baseball cap and the person to his immediate left should be defending their homes against ISIL and/or President Assad rather than seeking temporary sanctuary thousands of Km away. If the million or so people that are now here in Europe had instead fought against Assad he would probably now be dead or in exile.

  6. Thanks for your considered response Peter. I suppose I still wonder quite how these ordinary civilians are supposed to take up arms against a vastly better equipped enemy. They have no apparatus of war and I can’t imagine it’s that easy to start an armed resistance with no training and no equipment. I am glad that you have not sought to ascribe a more sinister motive to their actions, and perhaps you are right that they should stand and fight, but I maintain that it is unfair to draw comparisons with our own history when our country was united and our forces were backed by the government against a single tangible foe. I am only grateful that my own courage has never been tested in similarly difficult circumstances – I fear that I too might take the option of trying to find a safe haven for my family. Regards.

  7. It seems that a lot of the men have left whatever family they had behind in the ruins of Syria. Would we have left loved ones to face the horrors of ISIS and Assad?

  8. I am used to hearing this question from an ordinary citizen on the street of Turkey who complains about roughly 4 millions refugees in the country but when it comes from a writer on thewhatandthewhy, it surprized me.
    Drawing some imaginary lines on the world map does not make a piece of land a country. Alawites mostly fight for Assads, Sunnis fight against Assads, there is a jihaddist gruop which was created in Afghanistan by US fighting for caliphate, Kurds are fighting for own independence..
    And you are asking why they are not fighting for their ‘country’?

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