Courage

For the casualties; the Regimental Band of the Coldstream Guards and Pipes and Drums of the Queen's Own Highlanders (Seaforth and Camerons) play the beautiful Sands of Kuwait.

It’s Book Club night so the Coven are getting together elsewhere to stir their potions and compose some new spells against a backdrop of suitably windy and wet weather. The dogs are dozing and I am sitting in that lost space between finishing supper and waiting for the post 10pm exit poll for the first indications of how went the day. I can’t say I am too exited. The election campaign has been a missed opportunity for so many to present a challenging and interesting, vibrant and exciting platform for the future. Instead we have had slow-and-steady or being exulted to believe in fairies. Kind of like a choice between school dinners or blowing all your money in one mad night at the casino. Utterly forgettable the lot of them. If that is the best we can come up with as a country then something has truly warped and ruined our usually imaginative, if occasionally cranky, national DNA.

So, my mind has been wandering as it often does. I can’t help dwelling on the extraordinary courage and tenacity of a small number of individuals last Saturday night on London Bridge and in Borough market. The Aussie nurse who ran headlong into danger to help, the journalist who strode over to take on the terrorists, the London Transport police officer who stood in the shoes of so many before him, the bar manager who struggled to keep the doors of the bar closed against the attackers, the young Spaniard swinging his skateboard to defend others, the bloody minded Millwall fan who wasn’t having any of it. Brave, brave people who in an instant, were confronted with life threatening danger. Up close and personal and through instinctive self preservation, training, selfless courage, anger, belligerence, selflessness; who knows, something clicked in. They saved lives. In some cases at the cost of their own. Others amongst them suffered grevious wounds. We will remember that day for many reasons.

John Bamford GC. Awarded the George Cross in 1952 at the age of 15 after rescuing his two brothers from a house fire despite suffering terrible burns

John Bamford GC. Awarded the George Cross in 1952 at the age of 15 after rescuing his two brothers from a house fire despite suffering terrible burns

We don’t give awards for bravery away with Lucky Bags in this country. The starting premise, certainly for those in uniform, is that everyone does their bit. That is, you have to do something a bit special, above and beyond to be recognised. When recognition is due though, the system is usually unstinting in recognising it. There are occasional omissions. It has often been the case that acts of bravery have not been witnessed, some people have been better at writing citations up than have others but as a general rule, the right thing happens. The hurdles to recognition are unashamedly high. For example, as a rule of thumb, it is said that for the George Cross Committee of the Cabinet Office to recommend the award of a George Cross, (awarded to civilians and the equal of the Victoria Cross), there should have been a 90% probability of the recipient being killed. You can see some examples on the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association web site here. Members of Army Regiments and Corps mostly all know the names of their Regiments recipients of the Victoria Cross and all recruits are taught in their Regimental history lessons the stories of days when their forbears won multiple awards in the same action such as the Lancashire Fusiliers ‘Six VC’s before breakfast,’ at Gallipoli. 

I believe the actions of those brave individuals on Saturday night will, in time and after an appropriate period of mourning for the dead, be seen in that light. Their fighting spirit and sacrifice will come to have some meaning for us all and they will be remembered for a very, very long time, not just for their individual actions but for what collectively it signifies. A medal is not worth a life, it just isn’t. But embracing what they did, and remembering them, might save lives. I genuinely do believe we ought to start treating the dead and wounded of terrorist actions as war casualties and give the memory of their actions the dignity they earned.

"Things Need To Change"

The barbaric and godless agents of Jihad brought murder and mayhem to our Capital's streets again last night. As the texts came through to the dinner party I was at everyone’s thoughts were immediately with our kids, family and friends living in London. At some point most of us have walked across London Bridge, most of us have had a drink in Borough Market. As the days pass, many of us will be not many degrees of separation from people who were there or have been killed or injured. Again, we were lucky that the attack was close to major trauma hospitals and the Met were simply outstanding in dropping the terrorists within 8 minutes of the first 999 call. The attack could have been worse, and it again it may prove to be the case when the full details are released that we were lucky in that the full horror of what was planned was not executed to it’s fullest potential extent. 

It was encouraging to hear Theresa May say this morning that, "We cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are. Things need to change….” Is this perhaps the “moment of collective recognition,’ to which I previously referred when as a nation we get serious about the Islamist threat rather than leaving it to for the police and security services to deal with and hope we will be okay? I hope so. Action on a broader more public perspective is overdue and the blame lies mostly on the shoulders of politicians across the spectrum who have refused to engage and debate the problem of extremism. Some of these politicians should take these mass murders as a reality check and confront some of their past decisions and their bovine intransigence exhibited when matters of individual liberty are in conflict with the safety and well being of society as a whole. Are you listening Nick Clegg and the rest of the cloth-eared Guardian reading muppets who put their arrogant ill-thought out high-mindedness before good ordinary common sense? We are not in a school debate; we are effectively, at war.

Maajid Nawaz talks to Fox News about Islamist extremism and the bigotry of low expectations. In the discussion, Maajid also argues a case for why his fellow liberals should stop saying this has nothing to do with Islam.

To that end, there are one or two immediate steps the government of the day, (whoever that might be from Thursday), can take to offer the public reassurance and I am sure that the Home Office is working on tweaking things like the Prevent policy as I write. A good place to start would be to listen to what some Muslims are suggesting. As obvious as it might sound, half of Westminster has been listening to the wrong, mostly self appointed, ‘leaders of the Muslim community,' and the other half haven’t been listening to anybody. Some, like former Islamist Majeed Nawaz have however good and logical advice to offer. We must listen and act.

For what it is worth, I think it would be a comfort to the wounded from all terrorist attacks to be told, “you are innocent casualties of war. As such you will be entitled to the full support of the State. If you choose to do so, you may elect to be fast tracked in your treatment and rehabilitation onto the military system. You will have access to the full range of medical services, doctors, mental health specialists and rehabilitation centres as you require them and you will enjoy priority access to those services for your lifetime. You will be eligible for full financial support and enhanced disability pensions with immediate effect and for the rest of your life.” Military medical services have not always been what they might have been but by the end of the Afghan engagement they were pretty slick and the work done at Headley Court, (soon to move to Stanford Hall in the Midlands), and Help for Heroes Tedworth House and Phoenix House Recovery centres provides an awesome state of the art rehab package. Moreover, any military charities who wish to offer support will be given exemption by the Charities Commission so to do. Such actions might seem trivial and disingenuous to someone lying in a hospital bed after multiple operations but in time, it might be seen as a meaningful gesture and would be well received in the country. It would also, as a statement of intent, send a message to all and help enfranchise the population in our purpose which is to defeat the terrorist.

The attack last night showed the kind of coordinated planning which was always likely to evolve from past attacks. There will be more. The suddenness, shock and brutality didn’t end last evening. The knife / machete /sword attack is much favoured by Islamists with multiple examples in the Middle East, China, the USA, Canada and Germany. Indeed, the campaign in Israel has been termed the ‘knife Intifada,’ by Hamas. Sharp blade attacks are bloody and they are terrifying. In so much as the ordinary decent citizen may be in a position to defend themselves, lets look at some elementary principles which may have value in a survival situation.

As with most incidents the citizen should be aware of the attack planning cycle, (described in this 2014 post).  Terrorist attacks incidentally are rarely spontaneous. They usually go through a distinct six stage attack cycle which includes planning and reconnaissance. Appropriate awareness of your environment can help citizens spot terrorist surveillance with things or people that are out of place, suspicious and which may represent a threat. This also represents an obvious vulnerability to the terrorist. Whilst a knife attack may be an attack of opportunity rather than one that has been planned, reconnoitred and rehearsed, there may nonetheless be ‘tells,’ that suggest someone is acting suspiciously and may be about to launch an attack. Look for unusual or erratic behaviour that is out of place. If unusual posture, tenseness, a fixed stare, agitated or nervous behaviour, perspiration or actions that suggest the person may be ‘high,’ on something then lift your ‘situational awareness,’ to your highest state of alertness.

For a knife to hurt you you must be within arms length of the bad guy. The sooner you anticipate trouble coming the sooner you can put distance between yourself and the assailant or prepare to defend yourself. As I describe in the previous post, while the art of ‘ situational awareness,’ is easily learned and practiced few people bother. Why indeed should they have needed to for most of their lives? For most it is just something one does when in unfamiliar environments or, for example, at night in a badly lit street. Staying ‘ switched-on,’ though is simple, costs nothing and could save your life. Do not for example, wear headphones when out and about. You just won’t hear the bad guy coming. Obviously, the victims of last nights attack had no warning but the next attack may differ in its methodology. 

The best defence against a sharp blade attack is to stay out of range. Always run not fight if you are able. For lethality, the assailant must get to within 3-5 feet of you. If you are cornered with no exit, prepare to fight and fight hard as some very brave individuals, including a police officer, did last evening. Throwing any objects to hand at the assailant may buy you priceless seconds or indeed deter the attacker. Bar stools, chairs, tables in fact anything that can keep space between you and the assailant should be used, as indeed they have been in a number of well publicised attacks elsewhere. Self defence training is obviously a help. Most though will not have that training and will be scared. Easier said than done but if you can keep your head and commit then your life chances increase from zero to possible. In such an attack you are most likely to be cut, slashed or stabbed. It is critical that you do not lose the will to fight and survive at the first sight of blood. In a frenzy, the cuts are not likely to be fatal. Giving up is. If the emergency services get you to hospital alive you will most likely live. 

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If the bad guy has closed in on you do not attempt to grab the knife or machete. The grievous resulting wounds will likely incapacitate you. It is vital to get control of the assailants knife hand or arm. You may consider that getting right up close and personal, inside the arc of the arm, is safer than being at the tip of his weapon and opens up your options in using your heels, head and teeth. Remember, your aim is to survive and buy time until people can come to your aid. 

Citizen Aid App

Citizen Aid App

If you are cut or are with wounded souls then providing the attacker has left, apply first aid. Remember, the amount of blood is not correlated to the seriousness of the injury. It will very likely look much worse than it is. Most bleeding can be stopped with the application of pressure and elevation. An arterial wound, (spurting), must be treated immediately. A friend of mine died in just a few minutes from a small wound to the femoral artery after a bomb blast. Act and act fast. Learn how to make and apply an improvised tourniquet. Attending a first aid course is a good idea but at the minimum, please consider downloading the Citizen Aid app which contains advice on life saving first aid and is written by military and civilian trauma specialists.

In summary, nothing in life can prepare you for a frenzied knife attack. To do nothing is to die. If you can buy time, just seconds, it may save your life. The earlier you identify a threat the more time you will have; practice situation awareness. Be curious, be aware and trust your feelings. The most valuable thing you have, as any survival instructor will tell you, is the will to live. Have that and have it in spades and never, ever, ever give up.