Un­like the Sec­ond World War, the hor­rors of a cen­tury ago were a col­lec­tive out­break of mad­ness

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Back Page -

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

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