Dismayed by Mrs May’s lack of dismay
I was deeply dismayed by Mrs May’s lack of desperation and horror when asked if she is prepared to annihilate millions at the press of a button. Yet I don’t think Corbyn is right either. I’ve never been able to see a way round the argument put to me by Michael Quinlan when he was Under-secretary of State for Defence in the nineteen-seventies. If everybody got rid of nuclear weapons it would make war more likely. As soon as war started each side would set about re-activating their weapons as soon as possible for fear that the other side was doing so, a classic prisoner’s dilemma situation, and each would be tempted to use them first to pre-empt the other. Multi-lateral disarmament would actually make mutual annihilation more likely. Nuclear weapons have been invented and cannot now be dis-invented. So what can we do about it? At least we could start trying to live in the twenty-first century instead of the nineteenth. Mrs May’s assurance that she would press the button with the equanimity with which Palmerston would have sent a gunboat is deeply worrying. For us the British Empire is as remote as 1066. But this is not the case with the people we colonized. We have largely forgotten the horrors of the British Empire (which is not to say that it did not benefit the colonized peoples in many ways) but they have not: the West Indian slave trade, the Irish potato famine, British troops removing their last stores of grain from starving Indian ryots in the great late nineteenth century Indian famines in order to service the British Government’s debt to Rothschild’s bank, the opium wars, the torture and castration of thousands of Kikuyu in concentration camps in Kenya in the nineteen-fifties. In their eyes we stole their countries and in this context the stupidity of the Iraq war cannot be exaggerated. To so many it was proof positive that we are up to our old tricks of plundering their countries and destroying their cultures. We are not – though how mixed were the motives that led to the Iraq war? – but they think we are. To us suicide bombers are crazed fanatics; to them they are heroes resisting godless neo-colonial oppression. These are misconceptions the world can no longer afford.
How few people seem to have grasped the terrifying truth that through climate change and our possession of nuclear weapons humankind could destroy itself and is well on the way to doing it. We have now entered an age totally different from any other, but we still go on behaving as if it’s history as it has always been. We need to put all else aside in our efforts to save ourselves and the planet, and to do that we have to persuade the world that we really have changed, we are no longer the plunderers of countries and destroyers of cultures that so many think we are. Is this the agenda of Mrs May’s government? It is not. Rather it is making a success of Brexit. That would be a good thing but it is trivial beside the problems that the world now faces. Somehow we have to persuade the world that we all have to join in together in the great task of saving ourselves and the planet, and drop everything else if necessary in order to do so. I don’t think this is Mrs May’s vision. The blindness would be pathetic if it were not so tragic.