Thursday, 21 August 2014

"CIVIS AMERICANUS SUM"



 In 1847 a Gibralterian Jewish merchant and British subject named Don Pacifico, having suffered an anti-semitic attack upon his property in Greece, found himself unable to obtain redress from the Greek government.

  It was the start of the so-called Don Pacifico Incident which I recall reading about in my A Level History studies

 Lord Palmerston eventually despatched the Royal Navy to Piraeus the main port of Athens in defence of the cause of this single British subject. The port was blockaded for two months until Don Pacifico was eventually awarded £500 compensation. 

“Civis Romanus sum” thundered the Prime Minister in Parliament, in justification of his actions.

"As the Roman, in days of old, held himself free from indignity, when he could say, Civis Roman Sum, so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him from injustice and wrong."

 It was a prime example of what became known as Palmerston’s “Gunboat Diplomacy,” an especially vigorous defence of Britain’s interests on the world stage.  

In the light of the brutal murder of American journalist James Foley by ISIS, opinions vary as to what response needs to be made. Some might tell us that as Christians we should turn the other cheek and forgive our enemies in this instance.

 But that would be a gross misreading of scripture in my view.

 The Sermon on the Mount was written as the morality code for individual Christian believers, not nation-states. The nation-state finds itself instead in Romans 13 territory, charged by God with the upholding of order, and therefore without the luxury of turning the other cheek.

                              he does not bear the sword in vain” (Rom 13:4)

 It is the US which currently bears the primary responsibility for the outworking of Romans 13 in the international arena. 

The sword may have given way to the gunboat, which in turn has given way to the F15 fighter jet but the principle remains the same.    

When God blesses a nation with the strategic upper hand on the world stage, that is a power which comes with great responsibility.

 In his day, Palmerston knew that Britain was the world’s policeman and that policemen must be seen to act.

Just as when three Israeli youths were kidnapped and murdered in June, Israel knew that the hammer hard to fall, and fall hard. Otherwise an enemy that understands no other kind of language but force, would be emboldened by an opponent's hesitancy.   

Sometimes it does not really matter whether what you do is especially effective or conducive to your wider objectives. Sometimes it is simply necessary to be seen to have done something.

All the more so when the cause is far greater than a dispute over compensation!

 To do nothing only convinces your enemy that you have grown too weak or too timid to respond and encourages him to still-greater crimes  

We do not expect that Mr Obama will cry, “Civis Americanus Sum”: that is clearly not his style.

However he does have to do something.