1972: the year that both was and is ...
I've been thinking a lot about 1972 this week. As a child of that year, it holds a certain, timely resonance for me on the eve of my having clocked up yet another trip around the sun.
I imagine many (indeed, most) readers of this blog will be too young to remember 1972. Congratulations. Forgive me if, for the next 24 hours at least, I hate you (at least a little) for your youthful vigour. In the meantime, for your benefit, let me run through some of that year's highlights as they now occur to me, with the benefit of hindsight.
In the first half of 1972, the Provisional IRA and the Official IRA were busy shooting, kidnapping and bombing a wide range of civilians, policemen, and soldiers across both Britain and Ireland. In one single day in April of '72, the Provos exploded 24 bombs across Northern Ireland. Britain, in response, managed to kill its first teenager with a rubber bullet just a few weeks later. Still, in late May the Official IRA called a ceasefire, which did something to cut down on the carnage. Today, we're blessed with relative peace in Ireland, but, since Jeremy Corbyn has been at such pains to remind us that he didn't speak to, or meet with, any of those involved, he can take neither credit nor blame. Sorry Jezza.
In a world that was only just coming to terms with media stardom, 1972 saw John Lennon claim that the FBI had been tapping his phone. Shock! Horror!. Surprisingly, no one called for a Senate enquiry, or fired the Bureau's Director. Back in '72, we were willing to trust the Man (if only marginally) more than we were the hippies.
At Westminster, a newly elected Tory Prime Minister, Ted Heath, had just signed the treaty of accession, which paved the way for him to drag us all, kicking and screaming, into Europe. Forty five years later, almost to the day, Britain is being dragged (you guessed it: kicking and screaming) back out of Europe by, yep, none other than Ted's successor. As another Tory leader observed in the interim, it's a funny old world.
In Australia, 1972 was a year of hope for Aboriginal Australians - the tent embassy was established in Canberra, and Douglas Nicholls became the first Aboriginal to be knighted. In 2017, we're still struggling to get a majority to agree to any mention of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters in the country's constitution. Hope, it seems, is not always swiftly fulfilled.
On the wider world stage, a slightly shop-soiled US President (a Republican, as it happens) spent a chunk of 1972 trying to deflect attention from problems at home by playing up his ability to talk-the-talk with his Russian counterpart. That handy international smoke screen staved off impeachment for another two years, though to draw any parallels with the present would be to rub S.A.L.T. into open wounds ...
Meanwhile, at home in the good ol' US of A, repeated nuclear missile tests by Uncle Sam (there were three above-ground tests in May of '72 alone) had no apparent effect on the West's relations with Korea (North or South), nor any discernible impact on America's world standing. Perhaps Kim Jung should be taking tips from Tricky Dickie ...
In 1972, Canada called time on the provision of a daily tot of rum to its sailors. This decision led to the 31st of March being known in the Dominion as 'Black Tot Day'. Forty-five years later, Britain's MoD declared 2017 to be "the year of the navy", before proceeding to cut Marine numbers in favour of sailors to staff aircraft carriers for which they had, as yet, no aircraft. Stealth used to be something we used to confound our enemies, and something we hoped to embed in our ships. Now, it seems to be something we use to enable governments to enact defence cuts on the sly. Not so much a case of "damn the torpedoes" as just, well, "damn ..."
And in the Middle East, 1972 saw British forces intervening to prop up an ally in Oman, while taking on insurgent Arab rebels who seemed intent on overthrowing the established order. The Dhofar Rebellion didn't make headlines - it was only decades later that Britain admitted publicly to having sent troops to the region to help the Sultan hold onto his throne, and the West hold onto his oil. I know, because my father was one of the support team sent out by the RAF, and was in country when I was born - I was six months old before he met me. Many years later, when dad was failing, and my nephew was contemplating a career in the army, dad lent in and said to me, "You need to talk to that lad. The army's no career for a young boy - he'll end up being shot, or blown up." I paused a little before replying, "How do you square that with the fact that, at roughly the same age, you were in Oman being shelled every day?" Dad just looked at me sadly and observed, "Those bastards couldn't aim. These bastards have learnt how to."
And so the world turns. I'm not sure that we've learnt a heck of a lot in the course of last 45 years, and I'm less certain that anything we have learnt has been taken to heart. Still, the good news is that it looked bleak then, and it doesn't look all that much bleaker now. The Russians were coming ... and then they weren't. The threats change, not the condition.
Hopefully in the next 45 years, we will learn a little, lift (rather than lean) a little more, and discover how to laugh at ourselves a good deal more often - heaven knows, there's plenty of material out there to laugh at folks. We simply need to see it in ourselves, and in others.