Many of you will have heard that my father sadly died on 2 January at the age of 94. His passing has stirred an avalanche of emotions, as you would expect many personal and not appropriate for this blog, but others very pertinent to our times in a more general sense.
Old age succeeded where the Japanese during World War II failed in ending my father’s life. The young Captain Stanley Honeyball serving in the “forgotten Army” survived the war in the far-east, having previously been stationed in West Africa and India. He was only 20 when war broke out. At the same age I and other fortunate young people were having the time of our lives as students.
Growing up as a member of the “baby-boom” generation, the War was never far from my consciousness and that of my family and friends. Stories about the War were everywhere, though I’m not at all sure those born in Britain shortly afterwards really ever fully grasped the true pain and suffering Europe went through. Having fought in the First World War and returned, both my grand-fathers were then caught up in the Blitz while my mother did air raid duty. Those at home appeared to cope by invoking grim humour. I vividly remember a story of fire bombs in the garden being told with light-hearted merriment.
This unlooked for and unprovoked involvement of the population as a whole is, of course, what distinguishes modern warfare from what went before, up to an including the 1914-18 war, which ended just a short time before my father’s birth in 1919. Dad went to fight in very foreign places. For the first time ever, those at home were involved on an unprecedented scale.
The Second World War continues to impact on our destiny over 70 years after it started. The shape of Europe even after the fall of the Iron Curtain is that established after 1945. It hardly needs articulating that the EU itself was created out of the ashes of a Europe riven by the most technologically advanced and far-reaching war the world had ever seen.
It is a damning indictment on our judgment that the United Kingdom, perceiving itself as a “victor” has never really felt at home with the EU, the real lasting aspect of the post-war settlement. Even now our national identity remains fractured, a state of affairs analysed very well by Mary Riddell in today’s Daily Telegraph.
Ms Riddell makes no bones about the fact that “With dangers abroad and our economic destiny far from assured, it is imperative that Britain should re-establish its identity and global niche.” Her solution to this, which also happens to be mine, of course, is that our best hope lies with the European Union. The EU is not only the largest economy in the world, it also has the second biggest defence budget after the United States and now boasts the muscle to help secure the recent Iranian nuclear agreement.
An international organisation established by voluntary agreement, the EU is more than a powerful economic bloc. At its very core it believes in and promotes peace, human rights and democracy. The values of the European Union are often discussed in the European Parliament as a living blueprint for our lives not some high-sounding but remote form of words. As Ms Riddell rightly points out, the EU is “the only show in town”.
In other words, Europe is the solution to Britain’s identity crisis and the danger we as a nation face of being marooned in a sea of super powers – the United States, China, India and maybe Brazil – but not being fully part of the one union that can put us back on track, the European Union. The idea that the UK could even contmplate leaving the one place where we may find protection is nothing short of terrifying.
My father and mother, their generation and their parents’ generation knew war. While nowhere near being a pacifist, Dad fervently hoped his children would never have to go through the horror and deprivation faced by him and his contemporaries. Despite the British being unable to break the habit of sending troops to foreign parts, since 1945 our country hasn’t had to cope with all-out conflict. I for one am truly glad of that, and may it remain the case for as long as humanity walks the planet.