Me and my God Alastair Mackie
"1 FEAR 1 may also be doing this interview because it may be attracting attention to me, which I feel uncomfortable about because I'm very egotistical . . . I am very selfrighteous and highly critical . . . in those days, I was more selfcentred and more arrogant."
The quote is an outrageous fabrication: a cunningly worked scissors-and-paste job, each clause provocatively culled from slivers and snippets of an hour's worth of tape, glued together only by my fraudulent imagination.
But it serves a purpose. Air Commodore (Retd) Alastair Cavendish Lindsay Mackie, CBE — to quote the drum-roll of the Who's Who entry — was singularly troubled by our encounter, for reasons that should be obvious from my piece of dubious extrapolation. "Rut I thought," he remarked at one point, "that I probably ought to do it, because of the cause."
Ah, yes: the cause. It is, at first glance, slightly surprising. Read again the full name and title, with its resonances of a certain orthodoxy in mind and Establishment clubbability, and be more than a little surprised in learning that Alastair Mackie, "dissenting Anglican" and wrestler with "doubts and questions", is the vice-chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Simply by being so, he has had to accept, shall we say, a measure of exile from the institution that helped shape and form him.
"Arrogance," I think, is quite wrong, and does less than justice to his capacity for selfquestioning and analytical rigour; one senses a mellowness — or mellowing — of outlook, too. But there is a particular type of military mind that examines the evidence, weighs the facts, and looks at the data — objectively, dispassionately — before coming to a conclusion which, once reached, is immutably fixed.
To Alastair Mackie, present defence policies are an "absurd nonsense"; the Official Secrets Act is "ludicrous"; in Westminster and Whitehall, there is "a preposterous notion of our grandeur and importance in the world". It was not hard to imagine his ex-colleagues using exactly the same sort of language about his present ones.
Nor was it difficult to picture "a clever little boy" who was "no good at games" and "something of a loner". And then, in his formative teens, Alastair Mackie discovered "one of the delights of my life . . . I found that I could fly, and 1 thought" — the words themselves took wing, almost rapturously — "this is a delight . . . this is something absolutely splendid".
During the war, he flew an American Liberator in the middle eastern theatre, before returning home for D-Day, taking to the air in a Dakota for the airhourne assault on Europe, the carnage of Arnheim, and the Rhine crossing.
After that came the Joint Services Staff College — where, amidst an atmosphere of academic tolerance, he first proclaimed his heterodox views on defence policy. "I don't say," (he said) "that there wasn't a Soviet threat, There was a subversive threat — undermining the trade unions, reds under the bed. and so on and there was a political threat, with countries being subverted all over the place."
I smiled, and — for an instant — almost saw Alastair Mackie leaning back, scotch and water in hand, in an armchair at the United Services Club. (Instead, he was pouring me coffee in the sprucely-kept, book-lined lounge of his Putney house). "But there wasn't a direct military threat: that's the point."
His career since — a Cabinet Office attachment, the decision to leave the army, his presidency for several years of the International Union for Health Education, his steadily rising involvement with CND — has not been unconnected with that dissenting Anglicanism. "I couldn't," he told me, "have been a more conventional and ordinary Anglican. And not only was I, as I told you earlier, a clever little boy, but also a rather holy boy, which was worse. But I always felt that I was something of a dissenter."
This was, it seems, partly due to the collosal, formative influence of his Charterhouse housemaster, who taught him a phrase that might quite aptly do as a motto: "Don't accept things just because they're in the system."
The "broad and comfortable" nature of the Church of England clearly irks him, to a degree: he is strongly in favour of women priests ("I simply can't see what the reproductive system has got to do with it"), and sceptical of the idea of "children being born into sin".
Doubts and questions, questions and doubts. It strikes such a strange counterpoint with that fixed military certainty.