Peter Rhodes on wise words, grubby politics and summing up the Empire in a sentence
One of our local charity shops displays every day a new page from a book of aphorisms, those witty little sayings that express a general truth. For the past few days, the text has been: “We keep a special place in our hearts for people who refuse to be impressed by us.” We certainly do. The place is called “in the wrong.”
Even if we all accept that politics is a dirty game, a grubby little allegation dredged up from 40-odd years ago still shocks. The 1980 presidential election was approaching with Ronald Reagan challenging President Jimmy Carter. Meanwhile in Iran, 52 US citizens were still being held as hostages, a bitter embarrassment to Carter.
It is now alleged in the New York Times that a secret diplomatic tour of the Middle East by Reagan supporters spread the word that if the hostages were kept behind bars it would harm Carter's election chances – and the Iranian government would get a better diplomatic deal from Reagan than Carter. The hostages stayed put, Carter lost the election and, a few minutes after Reagan was sworn in as president, the hostages were released.
You can't believe anyone would use fellow citizens as bargaining chips? A few days ago, in the same week that the Reagan story broke, Channel 4 repeated its 2022 documentary alleging how one particularly disloyal Briton suggested during the Blitz that bombing of Britain by the Nazis might “bring peace.” Mind you, this Blitz enthusiast wasn't any old citizen. He was “Britain's Traitor King,” Edward VIII.
China and Russia, two nations united with a shaky grasp of the truth, have released a joint statement stressing that nuclear war “must never be unleashed.” Start building the bunker.
Star of the BBC's new version of Great Expectations is Fionn Whitehead, who plays Pip. Commenting on the controversial new anti-Empire and thoroughly woke script, the 25-year-old declares: “The Empire was a horrible thing which involved a lot of British people going out and enslaving, pillaging and destroying a lot of cultures around the world.”
The British Empire lasted 300 years, covered a quarter of the globe and was administered in all sorts of ways. Yet a young actor thinks he can sum it up in a single sentence. Behold, the certainty of youth. Ah, to be 25 again.