Britain and Iran
Re the seizure of the British sailors and Royal Marines by the Iranians, Lord Nelson must be spinning in his grave. It is Nelson, after all who said, among other things, “Our country will, I believe, sooner forgive an officer for attacking an enemy, than for letting it alone” and “No Captain could do wrong by laying his ship along side the enemy.” The behavior of our ally in permitting the capture of 15 sailors and Royal Marines signifies that the Royal Navy no longer subscribes to Nelson’s signal at Trafalgar: “England expects that every man will do his duty.”
In 1757, the Admiralty court-martialed and executed Adm. John Byng for failing to “do his utmost” at the battle of Minorca. Perhaps the Royal Navy might want to re-visit this policy. Voltaire understood the point even as he satirized the Byng affair. In his novel, Candide, the hero observes the execution of an officer in Portsmouth and is told “Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres” (“in this country, it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others”).
One expects more from a country that gave us such great naval victories as The Nile, Copenhagen, and Taranto. These victories represented the indomitable spirit of the British people. It was this spirit that permitted a small island to become mistress of the world. How the mighty have fallen.
Great Britain has been an invaluable ally in Iraq and elswhere, but we see here the wages of weakness. This should be a cautionary note for us. It is the sort of thing that happens to second rate powers.