Lessons to be learnt from the past

Posted on 3rd December 2016

Slane Castle

The last couple of weeks have been dominated by family and friends, most particularly because I lost my mother on the 20th November. She was 92 and had a long and colourful life. Grief, as we all know, hits you in many ways and at times is deeply personal and intense but as I seek to put it all in context one thing strikes me repeatedly and that is, despite all the trials and tribulations of recent years, how extraordinarily privileged we have been because so far we have escaped the ravages of war. This was not the case for my parents. It gave them in each case an inner steel and in both an abhorrence of war. In my mother’s case there were the strong memories she got from her parents of the complexities of the Civil War and in my father’s case the experiences of a young man fighting at the tail end of the Second World War. My mother nursed the wounded and then joined the Catering Corps and hitched her way to Berlin with a friend and was photographed in the smouldering ruins of the Reichstag. From them both I learnt much but as I watch with increasing horror the savage civil war in Syria I never cease to remember how we in Europe have in our lifetimes led such a privileged existence and how we should never forget the lessons that history has taught us.

As I write this, President-elect Donald Trump has yet to select his Secretary of State. This will be a crucial appointment and will send a strong signal to the outside world about the tone of the new administration. There is much to be fearful about. The Russians are pursuing a ruthless proxy war in Syria. The moving of their aircraft carrier through the Mediterranean sounded much like the drums of war. The U.S. needs to handle this situation with extreme care. During the Presidential campaign there was much unsettling talk about the Russians exerting undue influence.

Trump has also done much to undermine NATO. To be rational about it, NATO does require reform, and we now have an extraordinary situation whereby the UK seeks to leave the EU and yet with the United States is still the driving force behind the Alliance. You have already seen this have an effect on the negotiations between the UK and Poland over Brexit.

This all brings to mind where I have started. We are living in a new great age of uncertainty. Do not underestimate the forces at play here. There are convulsions taking place in France and Italy. Merkel’s future is far from assured in Germany. At home we need our leaders to step up to the plate. I am praying.

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