– Summer 2021 Editorial

There is much afoot in the world that increasingly challenges the security and the interests of the United Kingdom and her friends. The need for clarity in thought and forthrightness in addressing those challenges is ever more pressing. But is the cacophony of super-networked voices, and the multiplicity of media forms and outlets, drowning the means of constructing clarity and undermining our resolve to pursue any subsequent action?
Prompted by a variety of issues raised by several correspondents, at various times over the last nine months, and in a departure from my usual form of editorial, I am taking this opportunity to consider the nature of debate – the route to collective clarity on any issue in any true democracy. And debate is, after all, the life blood of our Review. Unsurprisingly members’ opinions, in letters to the Editor and elsewhere, vary on the correctness of the approach taken by the Review and of the thoughts voiced by members – ranging from the entirely complementary to the concerned. I trust what follows offers some insights into the challenge of promoting, what one might consider to be, appropriate discourse.
Reflecting all aspects of an argument can be akin to wandering into a minefield; especially in today’s environment that appears less tolerant of different opinions, whilst simultaneously (and rightly) demanding increasingly diverse representation and inclusivity. Accordingly, the Naval Review has always attempted to draw the emotion out of the conversation and focus down on the reasoning. But, as I have remarked upon before in the pages of this journal, we, through a raft of novel media outlets, are now swamped and perhaps increasingly confused by polemic purporting to be argument – that foments polarisation and the worst aspects of ‘woke-ism’ and a ‘cancel culture’. So we, I would opine, must be in the business of carefully testing ideas – providing those ideas do not contravene “the law in respect of copyright, security, libel, obscenity, all forms of discrimination and sedition” (as stated in the Review’s rules).
But why? One would be absolutely right to point out the purity of our purpose stated in the frontispiece of this journal – the promotion of ‘legitimate’ thinking. But perhaps I might also refer to the challenge posed in the same frontispiece. The Naval Review, in pursuit of its purpose, and within the bounds of the above legal constraints, has a declared aspiration that in “promoting healthy discourse, contributors are encouraged to challenge accepted norms or offer novel conclusions.” And in doing so they either only reflect a personal perspective (and not those of any organisation they may belong to) or, on occasion, might represent a ‘stalking horse’ (not necessarily a position that author necessarily believes in) to draw-out discussion in pursuit of a more correct appreciation of a case.
Developing the ability to identify falsehoods dressed up as fact (that is too often supported by spurious evidence or references), and then to be able to proffer a reasoned unemotional rebuttal, is absolutely the knowledge and skills required of an officer in the higher reaches of the Service. As well as being deluged with new sources of information, we now live in an age teeming with fake news – an era where there is a trust deficit that must be addressed by, for example, exposing advocates of ideas and ideologies that corrode the fabric of our democratic society and the efficacy of state levers, such as Defence. But one can’t uncover the ‘fake’ without exposing those caustic beliefs to the daylight of truth – which of course
risks us hearing such thinking’s siren calls and being drawn towards their enticing ‘rocks’. So one has to recognise that this drive to focus on the reason not emotion, the facts not faction, can result in opinions being expressed that jar with accepted policy and ethos or collective wisdom. Appearance of such views in this Review cannot be considered as this journal promoting or endorsing such. Indeed, in the pursuit of inclusivity, unless one first understands one’s own peoples’ views (for instance in the case of unconstructed commentsthat might be made by those members still serving), there is little hope of true progress towards more legitimate opinion that aligns with the Royal Navy’s ethos or standards; which this
journal seeks to reflect. But the Naval Review is, of course, just one route to doing so – after all if another system was working (for instance within the Service) then the ‘unreconstructed contributor’ would have had no basis to contribute as they might to this journal. Therefore, Istrongly assert that, in a post-Chilcot world, what is legitimate can only be arrived at by testing not decree; especially if individuals are to sincerely believe in, not just mouth adherence to, diversity and inclusivity or a commonly held appreciation of the facts.
So, editing your Review is a balance – and whether I am right in achieving such is not for me to judge. But what I truly hope is that reasoned rebuttals proffered by you to what might be considered challenging views, in tandem with your excellent thinking, will arm the membership with ground truth and with the pre-loaded ammunition to counter future specious, ill-informed or unreconstructed debate, wherever it might arise. I cannot finish this quarterly comment without a hail and farewell to some in the executive
team of the Review. First, hail to Cdre Mike Beardall RN (rtd) who formally begins his time in the executive team from August this year. With a more recent background associated with the RNRM Charity, RN Sports and BFBS, Mike was hitherto Head of Strategy in MoD Directorate of Defence Communications, as well as having operational and ship command in the Navy before that. He will initially take on the NR digital portfolio from Tim Harris,
with responsibility for accelerating the evolution of the Review’s output in the digital domain. From August 2022, he will succeed me as Editor of the Review, supported by a new deputy (whose focus will be the journal) to be recruited in the next eight months – see the advertisement towards the back of this edition of the journal. Secondly, we must say a sad farewell to Tim Harris as the Assistant Editor. His tenure has seen remarkable change to the NR’s exploitation of the digital domain that has enabled the
Review to evolve, as it must do, to meet members’ (and the Navy’s) expectations of a more digitally agile and accessible journal of professional record for the 21st Century. None of this success would have happened without Tim’s dedication, initiative and sheer hard work. We all owe him a substantial vote of thanks.
Lastly, it was a shock to hear of the untimely death of a long-time close friend of the Review, just as the last edition was being printed. Eric Grove touched many lives in the Service and far beyond – he is remembered in more detail later in this edition. But I should flag here that his family has welcomed the idea of the establishment of the Naval Review- BRNC Professor Eric Grove Memorial Prize; an idea wholeheartedly endorsed by yourBoard of Trustees. Details are promulgated later in this edition.
Bruce Williams