By John O'Mahony
The saga of the sailors and marines captured by Iran on the high seas on 23 March, held for 12 days, and then freed on 4 april, tells us a great deal about Britain now, on the even of the 10th anniversary of Liar-King Tony's coronation.
Captured by a state usually depicted in the British press as a bitter enemy, and as a possible future target for military attack, these serving military personnel nevertheless crumpled in a few days. Some of them went on Iranian TV to make Iranian government propaganda.
They endorsed the Iranian account of what had happened, acknowleged that they had been in Iranian waters. They humbly thanked and praised their captors... They would tell a different story when they came home. The clerical fascists who rule Iran "turned" the British sailors by such things as keeping them blindfolded and threatening to shoot them.
The chauvinist press pretended not to notice. The sailors, like all who wear the Queen's uniforn, are heroes, albeit in a world where that debased word is now most commonly used to describe footballers. Some, but not many, voices have been raised to criticise their behaviour.
Not so long ago, their behaviour would have been seen as a "national disgrace". There would already be public discussion about what their moral collapse told us, not only about the armed forces but also about the state of the country.
Spluttering patriots and chauvinists would be lamenting their near-instant collapse in the face of their captors. Some old-fashioned miitarist would say that they should be put on trial. It would be recalled that in the Korean War, American soldiers were tried for similar behaviour...
Not now, in this Britain. Or anyway, not much.
No, the sailors home from the sea were given permission by the Government to sell their story to the highest press or TV bidder - that is, permission to enrich themselves out of the episode. After two of them had done that, the public outcry presuaded the Government to ban the others from doing it.
The papers which lost out in the bidding for the story belatedly turned critical. The anger and humilitation at the moral collapse of the captured sailors and marines that had been so strongly muted in the early press comments now burst out inot hysterical indignation about the ex-captives profiting from it.
The point of view of British nationalism, or any nationalism, is not ours. It is not for us to mourn the death of the "Dunkirk spirit" (indeed of any "spirit"!) in the British Navy. We observe and comment.
All this shows how profoundly demoralised, how unsure of itself the British Establishment now is — all of it, from the government to the armed forces, to the invertebrate liberals, to the vile, hypocritical, bullying, venal press.
The Government and the armed forces top brass who dare not admit, perhaps in their own minds dare not recognise, what has happened.
The press which is so daring, fearless and rabidly chauvinist in hounding, harassing and persecuting helpless darkskinned refugees; which whips up mindless, undiscriminating hostility to British Muslims.
The invertebrate liberals who refuse to stand up to Islamic (and Christian) reaction - recently, for instance, in the affair of the Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad.
They are all so demoralised that all they can do when a shipful of British Navy sailors dsplays the moral fortitude of a school of jellyfish is (at first, anyway) to pretend not to notice.
Actually there were plenty of retired military types in the media castigating the sailors for going along with their captors' version of events. More surprising were the liberal journalists who echoed them: to paraphrase Woody Allen in 'Annie Hall', all it would take to make these journalists talk under interrogation would be to remove their expense accounts!
It is obviously ridiculous to describe the sailors' treatment - being held in solitary confinement, being likened to Mr Bean - as torture, especially in relation to what Iranian political prisoners have experienced for decades. However, on what grounds can we criticise them for saying whatever the Iranians wanted (and it being understood as such) it order to be returned home to their families? It seems to me that the only possible viewpoint from which to do so is that of the military chauvinists.