The Challenge of the Chilcot Report

Today many people in Britain will be recalling the events of eleven years ago, the 7 July bombings. For those most nearly affected, who live with the injuries the bombs inflicted or the loss of someone they love, the memory of that day must be deeply painful. Yesterday’s publication of the Chilcot Report brought another kind of pain to the people of the U.K. as a whole. Along with the grief, the regret, the acute awareness of the senseless loss of life, there is a deep and terrible shame. The very people we elected to represent us in Parliament, who were charged with decision-making, made catastrophic errors of judgement, and none more so, it would appear, than Tony Blair. If Sir John Chilcot is right, we continue to pay for the mistakes that were made then. The world is not a safer place, and death and destruction continue to haunt us. Can we salvage anything from this?

I think first of all we should be grateful that we live in a society where such a report can be commissioned and published. It shows that there is some degree of reflection and self-awareness in the body politic. The published extracts I’ve seen show Sir John to have been polite but damning in his assessments. There is a coolness in his remarks that has much more impact than super-charged emotionalism. Secondly, I think we should remind ourselves that exploding with anger or seeking vengeance (e.g. against Mr Blair) is contrary to the intentions and scope of such a report. If we are to learn its lessons, we need to react less and reflect more. That doesn’t mean that we utter a mealy-mouthed ‘Let bygones be bygones.’ Rather, it means we get to grips with the memories that the Report has stirred up, however hard or painful that may be.

Philosophers, theologians and psychologists all have different things to say about  memory. We borrow terms from the digital world to describe what happens: we encode, store and retrieve our memories, and we talk of short-term, intermediate and long-term memories. What we sometimes forget is the connection that Augustine made, for example, between memory, intellect and will. It is not enough to remember; it is not enough to understand; we must also act.

To a Christian, the Chilcot Report presents a very great challenge. Contemporary theologians have questioned classical Just War theory, and there seems to be a definite movement towards rejecting the permissibility, even in the abstract, of modern methods of warfare. There is also the question of how far, and on what grounds, it is legitimate to interfere in the internal affairs of another nation-state. Sovereignty, democracy and the role of law are something the population of Britain has recently been quite vociferous about. We would surely do well to remember Iraq and the fact that Tony Blair was the democratically elected Prime Minister of this country when he made the ‘flawed decision’ to engage in hostilities there and, later, Afghanistan. We cannot claim rights for ourselves that we refuse to others, can we?

Please join me in praying today for the victims of the 7 July bombings and all who have died or been scarred for life by the Iraq War and subsequent hostilities. Let us pray also for those burdened with guilt about the role they played or failed to play in the processes involved.