I shall never see it again now but I always loved a particular quiet, modest street in southern Moscow.
For once, there were no gigantic buildings or tower blocks, just low, graceful old houses, trees and churches, especially one movingly called ‘The Consolation of All Sorrows’ which, I expect, is pretty full just now.
There, you could – just – believe that the old, kindly Russia, raped and murdered by Communists, might one day come back. How I wish it could have done.
That belief is all gone now.
Yet for years, I thought I owed that hope to the people I had known and liked in Russia, where I spent two of the most astonishing years of my life.
Do not forget the most basic rules, that the first casualty of war is truth and that the only mercy in war is that it ends quickly. Resist attempts to get you to stop thinking
Living in a foreign country, especially a remote and exotic nation, is a great gift. For the rest of your life it informs everything else you ever see or feel. I am stuck with that now. I am forced to care about Russia and the Russians.
I don’t ask you to do the same, only to understand that it is, to me, a duty. And if you think, as some spiteful people do, and have said, that I do all this because I am in Russian pay, or a Putin supporter, or because I am not a British patriot, then you are terribly mistaken.
Generations of my family have faced real danger in the Armed Forces. My father (who hated Stalin and all his works) ferried tanks to the Soviet Union on the terrible Murmansk convoys, pausing on the way to help sink a German battlecruiser.
My daughter served with the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards as an Intelligence officer, in a forward base in Helmand, in Afghanistan. Her husband, my son-in-law, fought the Taliban face-to-face and was wounded in combat. I am impossibly proud of them all.
I say what I say about this conflict – especially that Western stupidity helped to bring it about – because I believe it to be true
The truth about patriotism, by the way, is that you feel it far more intensely if you have lived abroad than you do if you have not. And I find the thing about those who have actually faced danger is that they are the least noisy, and the most genuine, about their love of country.
I say what I say about this conflict – especially that Western stupidity helped to bring it about – because I believe it to be true.
I also say it because my forebears fought, among other things, for my freedom to say what is unpopular. So I would be betraying their legacy if I did not use that freedom.
I will not dwell on it. The important thing at the moment is to stand against the wild hysteria that is raging among us.
It is almost funny that music by Peter Tchaikovsky has been removed from a concert because he was Russian. But it is not funny when individual Russians are shunned, as one hears they have been.
It is genuinely tragic when sanctions are imposed which will, as usual, ruin the lives of the poor while doing little to harm powerful villains. And it is deadly serious when unthinking hysteria grips politics and the media.
Too many people think that it is somehow noble and good to call for more war, more weapons and more fighting. Have they seen war? This conflict must end at some point. For those caught up in it, the sooner it ends the better.
I had the bizarre experience last week of being attacked for not being compassionate enough, by one Kelvin Mackenzie, who was the editor of The Sun newspaper during its not-very-compassionate ‘Gotcha’ period. Too many people seem to find war attractive.
More serious still are continuing calls to widen the war with ‘no-fly zones’ and other unhinged follies. If your concern is (as it should be) for the innocent Ukrainian victims of the war, give and do all you can to help them.
But do nothing to extend or prolong war, for the longer and deeper the war is, the more people will die and be maimed.
Do not forget the most basic rules, that the first casualty of war is truth and that the only mercy in war is that it ends quickly. Resist attempts to get you to stop thinking.
Perhaps the single biggest thing we have learned from this attack is that Russia is (as I have long argued) not very big, not very rich and not very strong. Its army cannot achieve its aims.
Putin has, without meaning to, destroyed the Russian bogeyman which we have been told to fear for so long. It would be good if somebody learned something from that, but I don’t suppose they will.
Luminous Lucy is lighting up the screen
The new ITV version of The Ipcress File is far better than Len Deighton’s rather strange book and the confusing 1965 film starring Michael Caine.
For once, it captures the recent past almost effortlessly without forcing all the characters to smoke themselves to death.
Every member of the cast is more or less perfect in his or her role, and Lucy Boynton is luminous and subtly witty.
Like so many other things going on at the moment, it makes me long for the enjoyable certainties of the Cold War.
Every member of the cast is more or less perfect in his or her role, and Lucy Boynton is luminous and subtly witty
If dope is such a ‘soft’ drug, why was Kim murdered?
Meanwhile, normal folly continues. I note that, for the third time in 20 years, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee is to conduct an inquiry into drugs policy. I have no doubt that it will do as before and take the fashionable line.
It will claim that the non-existent ‘war on drugs’ has ‘failed’. It will praise various disastrous attempts around the world to soften the law on drugs. It will ignore the success of Japan and South Korea in discouraging drug abuse by prosecuting abusers. It will be beguiled by the slick smiling marijuana lobby into sympathising with calls to be even weaker in dealing with that terrible drug.
Yet in real Britain, the fruit of these stupid policies, in place for decades, is easily seen. In a recent case of a type which is increasingly common, Charles Dearden, 31, admitted the manslaughter of his mother, Kim Dearden, 63.
Everyone knew he was dangerous. Everyone knew he was a dope smoker. Nobody connected the two, or did anything serious about it.
The day before the crime, he had been taken to a mental hospital after attacking his mother. Police called to the scene found him stark naked and her with a bloodshot eye and scratch marks on her neck. She told anyone who would listen that she blamed his marijuana use.
Soon afterwards he was (of course) let out, went home again and stabbed her to death with a kitchen knife, before trying to strangle the family dog.
Kim’s last words, heard by a neighbour, were: ‘Please leave me alone. Please don’t do it, Charles, don’t do it.’ Despite the grim tally of its users who have gone violently mad among us, and the many more who have just lost their minds, marijuana is still crazily viewed as a ‘soft’ drug. Some people even think it is a medicine. Its possession is barely prosecuted.
So now Kim is dead and all the police, judges and psychiatrists in the world cannot bring her back to life. Worse, they and Parliament and much of our media will do nothing to save the many others who will suffer similar fates in the years to come. Shame on the lot of them.
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