CHRISTOPHER BOOKER THE LAST WORD
Unlike the Second World War, the horrors of a century ago were a collective outbreak of madness
As the four-year long ceremonies to commemorate the horrors of the First World War finally reach their climax, I am yet again struck by the total contrast between the nature of that war and the one that succeeded it barely 20 years later.
I am just old enough to have been able, as a small boy, to follow the astonishing drama of the Second World War in ever greater detail, from my first vivid memories of it in 1940 to its grand climax in 1945.
Three years later, when I went to boarding school, I discovered in its library four huge volumes of photographs charting the history of the First World War. As I ploughed through pictures of static trench warfare, I found those endlessly repeated scenes so utterly depressing in their frozen futility that I never really wanted to study that war again.
One obvious reason why the conflict I had recently lived through was so completely different was that, from start to finish, it had been such an enthrallingly fast-moving drama, made up of countless riveting sub-dramas, constantly switching our attention from one part of the world to another. The front lines could fluctuate thousands of miles in both directions, from Russia, Europe and North Africa to the Pacific, punctuated by mighty battles at sea and in the air, and spectacular invasions.
And there was of course a real shape to this overall drama, from the initial three years when it seemed Hitler and the Japanese were winning hands down, through the magic moment at the end of 1942 when Stalingrad and El Alamein irrevocably turned the tide, to those two last years when the Allies were inexorably closing in on victory from all sides: until the scarcely believable news of those mysterious “atomic bombs” being dropped on Japan brought the story to what seemed like a miraculously happy ending.
Another huge contrast was the way that in the Second World War, we knew beyond doubt that our enemies – above all the archmonster Hitler – were possessed by unqualified human evil. In the earlier war, which it seemed all Europe had been drawn into by a collective outbreak of suicidal madness, this fundamental moral divide had never been so obviously clear cut.
We never had any doubt that this was a war to the death between darkness and light, which simply had to be won. And this was the reason why I remember it as a time when, for all the different forms of hell they had to endure, all the adults I knew, men and women, alike seemed to have risen so inspiringly to the unprecedented challenge.
Even as a child, I had an overriding sense that the whole country was united, certainly as never since, in one great, alltranscending cause. Which is why, through all my later decades, I have increasingly come to see having lived through the Second World War as one of the greatest privileges of my life. Few, alas, could have said the same about the First World War.
Quite shamelessly, the Met Office has issued yet another report claiming that, in the words of the BBC website, “the UK has experienced more weather extremes in the past 10 years when compared with previous decades”.
It purports to show, for instance, that in the past decade our hottest days have become hotter, rainfall on our wettest days has become heavier and our periods of drought have become longer. As usual, some of us have looked to that meticulous analyst Paul Homewood, on his Notalotofpeopleknowthat blog, for his take on these claims.
Based entirely on the Met Office’s own data, he produces a graph to show that maximum temperatures in the past decade have “got nowhere near those of 1975, 1976, 1990, 1995, 2003 and 2006”. Another graph shows how rainfall on the wettest days has not increased but declined. Similarly declining, despite last summer, has been the length of dry spells or droughts.
As Homewood concludes, the Met Office’s own evidence confirms that, far from becoming more extreme, our weather has if anything become less so.
Yet on the basis of this kind of interpretation, the Office for Budget Responsibility predicts that, over the next five years, the cost to us all of climate change-related subsidies will be £66 billion, equating to £2,500 for every home in the land.
Living through the Second World War was a great privilege