Monthly Archives: October 2015

Let Us Be Sensible: In Praise of NHS Reform

The National Health Service was founded over 60 years ago and was intended originally to meet the needs of Britain in the immediate post-war period. Not only did it seem to cover the crippling costs of the new political situation, it seemed to demonstrate the same spirit which the British people had entered into during the course of that war. It was publicly financed, publicly run, and it was intended to pay for itself. None of these grand aspirations have been met, and the service itself is now a shallow husk of the great promise it used to embody. For these reasons I believe that it is time for a radical re-evaluation of what the NHS means and its place in society; we cannot afford to be timid or meek in this endeavour. Continue reading

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Intervention Was Not the Cause of Libya’s Woes. Quite the Opposite

Libya is now in flames. This might seem to be a rather hyperbolic note on which to begin, but it is true. The country is spiralling out of control, and the city of Benghazi, the former rebel capital in the 2011 revolution against the dictatorship of Colonel Gaddafi, has reportedly been captured by Islamist militants and declared an ‘Islamic emirate’. Foreign diplomatic staff continue their exodus as tensions swirl and the threat of civil disintegration becomes more plausible by the day. Continue reading

Past and Present: Writing About the Collapse of International Order

Yesterday I published an essay which attempted to examine the failure of the League of Nations and the terrible consequences of that event. The subject itself is raw; it is not distinct – and cannot be made distinct – from the suffering of the First World War and the horrors contained within (and exacerbated by) the terrible conflagration which followed that fragile peace. Sally Marks refers to the geopolitical situation of the entire period in particularly visceral terms; it was, at least for her, an ‘illusion of peace’. As I have written before, there is a great deal of emotion invested in history. For some, the possessive is always justified – and used – in discussion of the past. It is ‘our’ history, ‘my’ story, ‘your’ heritage. This may be a rather nebulous linguistic point, but it does at least betray a kind of attachment – a deep and elemental attachment, one too complex to describe as glibly as I have just done – to the past which can transcend the quotidian and inspire people to relive old anxieties, fight old battles once again, and (to paraphrase Howard Jacobson) stand haughty upon the honour of their predecessors to demand satisfaction for some ancestral qualm or quarrel. Continue reading

Did the League of Nations Fail Because of American Isolationism?

While the League of Nations was undermined from the outset by the absence of the United States – it was the supposed ‘keystone’ in the arch, according to Punch – this was not the proximate reason for its failure during the interwar period. Rather, it appears that the League was undermined by the selfish actions of Britain and France, as well as the problems of its own creation; it appears that the idea of a supra-national body on this scale was a unique product of the post-war climate, and was therefore misconceived and ill-suited to the rise of fascism in Italy, militarism in Japan and Nazism in Germany. Continue reading

Afghanistan Is Not Ready to Be Abandoned

Leaving Afghanistan because of domestic political pressure would be deeply wrong, writes James Snell.

As British troops leave Helmand Province in Afghanistan, prefacing eventual withdrawal from the country, the correct reaction might appear to be relief. After all, ‘our boys’, who fought, bled and died in the dust of South Asia, will soon be coming home.

However, this view, while certainly understandable, is deeply short-sighted. Continue reading

Did the System of European Alliances Cause the First World War?

The tangled web of European agreements and alliances has proven a permanent feature of the literature which has sprung up around debating the causes of the First World War. This school of thought gained prominence in the 1920s, when there was a general move towards internationalism and some small regrets about tarring Weimar Germany with the brush of its predecessor’s responsibility for beginning the Great War. Nevertheless, and despite this seeming datedness, the theory attracts a lot of support; tales of systemic failure, it could be argued, diminish individual responsibility and make people and nations feel better about their own role in events. There are other opinions on the matter, however, which range from blaming the actions of a single power – most often Germany – to blaming abstract concepts such as militarism, nationalism and even, as Christopher Clark writes in his book The Sleepwalkers, a ‘crisis of masculinity’, which is held to have caused European diplomatic and political leaders almost to destroy themselves and their nations out of little more than a collective sense of psychological necessity. Continue reading

History Is Literature

‘It is important for the historian not only to write, but to write well.’ Thus ran a particularly controversial essay title which was recently put to history students sitting their Finals at one of our most ancient universities. This question provoked what might at first glance seem a surprising level of controversy.  Continue reading