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Will Peace and Understanding Be Forever Out of Reach?

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“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.” – Winston Churchill

We’ve had this ongoing debate in the office for a while now, and it relates to who should be given a platform to express their opinion. To me, things are usually very clear-cut: if you have relevant experience related to a topic, or you’ve studied it at an academic level, then your opinion is relevant. That prevents the Jenny McCarthys of the world from dictating trends in everything from architecture to space exploration. To be clear, they’re free to have an opinion. I just won’t rush to offer them a platform for it.

A couple of weeks ago, we had a chat about the Labour Party and the accusations of antisemitism. One of my colleagues suggested I wrote my Editor’s Letter on that topic. However, I was pretty adamant about it: I’m not Jewish, I haven’t really been exposed to antisemitism from any perspective, and I don’t feel that I have enough insight into the topic beyond “this is awful and should NEVER happen or be tolerated”.

Then I went to Berlin for the first time. It started on the taxi ride to the hotel. On the left, a Max&Co shop. On the right, Hermann Goering’s former ministry. The taxi driver was giving a matter-of-fact history tour. I was stricken. I asked him which side of Berlin he was on when the wall fell. He started talking about it, in a broken English, while my mind started wandering. The Iron Curtain separated more than land. It created a social barrier that will perhaps take more than a century to overcome.

Then, seeing the actual wall – or some of what is left of it – and the Holocaust Memorial, it all had too much of an echo in the present. Let’s build a wall, let’s single out (and wipe out) this or that nation or people. We read about the Rohingya being obliterated and it’s just business as usual.

I have asked myself many times whether Nazi Germany was the epicentre of a once-in-a-millennium type of evil, or whether something like that can happen again today. What were the chances that so many people willing to destroy other human beings would find themselves in one place, at the same time? And then the same colleague said, as I asked these questions: “Of course it could happen today. Just look at the people that have the power to award benefits to the disabled, for example, but deem them fit to work because they have a quota to meet.”

And he’s right. Give someone power over someone else, and the worst of their humanity can manifest itself. Let’s take a good, hard look at the world around us. Not even a century ago, one man’s psychotic ambition and crooked view of what the world should look like brought western civilisation to its knees.

But whilst we have recovered large parts of the world will never be the same. Millions were killed. Large parts of Germany were flattened and rebuilt, losing their medieval charm. Entire peoples were displaced. Britain lost its empire and was impoverished for decades. Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the list of destruction, of self-harm, of societal self-mutilation, goes on and on and on. And yet, we see world leaders today using rhyming rhetoric.

Have we forgotten? Did we never learn it in the first place? What will it take? What’s the magic number of deaths before we reach a plateau of peace and understanding? Or are we destined to a never-ending cycle of destruction and rebirth? Is it in our nature to tend toward excess? How do we control backsliding toward an abyss?

Picking up on previous themes, we must always struggle, never be silent, never stop trying to convince, persuade, educate. The struggle continues.

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