Brexit: it’s the worst possible time to quit

The United Kingdom’s referendum last week, on the decision to leave the European Union sent shockwaves throughout the world. UK voters made their voices heard and what followed was a weakened Pound, and British Prime Minister David Cameron announcing his resignation. Tim Knight recalls the bloody wars of Europe and what Brexit means for peace in the region.

Just four years ago the European Union (EU) was awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize for advancing the causes of peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe. According to the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize Committee, “The dreadful suffering in World War II demonstrated the need for a new Europe.”

In many ways the prize was a reward to the nations of Europe for finally ending their long and inglorious history of internecine warfare and senseless slaughter.

A lot of people around the world criticised the award. Many worthies claimed the EU had done nothing to deserve it.

I disagreed, wrote an article in my Huffington Post column, Watching the Watchdog, praising the Nobel decision.

I had my reasons.

It’s 1941. The Second World War has raged for three long, devastating years.

A very small boy lives with his mother, brother and sister in London during the Blitz, while his father fights the Japanese, far away in Burma.

This very small boy — now grownup — remembers the night after night after night when the air-raid sirens wail.

And he still hears the high-pitched scream of German bombs falling out of the night sky.

He remembers the dark when he’s pulled out of bed and hurried down to the air raid shelter which is no more than a wood-covered hole in the ground in the back garden.

And he remembers the next morning when he plays England vs Nazis with friends in the rubble of a house on their very own street, now bombed to a smoking skeleton.

The same house where his best friend had lived.

This very small boy is taken from his mother in London.

He’s one of thousands of children evacuated to the balmy English countryside to escape the Blitz. They’re billeted with strangers in houses and schools supposed to be safe from German bombs.

He remembers walking hand-in-hand in a long line with other children one Sunday morning after church while a V1 flying bomb — nicknamed the Doodlebug — drones overhead.

The children ignore it because by now they know the Doodlebug is only dangerous when it runs out of fuel, its engine stops, and it tumbles down to earth.

The engine stops.

The bomb destroys the church where, only minutes before, the children sing All Things Bright and Beautiful.

The once-small boy survives to become a journalist, live in South Africa, Canada, half a dozen African countries, the U.S., Canada, and finally South Africa again.

But millions of other children die because the people of Europe want to kill each other.

How soon we forget.

The Second World War — only 71 years ago — is by far the deadliest conflict in all human history.

It kills more than 60-million people, roughly the entire population of Great Britain or France or Italy today.

But of course, European carnage is nothing new.

This continent has soaked itself in blood for most of the previous two centuries.

Some 5-million people die in the Napoleonic Wars (France, Great Britain, Russia, Sweden, Spain, Holland and a dozen other nations, 1803 – 1815). Another 250,000 in the Crimean War (France, Great Britain, the Ottoman Empire, Russia, 1853 – 1856). Nearly 140,000 die in the Franco-Prussian War (1870 – 1871). Then comes the First World War (Germany, United Kingdom, France, Russia, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, USA and half a dozen others, 1914 – 1918) which counts more than 17-million dead.

So the Second World War (Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy, Russia, USA and almost every nation in the world, 1939 – 1945) with its appalling 60-million deaths is just one more in a barbarous, bloody, brutal succession of wars.

Europe’s score over those two centuries — some 82-million men, women and children killed as the savage European nations fight each other for power, plunder and territory.

How soon we forget.

World War Two is an exaggerated but otherwise entirely typical example of Europe’s historic savagery.

Germany under Adolph Hitler wants to rule Europe, then the world.

So Germany invades Poland. Great Britain, its Commonwealth and France — the Allies — declare war on Germany. Which responds by invading France, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

What starts as just another European war in a continent with a long tradition of war spreads like the black death.

Russia gets involved, supporting first Germany, then the Allies. Italy supports Germany before conveniently switching to the Allies. Japan attacks the United States so the Americans are pulled in to join the Allies.

And so it goes.

By the time the guns fall silent after six long, brutal years, a hundred countries are involved, one way or another.

And much of Europe and parts of Asia lie in ruins.

All this is only seventy-one years — and 60-million deaths — ago.

How soon we forget.

There has to be some way to stop this European madness.

There is.

Twenty-three years ago, the European Union (EU) is formed:

“… to make war unthinkable and materially impossible.”

Today, twenty-eight European nations are members.

The EU’s core values are:

“Human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights.”

Of course, there are still differences between the Germans, the Italians, the British, the French, the Poles, the Belgians, the Dutch and all the others. But those differences are no longer settled with guns.

Instead, they’re resolved over negotiating tables in the EU’s Brussels headquarters.

With the blessed result that since the guns go quiet seventy-one years ago, not one EU member has attacked another.

Not one.

How soon we forget.

Right now, Europe is facing serious economic and social problems. But that’s no reason to challenge the award of the Nobel Peace prize to the European Union.

Because, in the words of the Nobel Award committee, the EU:

“For over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.” “The stabilizing part played by the EU has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace.”

When it comes to handing out Peace prizes, you can’t ask for a lot more than traditional enemies beating their swords into ploughshares.

And lions lying down with lambs.

So ignore all that whinging from people who complain that the 2012 Peace Prize has gone to the wrong recipient.

The European Union truly deserves it.

Just think of its history.

And shudder.

How soon we forget.

That was then.

Brexit is now.

Great Britain is leaving the new Europe after forty-three years of peace.

But it’s the worst possible time to quit.

This most peculiar Brexit decision will almost certainly lead to the breakup of both the United Kingdom and — far more serious — the EU itself.

When that happens, prepare for another round of bloody wars among the nations of Europe.

Even, perhaps, World War Three.

In the meantime, extreme far-left and far-right populism threaten democracy all over the world.

Politicians are increasingly and rightly scorned as inherently self-serving, out of touch, and corrupt.

The Russian bear eyes a Europe inevitably weakened by the British goodbye.

And a worldwide recession looms close to the horizon.

This very small boy who become a journalist looks back and weeps.

How soon we forget.

Tim Knight is an Emmy Award-winning journalist based in Cape Town. He is the author of Storytelling and the Anima Factor, now in it’s second edition.

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