Peter Hitchens

How the left thought they were right to fight the war on terror

Late one soft summer night in 1966, my brother Christopher slipped out of our north Oxford house and bicycled to the centre of the city. There he spent a worryingly long time with a spraypaint can, inscribing the words ‘Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?’ on a long builders’ hoarding outside Trinity College in Broad Street. You will have to work out for yourselves how I know this, but I do. The punctuation was perfect, and a handwriting expert could easily have told it was him. The slogan endured for months and even appeared in a TV drama filmed in the city some months later. This was how we felt then. There was no other cause so great.

Even on its own terms, the Vietnam war was a terrible error and multitudes did indeed die for a mistake. Its conduct was vainglorious and deluded, largely based on boneheaded bafflement that so much violence could achieve so little against such tiny, ill-equipped foes. Did they really not grasp that men will fight very hard indeed for their own countries? I am completely fascinated to find that so many people of my more or less leftist generation now wish to see one, two, three, many Vietnams, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria — and, I suspect, Iran and perhaps Russia too. They should know better.

It is in the curious and misunderstood events of 11 September 2001 that the riddle is answered. I must admit that, as a former Marxist-Leninist, I was far too cool and dispassionate about this outrage. I assessed it as a military and political event. I thought then — and think now — that people underestimated the importance of the fact that so many of the murderers came from Saudi Arabia.

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