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
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
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
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
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
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
‘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
Review – God’s Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution by Christopher Hill
Few figures in the canon of English history can claim to be as controversial as Oliver Cromwell. Reviled in Ireland, revered by many, and skilfully avoided by politicians and public figures eager to avoid the controversy inevitably associated with his invocation, Cromwell’s life has been chronicled, interpreted and pored over for more than 300 years. For many, especially children, Cromwell is known as a figure of history, but often only as a caricature. His supposed Puritanism, his part in the execution (by decapitation) of King Charles I, his warts – all of these represent and to some extent define Cromwell in the public eye. He will, however, stand the test of time; too much is deeply associated with his most remarkable life for him to sink into obscurity. But the misunderstandings surrounding Cromwell’s life and legacy remain great. A young Winston Churchill, whose earliest memories were of Ireland – his family moved there after Lord Randolph, Winston’s father, got a job as secretary to his own father, the Duke of Marlborough, who was appointed Lord Lieutenant – wrote of one such story in his memoir, My Early Life. Continue reading
The causes of the First World War have been debated many times. They remain one of the most commented upon discussions in our history. The reason why is obvious. The Great War was such a cataclysmic event – both to those who lived through it and to succeeding generations then unborn – that it represents a genuine and profound landmark in human history and human morality. To many historians 1914 is one of the great bookmarks of the human story. It represents the end of what Eric Hobsbawm termed ‘the long nineteenth century’; it set the world on the road to the horrors of the twentieth. It also marked the beginning, or perhaps the catalyst, of tremendous change. Continue reading
The situation in Syria could hardly get more desperate. With more than half the population displaced and 300,000 people dead, the civil war in Syria is the greatest humanitarian disaster of our time. But Syria is also a profound challenge to the American-underwritten geopolitical order that aspires toward free institutions and representative rule. As a direct consequence of policies pursued by the Obama administration, Iran and Russia, two enemies of this order, have taken their chance to assert their dominance. Continue reading