Notes From the Margins…

The Pity of Niall Ferguson

  • February 07, 2012
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There is nothing worse than a warmonger, but few warmongers are as disgusting and contemptible as Niall Ferguson.  Anyone who doubts this should contemplate his latest outing as a cheerleader for war on Iran, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe programme yesterday:

There is the Great Man, oozing narcissism, gravitas and a smug sense of his self-importance, as he coolly and without any moral qualms whatsoever, calls for the United States to join Israel and launch air strikes against Iran, while reassuring his gormless journalistic interlocutors and the American public that a) Iran is isolated in the Muslim world and b) has little conventional military capability and cannot retaliate and that c) there is no reason why Obama cannot join Israel and attack it, because ‘preventative war is better than appeasement’.

How many Iranians would die in this assault?  What right have the United States and Israel got to even threaten this ‘preventative war’, let alone carry it out?  Ferguson doesn’t ask and almost certainly doesn’t care.  Like Tony Blair, this is a man who knows what side his bread is buttered on and is clearly not inclined to let a little carnage get in the way of a good career.

Moreover,  Ferguson, in his own eyes at least, is not just a great man but an important man, close to people in power – who for him are the only people that count.   Therefore he has ‘ just come back from Jerusalem’ (be awed readers) where he has been assured that Israel will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran.   So that settles it then.

And even though he insists – somewhat disingenuously one feels, that ‘I’m not such a huge enthusiast for military action’ he urges Obama to join in rather than ‘leave Israel in the lurch’ and risk ‘ the humiliation of our main ally in the Middle East.’

In fact Ferguson has always been a fervent proponent of Western military action, regardless of his pretensions to scholarly objectivity and independence.   He supported the Iraq war and this is not the first time he has called for Iran to be attacked.

Today  Ferguson repeats his arguments in The Daily Beast, before concluding with this incredible statement:

War is an evil. But sometimes a preventive war can be a lesser evil than a policy of appeasement. The people who don’t yet know that are the ones still in denial about what a nuclear-armed Iran would end up costing us all.    It feels like the eve of some creative destruction.

It takes a special kind of jerk to describe a war as ‘creative destruction’ – you can almost see the smirk behind that sentence.    In 1865, General William Tecumseh Sherman, the Unionist general who set out to ‘make Georgia howl’  wrote:

I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting – its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands, and fathers …  it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated … that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.

Ferguson, the author of The Pity of War is one of those who ‘have never heard a shot’.  But as Sherman pointed out, it is precisely his type that tends to be the most vociferous in calling for shots to be fired.  For Sherman, war was a serious business, which he believed should be waged with maximum ferocity in order to bring it to an end as quickly as possible.

In our era of media-driven wars,  Ferguson is one of those for whom war is always war-lite and essentially cost-free, whose observations are always immaculately tuned to fit the needs of the powerful.   The more wars he advocates, the more op eds, chat show appearances and five-minute interviews he gets, and the more money he makes. It really is a win-win situation.

And if there is a war with Iran and it turns out to be a bloody catastrophe like Iraq that fails to bear out his shallow predictions,  then it won’t be because his predictions were wrong, his judgements  unsound and wildly inaccurate,  it will be because sadly, other people just weren’t as clever as he was.

In any case by then he will have moved on, and there will be other wars – I mean ‘creative destruction’ – to promote.  So no wonder he can hardly keep the self-satisfied smirk off his face.

He’s got a lot to feel pleased about.





1 Comment

  1. Susan Dirgham

    7th Feb 2012 - 6:48 am

    Hi Matt,

    I hope you have a wide readership. 🙂



    PS I still have to respond to a comment of yours on another page re Syria. Will do that soon. On that subject, you might be interested in this article:

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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