Of war and nation

December 15, 2010

An interesting conversation this morning about war. I was talking about the greater ease of getting the US military to take up and experiment with novel my ideas. My interlocutor pointed out that America sees itself at war while Britain does not. I hadn’t really thought of things like that but its true. A simple trip around the airports in the US, or listen to the announcements on American Airlines and you see a general awareness and commitment to the armed forces which is pervasive in day to day life. In the UK that is not the case. The only real presence I have seen is at the start of a few Rugby matches where local battalions have been introduced or presented. If a country sees itself at war, then the orientation of that society and the degrees of freedom allow higher levels of innovation.

My coincidence this evening I was watching a DVD I picked up of the various WWII documentaries by one of the greatest poets of all time Dylan Thomas. The quality of the language created several small masterpieces. Green Mountain, Black Mountain is a poignant and lyrical reflection on Wales at war. A Soldier comes Home demonstrates what I can only call a gentle truth. The salute to, and engendered hope of A City Reborn shows no bitterness, but does demonstrate harmony rather than dissonance. Now I make no comment on the rightness or wrongness of war per se, or the current situation in Iraq or Afghanistan, my point is more generic. The pressure of war creates the pre-conditions for innovation; failure with consequences means that people are prepared to change. In a military environment those consequences can be death and defeat, in an industrial environment too many senior executives have found ways to exempt themselves from the personal consequences of failure and have little resonance to empathy for the conditions of their victims. Over the last few year I have seen more innate morality in military environments than industrial ones. It is not very original to say that innovation is more common in times of war (although it is no less true in consequence). However I had not realised the degree to which national alignment or common purpose is a significant component.

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