This week’s exchange of pleasantries between Donald Truup’s America and the mullahs of Iran brought me almost face-to-face with the possibility of global war for only the second time I can remember in my long life.
I have to be tentative about making this claim, because our Western nations appear to have been fighting one war or another almost continuously over the many decades I can remember, but only once before had we been called upon to confront such competing threats as Trump and Iran have exchanged this week.
The only other dangerous occasion I remember so very clearly came in response to what is now called the Cuban missile crisis, a crisis caused, as we can now see with the benefit of hindsight, by the impetuosity of Nikita Khrushchev in deciding to plant nuclear-armed missies in the island of Cuba, which had only fairly recently declared itself a member of what we thought of as the socialist bloc of anti-western nations.
In those days the world was more starkly divided than it is now, first between the socialist and capitalist blocs (represented militarily by the NATO alliance (American-dominated) and the Warsaw Pact countries (of the Soviet-dominated nations), and secondly between developed (primarily western, capitalist) nations and developing (primarily impoverished former colonies),with the Group of 77 forming an additional group of impoverished nations that were exercised with the difficult task of winning a fair slice of the trading pie, in those days totally dominated by the prosperous west. I believe the Group of 77 still exists although it now is said to have 132 member countries.
These groupings were not mutually exclusive, but tended to spill over into each other at certain points. This was particularly so in relation to what was eventually called the non-aligned bloc, which was inspired originally by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India, who had spent his long periods of imprisonment under the former British rulers in writing several books, on which I have to add in what they nowadays call full disclosure, that I feasted as a teenager.
Nehru, along with the soviet-block rebel, Marshal Josep Broz Tito, of Yugoslavia, combined their immense global prestige to set in motion the idea of the non-aligned bloc, and they were helped along by the second most powerful man in the Chinese Communist hierarchy Chou en Lai, who was in those days the favourite Chinese communist among western thinkers.
Thee were 24 nations at the 1961 conference of these non-aligned, most of them from Africa, the Middle East and south-east Asia. They agreed five principles: namely mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression. non-interference in domestic affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence.
In those days it was the non-aligned attitudes that most appealed to me. My enthusiasm for Nehru led me in 1951 to India as a so-called social worker, a trip and a job for which I was completely unprepared, and in the advancement of which I did not do anything for India, but certainly received an education about the world as I mingled and worked briefly with that country’s huddled impoverished masses.
Ten years later, in October of 1962, by which time I was established in London with a good job (make that a miraculously good job) working for The Montreal Star newspaper, I found myself standing in Trafalgar Square as part of a huge crowd, with my eighteen-month-old son hanging on to my hand, listening as the eminent philosopher (and also, as Wikipedia reminds me, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, essayist, social critic, political activist, and Nobel laureate), Bertrand Russell, one of the greatest men of our age, an old man of
ninety years, who had to be lifted on to the plinth carefully because he looked as if, were he to be dropped, he would probably have shattered into pieces, vigorously, in spite of his age, and in a high-pitched squeaky voice, haranguing the two principals in the Cuban missile crisis which was hanging in the balance at that very moment, as the Americans were surrounding the ship carrying the missiles to Cuba. Russell described Khrushchev and Kennedy as two madmen, and warned of dire consequences if hey did not pull out of this suicidal demarche. We were left in no doubt by Bertrand Russell, that the dire consequences in question would be a nuclear apocalypse.
Well, it turned out that Khrushchev and the brothers Kennedy were open to reason, and they did negotiate their way out of this grave crisis, which to this day remains the closest we have ever come to the nuclear disaster that has hung over all our heads since the Americans took the fateful decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
But can we say the same of the principals in our current crisis? The circumstances are peculiar, first because of the election to the top job in the United States of a man temperamentally unsuited to fulfil the task; secondly, his behaviour as president has been so erratic, so inchoate, so lacking in the balance and thoughtfulness required of any president, that with the exchange of insults that followed his impulsive and unnecessary assassination of the leading soldier in Iran, we onlookers had every reason to fear for the worst. His threat to blow up 52 Iranian cultural sites put the fear of god into most of us, and although we do not know anything about what happened after the Iranians replied moderately to the assassination, we could only hope that as the world’s foremost bully he would react as all bullies do, that when confronted they tend to retreat, especially if the person they are bullying has the wherewithal to hurt them.
So, today we are in this odd position in which the Iranians are saying the Ameircans backed down while Trump, a man who never admits to a failure, boasts that he has taken the moderate course.
But think of it fellows: the fate of the world lies between the fanatic mullahs of Iran, and the narcissistic boastful egotistical Donald Trump.
Who wouldn’t be worried? .Would you be worried, archie? No, boss, wot the hell, wot the hell, toujours gai, toujours gai.