Monday, 22 February 2010 INDEX


For most of my adult life this country has been in one emergency or another. In the 20th century it was usually the IRA, though the Argentinians and animal activists were capable of raising the pulse from time to time. In the last decade it has been the so called war against terror and the all too real wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of course, there have been brief moments of respite, like the collapse of the Berlin Wall when people talked about a peace dividend. But these did not last long.

After such a sustained period of emergencies is it not time to wonder if these conditions suit our politicians? As Shakespeare has the cynical ruler say in Henry IV part II, governments aim to "busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels".

When I walk out of my home I am immediately picked up by a cctv camera. There are many of them where I live.

This reminds me of George Orwell's version of Big Brother, not perhaps as terrifying as the prospect of being forced to watch the tv version of Big Brother, but almost as bad.

In Orwell's "1984", the three world powers are constantly at war with each other. These wars seem to have very little to do with the population's lives on a day to day basis. But they do permit extraordinary abuses of civil liberty. After all, surely it is worth sacrificing a few freedoms in the pursuit of a victory against an enemy as terrible as... Here you can fill in your own name: Argies, provos, Taliban, Sadaam, whatever.

If the process of government leads to a requirement to keep populations permanently cowed by the fear of a terrible enemy, then government is very dangerous. It's OK to tweak the tiger's tail when the tiger can't really do you much harm.

But these days it's quite possible to conceive of one of these so called enemies getting hold of truly devastating weapons. Once the scientific and technical genie is out of the bottle, you can't put it back. Nuclear weapons, for example, are within the technical grasp of quite small nations (like North Korea).

Constant warfare, or anti-terror campaigns, brings forward the day when a nuke, or some even more devastating weapon, will be used. It does not have to be this way. After the Second World War America committed huge resources to re-building Germany in the Marshall plan. A new Marshall plan in the middle east would probably make the world a lot safer than chasing Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaida or Al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan, and it would almost certainly cost a lot less.
Monday, 22 February 2010INDEX