The Battle Speech That Defined A War
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The Battle Speech That Defined A War

It’s been compared to the Gettysburg address and the gallant speeches of Henry V as penned by Shakespeare.  The speech, which was made in...

The Battle Speech That Defined A War
It’s been compared to the Gettysburg address and the gallant speeches of Henry V as penned by Shakespeare. 
 
The speech, which was made in Kuwait hours before British soldiers entered into battle, made headlines around the world. It’s even said to hang in the wall of the Oval Office. 
 
Colonel Tim Collins achieved worldwide fame with his improvised speech to his troops on the eve of the Iraq War.
 
Tim Collins would go on to be highly critical of the mismanagement of the Iraq War by politicians:
 
 
It was a speech which made profound references to the biblical significance of Iraq while also evoking the poetry of John Yeats.
“It is the site of the Garden of Eden, of the Great Flood and the birthplace of Abraham. Tread lightly there.”
Collins emphasised the humanity of the Iraqi people, their grace and hospitality, while lamenting the necessity of war and the terror faced by the perceived existence of Saddam’s chemical and biological weapons.  
“If you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory.”
The speech also reflects on the burden and gravity of killing and the importance of dignity in death.
“I know of men who have taken life needlessly in other conflicts. I can assure you they live with the mark of Cain upon them.” 
Actor Kenneth Branagh performed the speech in the 2008 BBC television series 10 Days to War:
 
 
Despite its endurance the speech (reprinted in full below) remains surrounded in mystery and controversy.
 
There exists no audio or video recording of the speech. The record of it only exists because Sarah Oliver, a lone journalist, transcribed it in shorthand as it was being given.
 
Collins told the BBC in 2004:
"Our soldiers require their leaders to explain to them why they are going into conflict, and that's simply what I was doing. It's an interesting reflection on modern times: because the speech was written down by a journalist in shorthand, only one version exists. There's no recording or film of it, so it can't be corrupted or changed, and that's what has given it longevity."
Although the speech gained praise from George W Bush and Prince Charles, which was reported as having moved him to tears, it gained criticism years after it was delivered.
 
Captain Doug Beattie who was in the audience of the speech at the time and was close to Collins, argued in his 2008 book that the speech had a demoralising effect on his colleagues.
 
Rather than energising and inspiring those who heard it as had been reported, he believed it had a negative effect:
“Maybe this was all a little too much reality. I could see heads starting to go down, and it wasn't just a reaction to the sand swirling about in the stiff breeze… Cheers, boss. Thanks a bloody lot…”
Regardless of how the speech has been interpreted it remains popular 13 years later with an audience never intended to hear it. 
 
Schoolchildren analyse it in English classrooms and it contributed to Colonel Tim Collins being awarded an OBE a year after the speech was given.
 
In the wake of the Chilcot Report the speech remains an eloquent reminder of the complexities and duties of modern day soldiers and the responsibilities nations have to ‘tread lightly’ when going to war.
 
 
"We go to liberate, not to conquer.
 
We will not fly our flags in their country. We are entering Iraq to free a people and the only flag which will be flown in that ancient land is their own.
 
Show respect for them.
 
There are some who are alive at this moment who will not be alive shortly.
 
Those who do not wish to go on that journey, we will not send.
 
As for the others, I expect you to rock their world.
 
Wipe them out if that is what they choose.
 
But if you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory.
 
Iraq is steeped in history.
 
It is the site of the Garden of Eden, of the Great Flood and the birthplace of Abraham.
 
Tread lightly there.
 
You will see things that no man could pay to see
 
- and you will have to go a long way to find a more decent, generous and upright people than the Iraqis.
 
You will be embarrassed by their hospitality even though they have nothing.
 
Don't treat them as refugees for they are in their own country.
 
Their children will be poor, in years to come they will know that the light of liberation in their lives was brought by you.
 
If there are casualties of war then remember that when they woke up and got dressed in the morning they did not plan to die this day.
 
Allow them dignity in death.
 
Bury them properly and mark their graves.
 
It is my foremost intention to bring every single one of you out alive.
 
But there may be people among us who will not see the end of this campaign.
 
We will put them in their sleeping bags and send them back.
 
There will be no time for sorrow.
 
The enemy should be in no doubt that we are his nemesis and that we are bringing about his rightful destruction.
 
There are many regional commanders who have stains on their souls and they are stoking the fires of hell for Saddam.
 
He and his forces will be destroyed by this coalition for what they have done.
 
As they die they will know their deeds have brought them to this place. Show them no pity.
 
It is a big step to take another human life.
 
It is not to be done lightly.
 
I know of men who have taken life needlessly in other conflicts.
 
I can assure you they live with the mark of Cain upon them.
 
If someone surrenders to you then remember they have that right in international law and ensure that one day they go home to their family.
 
The ones who wish to fight, well, we aim to please.
 
If you harm the regiment or its history by over-enthusiasm in killing or in cowardice, know it is your family who will suffer.
 
You will be shunned unless your conduct is of the highest - for your deeds will follow you down through history.
 
We will bring shame on neither our uniform or our nation.
 
It is not a question of if, it's a question of when.
 
We know he has already devolved the decision to lower commanders, and that means he has already taken the decision himself.
 
If we survive the first strike we will survive the attack.
 
As for ourselves, let's bring everyone home and leave Iraq a better place for us having been there.
 
Our business now is North."