If you had told me some years ago that I would feel some affection for Harold Macmillan, Conservative Prime Minister 1957-63, I would have found it hard to believe. But over the years I have found myself warming to him, mostly because the man had a sense of humour.
Simon Schama gives a nice example in a recent Guardian article:
“Tripping over a rug in the Christs College senior common room, I rose to find myself face to face with Harold Macmillan’s whiskers. ‘There there’, Supermac drawled, not missing a beat, ‘gratitude understandable; prostration quite unnecessary.'”
Last year, shortly after the Madrid bombings, I wrote a short piece, in which I said:
“…as we have seen over and over again there is a kind of symbiosis between the people who plant bombs and the people in authority whose instincts are essential anti-democratic. The number of voices arguing that the rights won by our ancestors at a cost to their liberties and lives must be sacrificed to guard against the possibility of exceptional events occurring is rising. Moves in that direction are dangerous and, as history has shown us, ineffective. And those seductive voices that promise security should make us afraid – our freedoms are more fragile and more easily eroded than we sometimes imagine.”
What has followed since has, if anything increased my fears. So it was encouraging to see that many people are picking up on a talk by security expert, Bruce Schneier, on itconversations , which is becoming one of my favourite sites. Among many interesting points he makes, the one I hope will gain wider circulation and will be remember the next time we a hear a politician proposing some repressive measure on the grounds that it will protect us from some terrorist threat is this one:
“Another thing we have to remember, which is very hard to remember in sort of our fear-laden society, is terrorism hardly ever happens. Very often I hear people from administration saying, Our policies are working because in the two-and-a-half years since 9/11, nothing else has happened, and I think about it and say, Well, nothing happened two-and-a-half years before 9/11 either. You did not have any policies. What does that prove??
What it proves is that terrorist attacks are very, very rare and that were spending a lot of money on something that hardly ever happens. Now, we can decide to do that. We as a nation tend to worry about spectacular and rare events rather than common events, like spouse abuse, automobile crashes, things that kill lots and lots of people every year, and we tend to focus on the spectacular and rare, but we should realize were doing that.”