The Telegraph, May 13 2022, Professor Robert Tombs
ll changed, changed utterly: a terrible beauty is born.” Whether or not the Easter 1916 rebels merited Yeats’s grim tribute, the awe-inspiring courage of the Ukrainians certainly does. It has changed the world situation and Britain’s role.
What if the Ukrainians had been swiftly defeated, as Putin (and many in the West) expected? What if “gallant little Belgium” had acquiesced in German armies crossing their territory in August 1914 to defeat France? In both cases Britain, crucially, encouraged resistance. If Jeremy Hunt, Rishi Sunak or Jeremy Corbyn had been prime minister, or if Asquith had followed his instinct in 1914 that “there seems no reason why we should be anything more than spectators”, the future is likely to have been very different. Perhaps better, or less bad: people subjugated, but fewer killed. But alternative pasts are as unknowable as alternative futures. And now we have taken the audacious step of offering defence guarantees to Finland and Sweden.
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