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Oh, for the certainties of the Cold War

Europe has shirked its responsibilities and find itself powerless to intervene with overwhelming force when a bunch of wild jihadists – too wild even for Al Qaeda – set up a terrorist state in the most volatile region of the world, from which we gain most of our energy supplies.

Europe has shirked its responsibilities and find itself powerless to intervene with overwhelming force when a bunch of wild jihadists – too wild even for Al Qaeda – set up a terrorist state in the most volatile region of the world, from which we gain most of our energy supplies.

Today we long for the certainties of the Cold War, when the prospect of nuclear Armageddon kept us all in order and expulsions from embassies of so-called ‘trade envoys’ and exchanges of spies at Checkpoint Charlie was pretty much all there was to get excited about. The enemy lay over there, just behind the Iron Curtain and he wore a uniform.

He had got as much of the world as he could persuade to side with him and we did the same. Those who cried ‘a plague on both your houses’ liked to call themselves the non-aligned. Among our cheer leaders, we had some real bastards (outright tyrants like Saddam Hussein during the Iran/Iraq war) but – as one American famously said – they were, at least, our bastards.

In that halcyon, far-off time, an old man like me could pass through airport controls without being ritually humiliated and he had no fear of being blown out of the skies by a Ukrainian nutter or taken on a one way flight into the Shard. These, I am sure, are the thoughts of many people – and some of these same people will even think further back to a time when the whole world was kept in a form of order by the great European empires.

“What fool,” they are now asking themselves, “said at the collapse of Communism that it was the ‘end of history’”? But foolishness was not confined to him. The so called ‘Peace Dividend’ was lauded by almost all and caused developed nations around the world to think that they could safely slash their defence budgets. Now those same nations find themselves powerless to intervene with overwhelming force when a bunch of wild jihadists – too wild even for Al Qaeda – set up a terrorist state in the most volatile region of the world, from which we gain most of our energy supplies. They even taunt us with their social networking and media skills by flashing up images of their barbarities, virtually in real time.

The truth of the matter is that the ‘good guy’ always needed to keep up his guard, As President Theodore (‘Teddy’ of Teddy bear fame) Roosevelt said: “Walk softly but carry a big stick”. My complaint is not that Uncle Sam is not pulling his weight, but that his collectively richer European partners are not pulling theirs. Had they not scrambled to save pennies on their defence budgets – preferring, self-indulgently, to leave it all to him – they would have been in a position to buttress him and not leave him the lone, isolated figure he is today, carrying the burdens of the world. We, more than anyone, know how thankless and onerous a task it is being the world’s policeman. No wonder, after Korea (which he still shoulders), Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan he is now weary of it all and contemplates increasingly withdrawing into isolationism. God helps us all if he does.

My argument is that if you are rich you carry responsibilities. Europe, in my view, shirks its. This is an area where the EU really could do something useful. That something is to get all member states to agree a percentage of their GDP to defence and hold them to it. Furthermore, it could make a portion of that defence capability available to the UN to give it teeth to deploy forces to troubled areas as and when the need arises. Peace keeping may then move forward to peace making so that, eventually, when enough other countries have pledged similar support, the world’s only legitimate superpower will be the UN.

Right now an arc of terror embraces huge swathes of Africa – right on Europe’s doorstep – and extends thousands of miles eastwards to the major oil producing countries of the world. It may soon extend thousands more if Afghanistan, as seems likely, falls once more into terrorism when NATO leaves next year. Adjacent Pakistan – always a perennially unstable country – may quickly follow suit and that is a state with a nuclear armoury which may very well fall into hostile hands.

To say that the unfolding situation is worrying is to put it mildly. The very first step is to give the well organised and heroic Kurds the capability to smash the ten thousand or so ISIS fanatics. If the new government of Iraq can get its act together, so much the batter. It too can help, so long as they don’t run away again and leave more state-of-the-art stockpiles of weapons to their opponents.

After that, Palestine – the kernel of all Middle East problems – must be addressed. Israel, the one shining light of openness and democracy in a darkening region, must shine that light throughout the troubled Middle East. Unlike the Red Indians, the Maoris, the Incas, Aztecs and so many others, Israelis have at least got their ancestral land back. The rest never will, even though they lost them just a few hundred years ago, never mind two thousand. They should be happy for that and we can take some credit for that happening with our 1917 Balfour Declaration.

But Israel should avoid the deadly sin of greed by being thirsty for more land, personified by the never-ending building of fresh settlements on land they acknowledge not to be theirs. They should show pity for the dispossessed as they themselves were so mercilessly dispossessed down the centuries. The price the Palestinians have paid for Israel regaining its historic land which had been Palestinian for two millennia has been a heart-breaking one. Surely Israel, of all countries, can see that.

Only the victor is in a position to show magnanimity and in all the terrible circumstances now prevailing let Israel show just that. It might be surprised at the response such action elicits. Included in any settlement must be the lifting of the awful siege of Gaza. If a settlement can be achieved between Jew and Arab – who are, after all, ethnically the same people and who both through their holy books revere the same prophets – then much of the ground will have been cut from beneath the feet of the Muslim extremists. Gaza has shown what the alternative is: a legacy of bitterness and hatred which will fester into a new generation.

What we’ve seen these last few days has not been pretty. It has been the very antithesis of the bible story in which little Israel in the form of the boyish David took on the monstrous brute, Goliath. Now in the most disheartening of role reversals, Goliath has become the mighty, clanking war machine which is Israel and David, little, smashed-up Gaza. Interestingly, Goliath did actually come from Gaza, then known as Phoenicia.

What if WWI never happened?

How might the world have looked but for that cataclysmic conflict which began almost a hundred years ago? Mighty different, I can tell you. It is highly unlikely we would have a United Nations since only a catastrophe on a planet-wide scale could have caused countries to submit themselves in the future to a supra-national authority.

A Different World

How might the world look today but for that cataclysmic conflict which began almost a hundred years ago?

There would be no Arab-Israeli conflict and, as a result of that, no 9/11. We would be boarding aircraft in pretty much the relaxed way we used to, with none of the demeaning scrutiny and security measures we have now. There would have been no Cold War and as a consequence of that no mad rush to be the first to land a man on the moon. Because the Second World War was the unfinished business of the first, rocketry was given priority by the Germans as a possible war-winning technology and without that impetus space technology would be way, way behind where it is today. We might not even have those satellites circling the earth which give us GPS, satellite television and so much else. Computer technology – also hastened by war – would still be in its infancy and the World Wide Web would be non-existent. The whole business of electrical miniaturization on which just about everything today depends received a major shot in the arm by the space effort. Of course we would have got there in the end but it would have been at a much more leisurely pace.  

In geopolitical terms, the landscape would be just as dramatically different. There would be no European Union since it was only the trauma of the two World Wars which caused Europeans to think there had to be a better way. We would probably still rule India and most of the other European empires would be staggering on, though under rising pressure for emancipation along with us.  Russia would have evolved from a tsarist autocracy into a fully fledged democratic state. All the fallen monarchies of Europe – the Hapsburgs of Austria/Hungary, the Hohenzollerns of Germany, he Tsar of Russia and even the Sultan of Turkey would still be in place along with a clutch of Balkan princlings. It is likely, though, that most of them would have had their wings clipped democratically.

But the Emperor of China would still be gone. He went three years before the Great War started, discredited by his inability to prevent China’s humiliations by the European colonial powers. But the new China would have had a Japanese experience; it would have taken the Japanese approach of if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, and industrialised like mad. Today, most probably, it would be the top economic as well as military power in the world with Uncle Sam as No. 2. It would have avoided the trauma of the Mao experience and be like Japan, a democratic state. Britain’s colossal overseas investments – all lost to war – along with her staggering land holdings around the world would have been deployed to who knows what ends. They might even have allowed her to stay top dog.

All in all it would have been an utterly different landscape from the one we see around us today. It would not necessarily have been a better world since many of the less salubrious features of the old world would not have been swept away and there would have been umpteen disputes leading to what may be described as bush-fire wars.

As for no conflict with the Muslim world, that is because there would be no state of Israel. If there was any conflict it would be with their Ottoman overlords – it would be them, not us, taking the flak. It was Britain’s seizure of Palestine and the destruction of the Ottoman Empire along with its foreign secretary’s promise to allow a home for Jews in the Holy Land which made the creation of Israel possible. He had no idea it would lead to the dispossession of millions of Arabs from their ancestral lands. This, above all else, is what drives the Jihadists today along with Western military intervention in Muslim affairs. They take the view that it was not a kind-hearted act on the part of Britain regarding Jews – which in fact it was – but a calculated move to plant a Trojan Horse in their midst which would do the West’s bidding and help it keep control of them.

One of the consequences of the two World Wars was to so weaken and discredit the European powers that it hastened the end of their empires. Had the people of the various empires gained their freedom at a more leisurely pace – perhaps as much as a century later – there would have been more time to prepare cadres of their people and put institutions in place which could have avoided the shambles we saw following the rush to independence after the war. Africa, today, with its boundless resources, might perhaps be a well-governed and prosperous continent

But war did hasten the end of deference – à la Downton Abbey – and dispose, in the process, of autocratic monarchies. Only in the victor or neutral states did they survive. Interestingly, not a single state which abolished its monarchy has had a change of heart and reinstated it. I suppose that is our fate when something cataclysmic comes along one day to discredit our own monarchy.

Apart from the most obvious ones – the advancement of science, the UN and the EU – the other major beneficiary of war has been the emancipation of women. Oddly, it was not the dictatorships with their powers of compulsion (the USSR was an exception) which were the earliest and most successful in harnessing the abilities of the fair sex, but the elective dictatorships of the West. Albert Speer, Hitler’s armaments minister, was always bemoaning the Reich’s slowness in this crucial field to his boss.

Child abuse takes many forms

Any society purporting to call itself civilised has one duty above all others: the protection of its most vulnerable, the young and the old. Even armies on the rampage have generally respected these two imperatives.

We are, however, failing to protect our young in an area that is increasingly coming to the fore: allowing our children to become obese.

The truth is that overfeeding is every bit as damaging as underfeeding, yet a malnourished child turning up at school would pretty soon attract the attention of the authorities.

So let’s look for a moment at the consequences for a child of allowing them to become obese. First, the whole of their school experience becomes a misery; they are be picked on mercilessly, and utterly useless on the sports field; groups would likely shun them and the obese child would become the perpetual outsider; and any consequent emotional scaring would likely be carried into adulthood.

The irony of it all is that they are being set up by those who most protest their love for them for a whole range of illnesses in later life, and condemned to what is almost certainly an early grave.

If this is not abuse, I would very much like to know what is. What form of love is it that a parent would do such a thing to its child?

If we can agree that rescue for the child trumps all other considerations, then what are we to do? It seems elementary that we must work for a solution through the parents. But if, despite all our efforts, a satisfactory outcome cannot be reached, then we should be prepared to remove the child and find a dedicated foster parent.

Moving on to another form of child abuse, the recent ruling of a German court found that circumcision, due to cultural conventions, is a criminal breach of a child’s bodily integrity and of its human rights. It is unfortunate, to say the least, that the ruling had to come, from of all countries, Germany. Had it come from a British or American court – both largely free of modern anti-Semitism – there would still have been a howl of protest, but it would have been much muted.

We all abhor FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), and quite rightly it carries a heavy prison sentence. Yet it seems there are over a 100,000 women in our country who have had this procedure done to them and there has not been a single prosecution. Scandalous hardly seems sufficient an adjective.

If we deplore this act of barbarism for young girls, why do we take such a different attitude for young boys? Both involve pain and suffering to no medical end. How can an adult have the right to violate a child’s body?

Surely it is right to take a stand against such primitive and barbaric practices which should have no place in the modern world. If it is deemed important for religious purposes, why could the procedure not be put on hold until the child is of a sufficient age to make an informed decision? If their faith is strong enough, then doubtless they will comply in the fullness of time. But at least the decision would be theirs to make and not one that has been imposed on them.

Muslims as well as Jews will, I have no doubt, be up in arms at what I am suggesting because they too insist on the procedure. But neither faith could succeed in painting me as a bigot since I consider myself a true internationalist. I believe in the oneness and brotherhood of man. There are so many Muslims that I admire, just as there are Jews.

Lawrence of Arabia loved the Arabs and saw great nobility in their culture, and there has always been a strong Arabist lobby in the foreign office. We failed tragically to get a lasting solution that did justice to the Arab cause when we overthrew the Turkish Ottoman yoke in World War One, though all acknowledge that there was no easy solution either then or now.

As for the Jews, I glory in the fact that it was British arms and blood that made possible the state of Israel. So many millions exiled and persecuted around the world deserved a homeland of their own. I only wish we could have achieved the same for the many millions of Kurds as, indeed, we could have done.

I am saddened at how things have turned out, but Israel should heed the wise words of Winston Churchill when he said “in war, resolution; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity.”

No people in history have suffered in the way the Jewish people have, and no people know better what it is to be dispossessed and scattered to the winds. Pain and suffering puts you in a unique position to understand what it is like to be at the receiving end.

All reasonable Arabs now accept the permanence of the Jewish state – particularly now that, in extremis, it can defend itself with nuclear weapons.

Now is the time for Churchill’s exhortation of ‘magnanimity’ to come into play. Let the children of Zion pick up their winnings and leave the table. They can then go on to be a powerhouse for a resurgence of success and prosperity throughout the benighted Middle East which so fuels the Jihadists’ nihilist dreams. It should not let its fear plunge the area and the world’s fragile economy into chaos with a strike against Iran.

Iran knows perfectly well that it, rather than Israel, that would be “wiped from the map” in the event of a conflagration. The self same pressures which kept the Cold War from becoming hot would come into play were Iran to acquire the bomb.

The irony of it all is that the Jews and Arabs are ethnically the same people: they revere the same prophets and regards each other, along with Christians, as ‘People of the Book’.

What is needed now are cool heads and wise leadership, which could lead to a flowering of a lot of very talented people on both sides of the divide.

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