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Jul 16

Day 21 – The Last Word – Richmond Park to Westminster

Gate Expectations

 

I notice that the closer we get to London the larger (and dare I say it, the more vulgar) the houses and of course the higher the “sod you” gates: you know, the ones with push button entry bells designed to keep scruffy folk like us out. I always imagine that behind these walls a series of “Mr Bigs” live with bottle blond wives with vermillion toe nails. Mr Big is always an even uglier version of Alan Sugar; he will be sitting in his vast office which will be dominated by a model of his huge yacht. He will of course be devising ways to screw the public.

Sit on my Memory

We have now done our final stretch from Kingston to Westminster – and a good job too because for heaven’s sake we have walked quite far enough – as we crawled down the Thames tow path, we passed literally hundreds of benches all carrying memorial plaques. A nice way to be remembered methinks.

Another Lovely Tom

I ring Tom, one of the traders in my financial services providers “Spreadex”. They are always and consistently efficient and pleasant.

 

Talking of pleasant young men…

 

The Last Word

 

One of my godsons – a staunch Christian – is to join the services and he has been accepted by RMA Sandhurst to train as an officer. Apparently his parents were not particularly keen on the idea and some of his friends mocked him for “wanting to kill people”. How daft is that?

 

A Noble Profession

My godson asked for my advice and this is what I told him:

 

I was flattered you asked me about my military experience. However, I should add a government health warning about my experiences because “the past is a foreign country and they do things differently there”…!

 

You are entering a noble profession. I hear that you are being mocked by a good many of your friends who do not understand what military life is really about. They think that because you are to be a soldier you are a “war lover” when in fact, of course, the reverse is the case – you are there to stop war. Any country that fails to properly defend itself loses its identity, it’s as simple as that. It’s the first obligation of government to defend the realm and the job of the services is therefore of crucial importance. I understand that we spend about 35 per cent of our GNP on social services and under seven per cent on our national defences. Only the future will demonstrate whether these prove to be the right expenditure priorities for our nation.

 

Churchill once wrote that “the history of man is the history of war” and that’s a sad fact that any casual student of ancient – and modern – history will know. The idea, therefore, that laying down arms somehow deters the wicked from hostilities indicates that the person who holds such a view knows no history. The Russian communist and violent psychopath Lenin who led the ghastly Russian revolution said that those who were members of the UK peace movements were “useful fools”; more recently, when the Berlin Wall came down and reporters gained access to East German archives, they discovered that the CND was partly funded by the Russians. Oh yes, we need to defend ourselves as a nation, so please join up. Our country needs fine young people such as you obviously are.

 

I hope you will read all Max Hastings’s books on war, plus Quartered Safe Out Here by George MacDonald Fraser and First Light by Geoffrey Wellum. You will much enjoy them.

 

There are those who proclaim that followers of Christ have to embrace pacifism, wrenching the comments about peacemakers in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount completely out of context. Jesus drew a careful distinction between defending the realm and our private conduct towards our neighbour. Note that Jesus never told the centurion he should change his profession!

 

In an attempt to help you understand the emotions of war, here are a few thoughts, which I culled from talking to and reading about the experiences of veterans from the Second World War. But I reckon that anyone who experienced any of the many wars since 1945 would agree with them.

 

War is the peak of human contradiction. It contains every paradox and hardly any answers: it raises hope in hearts, excites dreams that we can solve problems, and usually leaves its victors as well as its victims disappointed, dismayed and disillusioned. But war offers its survivors in battle one supreme emotion – the feeling of having been through the turmoil of fire and having lived to mourn one’s comrades in arms. It binds friendships tempered in the forge of white-hot experience in a way unmatched in other relationships in our peaceful society. This perhaps explains its attractions and intoxicating lure to the warrior instinct in us all, buried away as it is with our feelings of insecurity and fears that are stored in our subconscious.

 

This is not an argument to justify war by any means but an attempt to try to place the whole process in context. I am sure that when you have left the army you will see the rest of your life through the prism of your service experiences: you will never again know such fear, friendships and contrasting emotions. It will be your university of life.

 

In 1974, Erich Fromm offered this observation in his book The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness:

 

“War to some extent reverses all values. War encourages deep-seated human impulses, such as altruism and solidarity to be expressed – impulses that are stunted by the principles of egotism and competition that peacetime life engenders in modern man. Class differences disappear to a marked extent. In war, a man is man again, and he has a chance to distinguish himself, regardless of privilege that social status confers upon him as a citizen. War is an indirect rebellion against the injustice, inequality and boredom governing social life in peacetime… the fact that war has these positive features is a sad comment on our civilization.”

 

Please let me know your progress.

 

Aunt Agatha

Economist Maynard Keynes once said, “When someone persuades me that I am wrong, I change my mind.” What do you do?

 

One of the joys of life is to be able to discuss things with the young; then, when your learn something new, to adjust your viewpoint. Clearly Maynard Keynes understood why some people – particularly the elderly – can be so tiresome to talk to. All too many of us are firmly set in our ways and patterns of thinking, and simply refuse to budge.

 

Take Aunt Agatha, for example, a teacher in her day, and a good one too. However, as she grew older, she became increasingly irritating because she simply stopped thinking. This had nothing to do with dementia since other factors were clearly at work.

Closing the Door

Towards the end of her life, my aunt upset me so much that I chose to say little else to her apart from passing the time of day and being as kind as I could be without losing my temper. It’s upsetting when you seeing someone you once respected and still love behaving like a loon. So from time to time, I couldn’t help myself from trying to correct her. However, Aunt Agatha had ceased to hold opinions: instead she paraded prejudices. She simply ignored any information that might persuade her to change her mind, and instead would cling to her old views rather like a swimmer terrified of letting go of her water wings in case she sank.

 

US psychiatrist Scott Peck’s theory is that Agatha had allowed herself to succumb to a lethal combination of fear and laziness: fear that if she allowed herself to absorb new information, she risked having to change her mind. She realised instinctively that if she allowed that to happen, her fixed map of the world, carefully constructed over considerable time to protect her from the cave where dragons might lurk, would have to be redrawn. So she allowed her natural laziness to engulf her like a shroud so that in time she grew incapable of the necessary effort and courage needed to face reassessing her views on life.

 

One of Agatha’s least attractive features was her default position, which inclined her to look down on various groups of people so she could feel better about herself. So her opinions about Jews, blacks and Johnny Foreigner were culled straight from The National Front. Once, I sought to challenge her view that the Paralympic Games were a disgrace (because it’s cruel to allow cripples to make spectacles of themselves as a public entertainment.) When I showed Agatha pictures of cheering crowds and happy competitors, all she could say was: “You do go on… you can’t bully me!” Then when I told her she was being absurd, she replied: “You’re always so argumentative and silly!”

 

She simply closed the conversation down. She thought her dogmatism indicated strength. Discussion with her was the dialogue of the deaf.

 

Sad that. I saw a car sticker once that read: “Get even: grow really old and become a problem to your children.” I know exactly what the author meant.

 

And Finally…

Apparently, once when Billy Graham’s wife Ruth was driving along a Californian turnpike, there was a mile-long tailback caused by extensive road works. After an hour’s wait, she saw a sign that read: “End of Construction. Thank you for your patience.”

 

Ruth died in 2007. She asked to have her gravestone inscribed thus:

 

“End of Construction: Thank you for your patience.”

 

I rather like that.

 

 

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