I SHOOK hands last week with a man who was celebrating his 100th birthday. Len was wonderful for his age.
He had his wits about him and could walk around with a stick. Some of the younger guests at the party didn’t look so good!
It was when Len’s son-in-law told me about the birthday boy’s life that I realised what a miracle it was that he is still alive.
You see, Len had fought in the war. Or, to be more precise, he was taken prisoner by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore (no one mentioned that disaster in history class at school!).
So Len was a Japanese prisoner-of-war for four years.
Bridge On The River Kwai was the sanitised version of what went on in these camps. What really happened there, like the truth about Auschwitz, will never be shown on screen to the public because it was so awful.
I asked Len if the Japanese were as bad as they say, and he said yes. So I left it there, not wishing to spoil an old man’s party by forcing him to recount the worst years of his life.
At least no one could blame the United Nations for the Second World War, in which Len and countless others suffered so much. But I’m pretty sure that had the UN been around in the 1930s, it would have been as useless then as it is now.
I share the frustration of other JT contributors who are fed-up with the UN’s modern-day antics.
Rod Liddle, of The Sunday Times, also berated Theresa May’s government for supporting the UN resolution which condemned Trump for recognising Jerusalem.
He suggests we should have a second referendum — to leave the UN. It would, he says, be a suitable encore to our departure from the EU.
Len was born during the First World War. The conflicts of the past 100 years have been much more bloody than those of earlier centuries.
Obviously, bombs and machine guns are more devastating than bows and arrows, but the willingness of nations to use such weaponry against neighbours and also in civil conflicts has meant death and destruction on an unprecedented scale.
As regular readers will know, I am wary of fancy ideas and theories to make the world a better place.
Sure, things could always be better. But it’s what works that counts, not some utopian grand plan dreamed up by academics and over-educated, out-of-touch politicians with too much time on their hands.
The League of Nations was set up in 1920 to ensure that Len and his mates wouldn’t have to endure what the previous generation went through during The Great War. Well, that worked out just fine!
So the “experts” had another go with the United Nations. Churchill is often quoted backing the new UN: “Jaw, jaw is better than war, war”.
Except that was actually Harold Macmillan in 1958.
What Churchill said was: “Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war”.
Much the same thing, but this was Churchill in 1954 with whisky and cigar in hand, “saviour of the nation”.
The Churchill of 1940 had no time for “jaw, jaw” even though things looked very grave. On nine separate occasions that year, his cabinet colleagues implored him to do a deal with Hitler to save Britain and the empire.
But Churchill was having none of it and insisted we fight on.
The idea of a United Nations in which conflicts are resolved by negotiation sounds great. And it would probably work, too, if everyone was like Sweden and Australia — liberal democracies that only resort to war as a last resort and treat their people with respect.
But the UN today is very different. Many of its members are governed by despots and kleptocrats who would happily slaughter their own people if they came on to the streets to demand an end to corruption and oppression (these are the same despots and kleptocrats who are upset by Trump’s description of them as “sh*tholes”).
They know they can pretty much do whatever they like, provided they don’t invade their neighbours (and you can even get away with that if you have a veto on the Security Council and fancy gobbling up the Crimea).
The UN’s failures far outnumber its successes. It could have prevented the genocide in Rwanda, but didn’t.
It was asked to intervene in Bosnia, again to stop the genocide of Bosnian Muslims, but refused.
It threatened Saddam Hussein with military intervention if he continued to break UN resolutions — but backed down when the Iraqi dictator called its bluff.
UN peacekeepers don’t actually keep the peace in the way that British bobbies on the beat preserve the Queen’s peace. If two sides to a conflict agree an armistice, UN soldiers strut around patrolling the ceasefire line.
But they scarper as soon as hostilities break out again (Sinai in 1967, Srebrenica in 1995).
For all Donald Trump’s flaws (and they are many), he deserves praise for identifying the UN and many of its members as part of the problem and not the solution.
Along with his excellent and equally outspoken UN ambassador Nikki Haley, they have threatened to cut UN funding.
I hope that, like his recognition of Jerusalem, this is another of Trump’s promises that he intends to keep.