Whatever Happened to Name, Rank and Number?
Posted on: 2007-04-08 11:27:42
Detainees were coopted as propaganda tools with alarming ease
I'm afraid it was the Ryder Cup-style photo that was the last straw. It is traditional, on the eve of that golf competition, for the US and European teams to pose for photos in matching outfits. Rarely has this biennial silliness been called to mind more sharply than on Wednesday in Tehran, when the 15 released naval hostages waved cheerily for the cameras, looking for all the world as if they were confident of securing an early lead in the foursomes.
Before we proceed, two things should be stated for the record. First, it is obviously wonderful that the crew are back in Blighty and reunited with their families. Second, I have never been held hostage or even boarded a ship to check that its cargo papers were in order. Nor have I played international football against Andorra. But we can none the less expect certain standards from those who volunteer to perform these various duties on our grateful behalf. Now that is out of the way, it seems reasonable to at least wonder whatever happened to only divulging one's name, rank and number.
Clearly that has been deemed a rather outmoded concept. According to the statements made by the crew's Captain Chris Air in yesterday afternoon's press conference, all the hostages arrived independently at the decision to cooperate fully with the Iranians, following several days of "mind games". They were then granted two hours of televised "socialising" a night, and eventually released. The world saw them thank their "fantastic" captors, and rifle through the goody bags provided by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in full view of the cameras - after they had been committed into British naval hands. No doubt they're all being talked up for VCs by the time you read this, but it would be a tall order to sell the saga as an unalloyed success.
Yet First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Jonathan Band insists the crew "acted with considerable dignity and a lot of courage," going on to say that "they appear to have played it by the rules". In which case, perhaps a review of the rules might be worth considering. Revolting as Ahmadinejad's exercise was, getting caught up in such a situation is a risk inherent in the type of work for which the navy personnel signed up. Many might disagree with Admiral Band that they did not put others in danger: what was there for all to see was the apparent ease with which British service men and women can be coopted as propaganda tools.
A contrast with the two RAF Tornado crewmen captured during the first Gulf war, and paraded silent and bloodied on Iraqi television, may be unfair. But in terms of reserve, it is slightly unfortunate when comparisons with five-year-old Stuart Lockwood - who shrank from Saddam's hand as the dictator ruffled his hair during the Kuwait hostage crisis - do not flatter these latterday detainees.
The whole incident gives a black eye to British and Western morale. It was once virtually unheard-of for seamen, marines or soldiers to broadcast on behalf of "the enemy" under any circumstances. Yet some of the British detainees made statements admitting their "guilt" not only to the Iranians but to the world at large. Such a performance reflects the overall demoralization of the West and the mercenary nature of many in the armed forces. With genuine patriotism demonized and wars fought for reasons that have little to do with real national interest, many weak-willed people have no loyalty to anything. After all, why stand strong when your own government encourages Islamic immigration and criminalizes those who dare to question such acts? Such seeming weakness has great effect in the Third World, and Iranians (and Muslims in general) will without question have even less fear and more contempt for their Western foes than before.