War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing is worth a war is worse . . .
A man who has nothing which he cares about more than he does his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance at being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”
I thought of this quotation from John Stuart Mill this week on hearing of the death of Dr Karen Woo and her colleagues.
Whether they were killed by the Taliban or not, their murders have acted as a grisly litmus test for so many sentient souls back here at home.
It's common for people who are in favour of our armed forces surrendering to the Taliban to accuse those of us who believe that carrying on fighting is the right thing to do of being “armchair warriors”, keen to put our brave boys and girls on the frontline while being far too chicken to get out and fight themselves.
This argument doesn't stand up, for several reasons.
For instance, if our house catches fire we call on the brave men and women of the Fire Brigade to put it out, while we stand by gaping at their bravery.
Is that chicken, too?
Should we really not ask the Fire Brigade to put out our fires unless our sons and daughters are firefighters, too?
Then there's the fact that our armed forces are not conscripts, but volunteers. They chose to do what they are doing.
There's something really creepy and morally dubious about people who do well-paid, useless, selfish jobs (ie journalism) demanding that brave people who have often given up well-paid, useless, selfish jobs in order to protect others should simply throw in the towel and concentrate on looking after Number One, like the rest of us.
People who volunteer to go into war zones, be it as fighters or as doctors, are not misguided and ignorant — they are simply far braver and more selfless than the rest of us.
I can look at this difference, this lacking in my own character, and it makes me feel a simple, uncomplicated admiration for those who can do it.
But other people — who once thought of themselves as idealists, perhaps, but who now have been castrated by comfort and consumption — feel (quite understandably) worthless when they look at the likes of Dr Woo, or at our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, and they react by lashing out.
More often than not they do it in a caring way, as Dame Edna would say, while putting the boot in.
Bring the boys home! Stop this meaningless loss of life! Make cold calls, not war!
But, occasionally, the sheer spite that haunts the talkboards shines through.
It's amazing how many vile variations there were on ‘she asked for it’ — the rapist's classic justification — when the faceless flamers kick around the corpse of Dr Woo out there in cyberspace.
So the way I look at it, I'd rather be an armchair warrior — when we're talking about a volunteer as opposed to a conscript army — than an armchair appeaser any day of the week.
The volunteers in Afghanistan and Iraq are the idealists of today, and the people who want the ‘boys’ (they're not boys, by the way, they're men) brought home are total cynics.
They'd be cheering Chamberlain if he was around today, the creeps.
They spout on about the brotherhood of man 'til the holy cows come home, but actually they are simply cowards who would never dream of risking their own necks for anyone else's freedom. After all, they're not ‘our’ wars out there in Iraq and Afghanistan, are they?
As with Mr Chamberlain on Czechoslovakia, they're “far away countries of which we know nothing”.
Dr Woo, her dead comrades, the soldiers — ‘meaningless’ deaths are the last thing they are. They die while seeking to protect and defend people other than themselves and their loved-ones. That's about as meaningful as it gets. Standing for nothing, standing up for nothing, giving in to anything for a quiet life — it is the armchair appeasers among us whose deaths will be truly, deeply meaningless.