Man’s capacity to subject fellow members of his species to inhumane acts appears to be limitless. In my relatively long lifetime which has been spent in almost equal measure in the UK and the USA I have witnessed a bloody and pointless war fought in SE Asia; a less protracted but vicious conflict in the islands of the South Atlantic that could have been avoided completely with just a little planning (in the style of “the fastest sword is the one that is never drawn”); a bitter internecine struggle, fought asymmetrically over 30 years in Ireland and the British Isles; six full-tilt wars in the middle east; and two superpowers with mind boggling arsenals of high-tech weapons and who each failed to learn the lessons of history regarding the fate of previous superpowers in the same location, brought to a humiliating standstill in the mountains of Afghanistan. Yesterday, breakfast television news was speculating whether a pudgy oligarch with a heinous haircut on the Choson Pando peninsula, would test fire a rocket with possible ICBM capabilities.
That was the situation until lunchtime. Then the report of the bombs in Boston broke and the old familiar pattern began. There were a few harrowing video clips, news anchors went into overdrive analyzing minutiae in prosaic if not asinine detail and a string of allegedly expert talking heads were paraded across the screen. Déjà vu all over again! Sadly I feel that in my dotage I’ve become resigned to the horror of these events. Terrorism has touched (or just missed me) on several occasions. In 1974, two pubs in my hometown of Guildford were blown up with loss of life and huge numbers of injuries. I heard the car bombs that killed a renowned Professor of Hematology at a British medical school (1975) where I was later to work as well as the politician Airey Neave (1979). I saw and heard ambulance dispatches to the Hyde and Regents Park explosions of 1982 where cavalry horses and colorfully uniformed troopers were mown down by nail bombs in scenes of unspeakable carnage. In 1993 I watched a movie in a cinema in Charing Cross Road, London, only to learn a day or so later that a bomb that had failed to detonate was found under one of the seats and had been placed there several weeks previously. In 1996 the blast from a ten-ton truck bomb at Canary Wharf, London, nearly knocked in the windows of my flat two miles away across the Thames. Then came 9/11 and my cousin Robert, working for the investment bank, Cantor Fitzgerald, was tragically lost in the World Trade Center.
I have more examples but I’ve made my point and the list is long enough. The values of my generation in its youthful prime were of optimism and agreeable co-existence. “Give peace a chance” and “Make love not war” were common mantras but sadly dismissed as naïve and unworkable by our successors. Maybe they were but it was nice to be optimistic. Unfortunately my attempts over the years at conflict resolution have been only partially successful. Indeed I’ve had some spectacular, almost hilarious, failures and sadly I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how illogical or painful this behaviour may be, the human race thrives on conflict. While this trait is certainly species-threatening, it remains to be seen whether it will cause an extinction event. Hopefully not but I’m not taking any bets. Indeed I’m reminded of the movie Terminator 2 and the conversation between the young John Connor (Edward Furlong) and his time-travelling Terminator bodyguard (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in which they discuss the fate of the human race:
John Connor: We're not gonna make it, are we? People, I mean.
The Terminator: It's in your nature to destroy yourselves.
John Connor: Yeah. Major drag, huh?