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I used Kipling’s ‘epitaph to a dead statesman’ on yesterday’s post because it remains significant, but also because on this day of remembrance it would seem almost too much that it is as relevant as ever. There was a time when it was the fashion amongst military historians to criticise the late Field Marshal Montgomery for his over cautious approach to battle;  this stemmed from his on experience of the Great War. There he had seen men thrown at the opposite front line as though they were pawns in a game of chess; this was something he refused to do, and I may owe my existence to his caution as my father served in the 8th Army and was duly grateful for his caution. The same reluctance to sacrifice the young was behind Neville Chamberlain’s determination to try every avenue before opting for war with Germany. How easy it is to take some moral high ground at the expense of the lives of others. My own suspicion is that few things have done more to undermine confidence in our political class than the Iraq war. A campaign begun for reasons never really explained to achieve objectives never defined, which has led, sequentially, to the great migration crisis afflicting Europe; our sins have fond us out. But who has paid the price? The dead and maimed soldiers; the dead and maimed civilians; the raped women; the refugees; the poorer communities where so many refugees find their place. Of the end of this no man can tell; but no ne thanks it will end well. The cost in blood, misery and treasure had been, and continues to be, immense. Kipling’s statesman asked what lies would serve him ‘here among mine angry bad defrauded young?’ We have seen many lies tried, but as the poem implies, there are no lies which serve. All they have done is to devalue the currency of democratic politics which depend on trust. If the people you elect seem to hold the lives of your children in such low regard, then what use are they?

This is where, for all the whining about him, Trump has a point. America pays about 4% of its GDP on defence, the UK 2% and the rest of NATO nothing like the 2% they ought. That means that Americans are paying for the Europeans to be able to pay taxes on better healthcare than most Americans enjoy; one can see why that doesn’t seem such a good deal. When, as I did this lunch-time, I hear Europeans saying that ‘American must understand’ this or that about NATO, I think they are part of the problem. Europe needs to understand that it has to help pay for its own defence; it can’t ride on Uncle Sam’s coat-tails for ever.

We have passed through a period where our rulers have thought it in our interests to ‘nation build’. It was unclear to some of us at the time whether the rest of the world actually wished to have nation states that were approximations of what we in the West had, not least at a time when Europe seemed uncertain of the value of the nation state. If ‘we the people’ have had enough of this, then it is hardly surprising.