Those of you old enough to remember the 1962 Cuban standoff between America and Russia, must still cringe at the memory.
Those who aren’t old enough, just take my word for it: the possibility of a nuclear Armageddon was, or at least seemed, real.
Those who like to discern historical parallels will no doubt worry about today’s news of the Russians beefing up their naval presence in the Mediterranean.
“The well-known situation shaping up in the eastern Mediterranean called for certain corrections to the make-up of the naval forces,” explained the Russian General Staff.
The corrections include the introduction of an anti-submarine ship from the Northern fleet (the Tomahawks are likely to be fired from submarines). Also coming in over the next two days will be the missile cruiser Moskva from the Black Sea and, in a month or so, the missile cruiser Variag from the Pacific.
The situation is indeed well-known, if not necessarily well-understood, at least not by Dave. He may be ready to go to war against Syria, his own party, the opposition, some of his cabinet (including the State Secretary for Defence) and most of our generals. Are Dave and his boss Barack also ready to take on Russia?
This is not to say that either side necessarily wants to risk a major war. However, such a risk is inherent in a confrontation between two naval forces armed to the teeth and led by congenitally bellicose men.
While it’s not immediately clear how British national interests can be served by replacing Assad with al-Qaeda chieftains, such a development will definitely jeopardise Russia’s national interests.
For much of her history the country craved a naval presence in the Mediterranean, yet only acquired it when Syria let her set up a base at Taurus. At the same time, Syria has at least £2-billion’s worth of current military contracts with Russia, with a promise of more to come.
Hence the show of force. The hint is transparent enough: go ahead, lads, if you must. But have you considered the possible consequences?
Military calamities occur when international pressures build up while the key countries involved are led by either criminal or incompetent men. Putin richly qualifies for the former role, presiding as he does over a regime that routinely murders or imprisons its opponents and practises money laundering on a scale never before seen in the world.
The three countries facing up to Putin are led by Barack, Dave and François, and not even their mothers will describe them as competent to handle an international crisis.
In addition, there are strong and utterly believable rumours that Dave’s bolshiness is inspired by his wife Sam who, last time I checked, had no mandate to shape Britain’s foreign policy. Apparently, the Girl with the Dolphin Tattoo visited a Syrian refugee camp and was deeply shaken by the experience.
As someone who saw Chechen refugee camps in 1995, I sympathise with her feelings. Yet my reading of our constitutional arrangement suggests that it’s not part of Sam’s remit to commit our armed forces to yet another harebrained American adventure.
Could it be that the three Western countries involved actually want a war? I’m not saying they do; I’m only asking a question, and it’s not entirely groundless.
History shows that people and governments tend to feel about wars differently. Most people don’t like them, but most governments do.
This is easy to understand for unchecked democracy inexorably degenerates into ever-growing statism, and statism thrives on social and economic turmoil.
The same goes, ten-fold, for war. War is the ultimate expression of the innate statism of modern states, the sustenance on which they build up their muscle mass. The state has emerged stronger, and the individual weaker, out of every modern war.
War is also a time-proven way out of economic and political crises. It is also a guarantor of the leaders’ political longevity.
All three Western economies involved are in dire straits, ridden with ruinous debt, unemployment and declining standard of living. Though this is masked by the odd minuscule increase in some indicators, the real problems are structural.
The US federal debt now stands at $14.5 trillion, not including the growing deficits in the funds financing the welfare state. Ours is over £1 trillion – and growing.
Quantitative easing (presumably ‘queasing’ for short) is no longer an option: given the risk of hyperinflation, the remedy is worse than the disease. Yet the history of the Great Depression hints at war as a cure for economic ills.
Roosevelt’s socialist New Deal failed to pull the country out of the economic morass. It took a world war to do that, and America emerged out of it better off than she had been before. Moreover, FDR had a good war personally: he was elected to an unprecedented four presidential terms.
Is it possible that such elementary history may figure as a factor in Obama’s calculations? Dave’s calculations are less critical here: he’ll do what his friend Barack asks, especially if Sam feels the same way.
Too may questions, too few answers. I suppose we’ll get some in a few days.