IT is difficult to comprehend the awesome discipline of frontline troops who 100 years ago were just about to start going over the top to a near-certain death. The mind boggles at the contempt for human life held later by the likes of Stalin and Chairman Mao, who sent people to their Maker not just by the million but by the score of millions.
But how 100 years hence will they view the murderous activity across the world at this, the beginning of the 21st century?
I fervently hope that it is with the outrage compounded with frustration that I feel about events across the Ukrainian and Russian steppes to the killing fields of Islam and Israel’s continuing controversial fight for its very existence.
What all this shows is that, while you can raise exponentially the fatal consequences of weaponry, you cannot eliminate the brutality in thugs who for ideological, religious or tribal reasons are only too keen to let it loose on their fellow men.
I do not think there is much doubt about what happened over eastern Ukraine. Putin the Bad irresponsibly allowed missiles into the hands of trigger-happy pro-Russian separatists who promptly brought down a Malaysian Airways passenger jet with 80 children among 298 innocent citizens on board.
While I find that Israel makes it very hard for its friends to be constant, it would not by now have killed more than 1,000 Palestinians if Hamas were not seeking the end of the Jewish state by habitually firing rockets into Israel. If you are surrounded by enemies who seek to drive you into the sea, you develop a certain toughness that is indispensable to survival.
As for Islam, I despair. It has turned the Middle East – defined from Kenya northwards to Pakistan and Afghanistan, with Nigeria and Libya thrown in for good measure – into a Holy War primarily against its own kind but readily extended to anyone who gets in the way – and with a certain relish if they are from the West. Hardly a day goes by without an atrocity over this vast area of blighted humanity.
What on earth are we to make of the self-proclaimed Isis caliph of Syria and Iraq who tells Christians to convert or die and puts millions of women under the knife with an order for female genital mutilation?
Pinch yourself. Yes, you are living in the 21st century. The only problem is that dictators of one sort of another are impervious to the civilisation brought elsewhere by the march of time.
There are, of course, those who blame the West for all this – Brussels for encouraging the Ukraine’s ambition for EU membership in Russia’s back yard; the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq; and a naïve response to the Arab Spring.
My view is less complimentary. Western statesmen have forgotten Teddy Roosevelt’s advice: “Speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far.” We have spoken unconvincingly for too long because we have been downsizing our big stick at every opportunity.
It is all very well adopting liberal values with genuine compassion for individual souls. But the world, being the primitive animal that it is, senses weakness. And it has sensed a real palsy of purpose in the West, partly because we have allowed ourselves to fall deeply into debt and have cut back on defence. It has taken us only 25 years to lose our prudent, housewifely ways.
It may well be that Chancellor George Osborne is trying to get us back on an even keel. But when he has eliminated the budget deficit – and it will take years – he then faces a mountainous public debt of £1.377 trillion (88 per cent of GDP), which currently costs £43bn a year to service. The USA is even deeper in the red with a debilitating public debt of $17.6 trillion (104 per cent of GDP).
Tonight, billions across the West will go to bed well fed and watered, looking for another tomorrow. Across other vast swathes of the world billions will go hungry and in fear of their lives. They know no peace.
In 100 years’ time I hope things will have so changed that the world then sits in as much awesome admiration of our nerveless determination to create a better world as we now wonder about the courage of First World War Tommies. We have to make it hot for mad men generally.
But I fear humanity will not rule this century unless moderate Muslims now make themselves heard loud and clear: in the name of Allah, stop!