It must be hard for journalists to follow all the wars going on now. Because in these wars today’s enemy may be yesterday’s friend and you’d hardly know who was fighting whom and for what.
A government arming and training the Kurds in one country, while refusing to help them in another across the border, could be arming and financing a dictator today and firing bombs, missiles, drones at that same dictator tomorrow.
All of which make people believe – not unnaturally – that the wars are being fought for the self-interest of the governments fighting them and declarations that they are for democracy, religion, truth, morality and freedom should be taken with many grains of salt. Especially when governments claim to be fighting for or against ‘isms’, like communism or fascism or Islamism or terrorism. You don’t fight wars against isms, you fight wars against real people in which isms don’t die but people do.
An interesting example of friend on Sunday, enemy on Monday, friend again on Tuesday and enemy again whenever it suits is Russia. Russia is a big place so it is hard to define what exactly Russia consists of, but certainly it is very rich and powerful. So governments feel the need to be friends with Russia when it suits them and enemies when it doesn’t. During the First World War Russia was on the side of France, Britain, the USA and Allied powers. However, with its defeat and internal turmoil it ceased to be a useful ally to those powers and after the war they considered Russia no longer a friend but an enemy because of its communism. The struggle against communism – the biggest ism of them all until the Bush administration developed the war against terrorism – continued through the weary and, for many, the impoverished years between the two World Wars.
During the Second World War, however, Russia was attacked by German armies who, having an ism of their own – fascism – were also keen to eliminate communism. So Russia was a friend and, as Churchill said, a gallant ally, once again. The German armies were massively defeated by the Russians who advanced towards middle and western Europe.
The USA and its European allies timed their second front nicely to stop the Russian advance from getting too far west. And once that war was over a ‘Cold War’ began in which Russia was once again not the gallant ally but the dreaded enemy.
And then, among all the bizarre things that war brings, another strange thing happened: within a few years of the German defeat in 1945 plans were afoot in the USA, Britain and Allied nations to – it must have been hard to believe at the time – re-arm Germany. And even to let Germany off some war reparations to enable it to use the money to re-arm itself. By 1954, a mere few years after WW2, the plan was clear, and a startling admission made: that Europe was going to be defended against godless Russian communism and Europe could not be so defended without Germany. Europe must be united and a strong, newly-armed Germany must be part of it. And that plan was well developed by the year 1954 under the leadership of the USA.
And now Russia, ally one day, enemy the next, friend again, is now enemy once more in a new Cold War, while Germany has prospered as enemy become friend, all in a very short space of years. Complicated and confusing but, as you might say, that’s the way they do things.