THE EUPHORIC hopes for peace and freedom brought by the end of the Second World War were dead by Christmas 1948. The Iron Curtain had fallen across Eastern Europe trapping tens of millions behind it. Stalin clung to life and his purges rolled across Eurasia from the Mongolian steppe to the German plain.And me too.
In China, Chairman Mao was preparing to seize power and inflict a terror to match Stalin’s. In India, hundreds of thousands had died in violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims. Anti-colonial movements in Africa and Southeast Asia began the long wars against imperial powers.
Worse than conflict was the fear of nuclear war. The mushroom cloud from the Hiroshima bomb hung over the age.
In The Diplomats, the historian Geoffrey Moorhouse tells how a reporter on Washington DC radio responded to the crisis by phoning ambassadors in the American capital and asking what each would like for Christmas. He recorded their replies for a special programme on the future of the human race.
‘Peace throughout the world,’ the French Ambassador demanded. ‘Freedom for all people enslaved by imperialism,’ his Soviet counterpart countered.
And so it went on. Ambassadors asked for democracy for Christmas, an end to poverty, the banning of the atom bomb until at last the reporter reached Sir Oliver Franks, His Britannic Majesty’s Ambassador to the United States of America.
‘What do you want for Christmas, Sir Oliver?’
‘It’s very kind of you to ask,’ a polite voice replied. ‘I’d quite like a box of crystallized fruit.’
If peace and goodwill elude you, if no one brings tidings of comfort and joy, I hope that all readers of The Observer at least get a nice box of crystallized fruit on Christmas morning.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Nick Cohen writing in Holidays in Hell. Search a little further down after the part on the Maldives, Sienna Miller, and Saddam (that's interesting story too).