SOMETIMES it seems you have lived beyond history, seen the back of all that, only for events to upend the foolhardy assumption.
Those of us now in our 60s were born not that long after the end of the Second World War (11 years, in my case). That fact still surprises: surely not, you think, that was all so long ago.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine unleashed by the thuggish despot Vladimir Putin drags us back into history’s bomb shelter.
What to think, what to hope and what to dread; here are a few thoughts…
Those on the left and right have been caught out in their admiration for Putin.
From the sentimental socialists there is too often a reluctance to allow criticism of Russia, and a willingness to blame Nato/the US for all wrongs (Jeremy Corbyn is a cheerleader for this gang). Yes, the West may have overlooked a chance to build bridges with Russia after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but this bloodshed is all on Putin and his vengeful ego.
From the rancid right, you will find Putin fanboys such as Donald Trump, who when president basically fawned over the Russian leader, and our own Nigel Farage (“Vladimir Putin is the world leader I most admire,” The Independent, March 2014).
Also on the right is our prime minister, who seemed happy until recently to paddle in Russian money, some landing in his party’s coffers. In truth, successive prime ministers have indulged Russian wealth, earning our capital city the nickname Londongrad, thanks to the ease with which dirty Russian money can be laundered.
Putin has played both sides for fools, lying shamelessly about how he is not going to invade Ukraine, then marching straight in.
Of course, Putin has not physically gone anywhere, being safely at home as his young troops are sent to invade a country for reasons they may not understand, a country similar in many ways to their own. Instead, he stays at the end of that very long table, while his generals gather in a craven huddle in the far distance. A perfect symbol of a man divorced from reality, detached from humanity.
On any given day you will find criticism of the ‘mainstream media’. Trump loved that tacky phrase, and those on the left mutter it as they gather in disgruntled cabals online to complain that we are not being told the full story.
Maybe we never are told the full story about anything; but we are told a story. Our television news and our newspapers show what is happening, or their version of that. In Russia, the state media hides those Kremlin missiles firing at Kyiv, denies the existence of the war against Ukraine.
You do not have to like everything the BBC, ITN Channel 4 or Sky News broadcast, but the story is being covered by reporters who are on the ground and at risk, the likes of Clive Myrie and Lyse Doucet. That BBC pair have been calm and authoritative under pressure, with Mryie even allowing for humour:
— Clive Myrie (@CliveMyrieBBC) March 1, 2022
But the reporting honours for yesterday went to the Ukrainian reporter Daria Kaleniuk, who ambushed our photo-op prime minister Boris Johnson in Poland with an abruptness he was not used to. Speaking directly and passionately, she said: “NATO is afraid of World War III. But it has already started. And it’s Ukrainian children taking the hit.”
Johnson looked uncomfortable, as well he might, especially when Kaleniuk told him that three-word slogans were not enough. His latest is “Putin must fail”, seriously meant, perhaps, but ‘just too glib’ (we can all play slogan Scrabble).
As for refugees from Ukraine coming to Britain, the message from the government seems cruelly convoluted. The kneejerk attitude was that refugees should stay in the first country they enter – a shameless Brit response, made in the knowledge that we will never be that first country.
One charming Tory MP, Kevin Foster, even said that Ukrainian refugees could apply for fruit-picking visas. The best response to that comes in the Times cartoon below by Morten Morland…
Our government’s approach to accepting refugees is to brag about how generous we are, only for greater exposure to daylight to reveal this to be untrue, before they hastily step back, while still leaving the picture deliberately hazy. And leaving refugees in need without an honest answer.
The EU, funnily enough, acted more quickly and with greater generosity, but we have our sovereignty (whatever that is), so that’s all right.