I was toying with the idea of upgrading my kitchen and bathroom to bring my bijou cottage into the twenty first century. But I’m bemused to find I’m reluctant to make any long-term or even medium-term plans. Best wait to see what happens in south-east Asia later this month.
At time of writing, North Korea’s generals are drawing up plans to test medium range ballistic missiles by sending them across Japanese airspace – directly over Hiroshima apparently – to ditch in the Pacific just a few miles off Guam, the US strategic military base in the Pacific. If the supreme leader approves the plans, these tests will take place during August.
Conflicting messages are emanating from the White House. While the US Secretary of Defence is looking for a diplomatic solution to these escalating tensions, the President has promised that any North Korean act of aggression will be met with fire and fury “the likes of which the world has never seen.” Whether this “good cop, bad cop” double act is accidental or deliberate, the undeniable impression is that the US is running on a very short fuse. Mr Trump says the US military machine is “locked and loaded”.
“Locked and loaded” is a succinct expression, pregnant with meaning. It sums up the ethos of nuclear deterrence and the way it works, or is supposed to work. That the system is “locked” implies that it cannot be subject to further interference. Thus any potential aggressor must realise that an act of aggression will inevitably unleash fatal consequences as sure as night, in this case, a long wintry nuclear night, follows day. The scene is set; there is nothing anybody can do about it. Only two possibilities remain; either the aggressor continues on a suicidal path, or he backs down. It is salutary to reflect that, over the course of the next two weeks, the doctrine of deterrence is being put to the test.
What can you do? Keep calm and carry on. I went to see Dunkirk with a New Zealand pal. She loved it. I didn’t. I emerged, shell-shocked, as if from under a bombardment at Passchendaele. I think that was the general idea. Call me a stuffed shirt, but I’m becoming disaffected with cinema. Don’t get me wrong; I thought Dunkirk was beautifully shot. That Spitfire gliding over the beaches with its engine shut down was a sight to behold. And Mark Rylance can do no wrong. But what a racket. I was already in a surly mood after the coming attractions’ thirty minutes of high decibel bludgeoning, only to find I was to remain under fire for another couple of hours. You can frighten the life out of anybody by creeping up behind them and discharging a pistol next to their ear. Yet even a deafening heartbeat – tinnitus begets tinnitus – was preferable to the bastardization of Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations that was meant to evoke some ancient mystic Britannic myth. I don’t like to be manipulated.
I went back to Volume Two of Churchill’s The Second World War, Their Finest Hour, and reread The Deliverance of Dunkirk. This in turn sent me back to Volume One, The Gathering Storm, which I’m currently rereading. This volume covers the period November 1918 to May 1940, and is in two parts. Part 1 deals with the years between the two world wars. Part 2 covers the period of the phoney war, between its outbreak on September 3rd 1939, and Hitler’s invasion of the Low Countries in May 1940 leading to the fall of the government and Churchill’s acquisition of the premiership. Theme of the volume – How the English-speaking peoples through their unwisdom carelessness and good nature allowed the wicked to rearm. Churchill called the Second World War “the unnecessary war” because he thought that at various times throughout the thirties Germany’s expansionist ambitions could have been thwarted by peace loving nations working in concert within the ambit of the League of Nations. He abhorred Stanley Baldwin’s indifference to foreign affairs, his insouciance, and subsequently Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement. He thought Hitler could have been stopped, if people had been prepared to stand up to him.
Mr Trump brought Churchill’s bust back into the Oval Office when he attained the office of President. I have a notion that, in putting down a red line for Kim Jong-un, he considers he is being Churchillian. There’s that famous Santayana quote, that those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it. The trouble is that history never really repeats itself. And North Korea isn’t Nazi Germany. Whatever Mr Trump does, he had surely better act in concert with Japan, Russia, China, and the European Union.
But what do I know? I have a horrible feeling if I’d been around in the thirties I would have been an appeaser. “Is this really necessary, Adolf – may I call you Adolf? Couldn’t we find some way of avoiding this unpleasantness? Couldn’t we reach some sort of accommodation? What exactly is it you want?”
At Berchtesgaden, the Fuhrer would have walked all over me.