Lessons from the past – 1979 Valedictory

The Economist recently posted a 1979 Valedictory from Sir Nicholas Henderson, Britain’s retiring ambassador to Germany and France.  I found it fascinating, not only as a revealing window into a period of history often underserved, but as premonition of the ever turning wheel of geopolitical evolution.

It is lengthy and sometimes fraught with details of the day, but nonetheless worth the read.

Some excerpts I found particularly interesting and potentially relevant:

  • Because we had survived the war intact we did not realize fully the motives or strength of the European search for unity. We underestimated the recovery powers of the continental countries and the great boost that could be given to their industrial development by membership of a common market. We overlooked one of the prime lessons of our own history, that we had been able to spearhead the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century, not because of our size…but because, at a time when the countries of the continent were fragmented by internal tolls and tariff barriers, we were the biggest single market…
  • …we persisted in the crucial years … in trying to fit new pictures into old frames. It was almost an obsession with us.
  • In consequence we were overextended financially and then when the realities of our economic weakness became inescapable we had to draw our horns in precipitously.
  • …shows what can be done if there is the necessary will and leadership…
  • …nothing in a country’s future is inevitable and that everything depends upon the national purpose.
  • This may call for the sort of originality of political thought in foreign affairs that we contributed in earlier times to the theory of government.
  • As Isaac Newton wrote, the important thing is “to learn not to teach”.
  • …a responsibility upon government to prevent people being unaware of something that will certainly one day affect their future.
  • …a need at the present time to do something to stimulate a sense of national purpose.
  • But this is not for the first time in our history, and we can recover if the facts are known and faced and if the … people can be fired with a sense of national will such as others have found these past years.

 The valedictory is here: http://www.hackneys.com/docs/economist-1979-valedictory.pdf

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