Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

Affairs are now soul size


Why do bad men do bad things? Because they are mad, that is the modern explanation. But 'mad' is just English for 'I don't understand.'

It's become common wisdom that all religious belief from Animism to Zoroastrianism is wrong, loopy and solely responsible for mankind's atrocities; but it's the irrationality and inhumanity of worldly wisemen that shakes me.

Here is a British general in the First World War:

'The man who commanded [Dennis] Wheatley's division… had boasted that a double decker London omnibus would hold all the men he intended to bring home alive.' (p.139 here)

What gives such a person the right to plan the slaughter of his own people? Maybe that bloodthirsty arrogance is a relic of ancient tribal society, where the members were genetically related to their ruler and could be sacrificed like ants defending their colony.

According to AJP Taylor, the fateful decision for Britain to join WWI was taken at Buckingham Palace in a meeting at 10.30 p.m. on 4 August 1914, by four people: the King, Lord Beauchamp and two court officials. One day perhaps we may revisit the composition and powers not of the House of Lords but of the Privy Council.

'Der König rief, und alle, alle kamen' ('the King called and all, all came') said Carl Heun's jingo-poem for the 1813 Prussian 'War of Liberation' against Napoleon. This was quoted as a motto on the 1913 three-mark coin as Germany limbered up - and propagandised its people - for another great struggle against the French.

Yet according to this 2014 article by Peter Hitchens, we British could easily have excused ourselves from the fight, one that killed 6% of our adult male population and began the slow destruction of our economy. The further negative consequences were vast: Germany's igniting Communist revolution in Russia to free themselves of the Eastern Front; the Spanish Flu that spread from the trenches and claimed more victims than the Great War; the postwar global economic dislocation and Depression; the rise of Hitler in a wounded and vengeful Germany; the Second World War; the first military use of atomic bombs.

Yesterday (6 August, Hiroshima Day, by coincidence) we went to the cinema and saw 'Oppenheimer'. As we drove home my chest was full of fear and anger. The Los Alamos project leader said he had blood on his hands in a meeting with President Truman; the latter did indeed call him a 'cry baby', though not to his face.

There is always a rationale for terrible wonder weapons. Did the A-bombs shorten the war in the East? Yes, though Truman's autobiography said they were used in a hurry to forestall a Russian invasion of Japan.

Was peace the legacy?

Hearing the news in August 1945 Gurkha brigade commander John Masters 'believed with instant conviction that there could be no more war'; writing in 1956 Field Marshal Slim, foreseeing battlefield nuclear weapons that could wipe out formations at a stroke, simply envisaged a new fighting strategy of dispersed, semi-autonomous units; George MacDonald Fraser's 1992 memoir of the Burmese campaign said that for his three children and six grandchildren 'I would pull the plug on the whole Japanese nation and never even blink'; after Russia's 1991 collapse scholars read her secret documents and discovered that 'the Soviets planned early and heavy use of nuclear weapons in many scenarios including outbreak of conventional war in Europe.'

When JFK was shot, we saw the newsflash on German TV. We had no phone but my Dad immediately put on his uniform, buckled his Sam Browne belt and waited for the car to arrive. As I lay in my heavily-blanketed bed that night, the curtains lit up again and again as the column of tank transporters passed our front door on the way to the North German plain. Then and for decades more, our side believed that Mutually Assured Destruction ruled out a nuclear war with the Soviets. Now we know we had always been on 'a walk across hell on a spider web.'

The Bombs come in all sizes, from strategic to tactical to man-portable. Far from unthinkable, they and the multitude of scenarios for their deployment are most precisely constructed. They await only the first breach of the taboo against their initial use by any side.

Who could possibly benefit? Yet we risk it.

And of germ warfare laboratories; ah, we hear so little about them.

Modern sophisticates mock religion, otherwise they might have to consider the possibility that there is such a thing as a spirit of evil at work. As Peter wrote, 'The devil walketh about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.' Or as a British Asian business owner told me the other day, the One Per Cent do not care for us and are receiving instructions from djinn (demons.)

This at least makes sense to me; not 'they are mad; that is, I do not understand.'


(The title is from Christopher Fry's 1951 verse play 'A Sleep Of Prisoners.' A Quaker and conscientious objector, he served in a non-combatant role in WWII, performing menial and unpleasant work.

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