John challenges the emphasis placed on war in history, saying that ‘civilisation would not have advanced without long periods of productive peace. As the great humanist and peace thinker Erasmus (1466-1536) put it, “peace is the mother and nurse of all that is good for humanity”. And peace is what most people want most of the time: if war is in our genes then peace is there even more’.
John gave the example of the BBC’s coverage of the centenary of the beginning of World War 1 of looking at history from the wrong perspective. A better question to ask would be ‘why did the peace fail’ rather than ‘who fired the first shot?’
He welcomed the decision by the House of Commons not to intervene in the Syrian conflict, and said that no doubt influenced Obama. He suggested that if we had bombed Syria the Middle East would have descended into even more turmoil than it is at the moment. And “would we have started talks with Iran over their nuclear programme?” The lesson he drew from Syria was that by not going to war we are more likely to achieve diplomatic results.
John worked at The Guardian for 20 years as assistant foreign editor and chief foreign leader-writer. In 2001-03 he set up The Guardian’s first staff office on the Chinese mainland in Shanghai – and was at Tiananmen Square during the protests.
Now living in Oxfordshire, he is active in local historical research, CND, and the Labour Party.
Picture, left to right: John Gittings, Chris Farman, Chair NOVLP Branch, Martin Packard, former member of The British Peacekeeping force in Cyprus 1964
Read his book: THE GLORIOUS ART OF PEACE: From the Iliad to Iraq
(Oxford University Press, 2012)