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Same aims, different environment

The civil engineer is a relatively recent manifestation of the military engineer. Mark Whitby's article tries to make distinction between the civil and military engineer by placing the civil engineer on a pedestal of purity as the creator and protector of civilisation; the military engineer becomes a demon who 'rips out the heart of civilisation'.

Civilisation is more than infrastructure, it is also a state of social development of a human society, which has a highly developed and complex cultural, spiritual, cultural, political and legal organisation.

The civilised community of the Western democracies is revolted by ethnic cleansing, by the wholesale movement of population from their land and homes, and the systematic murder, rape and destruction of whole communities.The regime in Belgrade does not warrant the title associated with the term of civilised behaviour.

There is no doubt that the NATO military machine is accurately incising the infrastructure that allows the Serbian regime to hold on to power and support its politically oppressive military machine. It is important to understand that the use of the military and force is a form of political tool, and the two cannot be decoupled. The NATO effort is directed at specific targets and cannot be compared to the indiscriminate bombardment of the Blitz or the carpet bombing of World War Two.

While the NATO action takes place, with the aim of allowing the Kosovo Albanians to return and live in a civilised manner, in peace, it is predominantly the military engineers who are providing the humanitarian relief to the hundreds of thousands of refugees. Construction of refugee camps with roads, hard standing, tents, clean water, sanitation and catering has given the refugees some relief from the trauma and hardship they have been forced to endure. It will be the military engineers who will be in Kosovo, once a political agreement is reached, to regenerate the infrastructure and restore a degree of civilisation to the people.

The distinctions between the military engineer and the civil engineer are not as wide as Mark Whitby would like to portray. Military engineers are civil engineers. They both construct and maintain the built and natural environment.

The Mostar Bridge was most probably constructed in medieval times by military engineers to improve communications and probably replace a less sophisticated bridge. It was not the military of either NATO or the UN that destroyed the Mostar Bridge, but Serb artillery.

Mark Whitby's emotion confuses civilisation with the desire to preserve heritage. This is an admirable objective, however he must realise that it was precisely the lack of civilisation that led to the loss of the heritage site. It was the UN intervention that brought some stability back to the region. It was British military engineers who reprovided the communication link. As repugnant as war is, it is at times necessary, when all other political avenues have failed. Destruction of infrastructure is an inevitable consequence of war.

It is presumptuous to try and mirror a misconceived perspective, of using the situation in the former Yugoslav Republic, to imagine how the founders of the Institution of Civil Engineers may have distanced themselves from the military engineer. As technology and civil/political structures have developed and we became more industrialised and civilised, it was only natural that new institutions would be formed to meet a specialised need. It is inappropriate to try and create a rift or chasm between the military and civil engineer. Far from civil engineering being the opposite to military engineering, both have the same aims. The principal difference between the two is the environment in which they normally carry out their engineering.

Lieutenant Colonel I A Ogden (M), chief instructor, Civil Engineering Wing, The Construction Engineer School, Royal School of Military Engineering, Brompton Barracks, Chatham, Kent ME4 4UG

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