… we are dismantling Europe’s response to evil
In 1936, the Spanish Republican government printed a poster featuring the face of a dead child beneath a sky of fascist bombers and the legend: If you tolerate this your children will be next.
The interesting point about this poster is that it was printed in English.
It was a warning and it was a plea.
Tolerating dead children pulled from Spanish rubble was official British policy in 1936, just as it has been our policy to tolerate dead children pulled from Syrian rubble in 2016.
Then, as now, we called it non-intervention.
If you tolerate this your children will be next…
They weren’t our children in 1936, but four years later they would be.
The warning to us in the Spanish poster was not intended to be allegorical.
It was literal.
And it had come true.
In 1940 we packed our kids away to the countryside to avoid German bombing raids, but even so, 5,028 British children and around 35,000 more adults died in the rubble of The Blitz.
We all know where our non-intervention in Spain led.
The practice of carpet-bombing developed there was soon to be turned on us.
An emboldened rise of fascism threw Europe into a manic genocidal lunacy that lasted five years, killed somewhere between 50 and 80 million people, and gravely retarded our prosperity, culture and happiness for decades afterwards.
In Spain itself, the fascist dictator Franco came to power and ruled until his death in 1975.
An out and out fascist dictator at the head of one of Europe’s major countries.
The same year Queen recorded Bohemian Rhapsody, Monty Python released The Holy Grail and Jamie Oliver was born.
Not so much distant history as recent past.
Europe’s strategy against a repeat of this catastrophe, was the union of nations we today call the EU.
From the Hague Conference in 1948, to the Treaty of Paris in 1951, to the Treaty of Rome in 1957, to the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, this union of states was founded on clear ideals; respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights.
So let’s be clear about what we are doing with Brexit.
We are consciously dismantling our response to evil in a continent whose default setting, demonstrated time and time again throughout the centuries, is to kill each other.
Freedom House, an organisation that studies our attitudes towards democracy and freedom, released data demonstrating that while people born in the 1930s are strongly resistant to the erosion of democracy, younger people are much less concerned.
In America, just 19% of millennials believe it is wrong for a military force to take over if the government is incompetent or failing to do its job.
In Europe, the number was 36%.
Combining this trend of growing apathy towards civil democracy, with today’s march of populist, right-wing movements across our continent, and you have a terrifying prospect.
What short memories we have.
The European Union was not conceived to regulate the curvature of a banana.
The European Union was conceived to regulate our propensity towards self-destruction.
If you tolerate this your children will be next…
Perhaps we may imagine Syria is a distant place (though it’s closer to our holiday beaches in Cyprus and Turkey than Aberdeen is to London), and of little real consequence to us.
But Aleppo has changed our lives already more than we may realise.
The stream of Syrian refugees into Europe has polarised views on migration, fuelling the fears the far right employ like yeast in fermenting hatred.
An aggressive and alienated Russia is back in the centre of European politics.
The hostile and pointless grandstanding between American and Russian ambassadors this week in the UN does nothing to help Aleppo, but instead increases tension.
And, perhaps most damaging, Aleppo has been a recruiting advertisement for a terrorist organisation, Islamic State, that demonstrates its ability with alarming regularity to bring the horror home, to Nice, to Brussels, to Paris, to who knows where next.
The full consequence of our non-intervention in Aleppo we have yet to discover.
But if nothing good comes from Aleppo – and what good can come from Aleppo now? – then at least let this be true: that the faces of dead children reminded us of our common humanity and the consequences of tolerating this.
That as we worry with good reason about car jobs in Sunderland and bilateral trading arrangements and the amount of chocolate in a Toblerone bar, we remember that the European Union – flawed, cumbersome and challenging as it is – was conceived with high ideals.
Aleppo, in all its tragic complexity, illustrates not just a failure of Europe and America to intervene, but also our outrageous proximity to evil.
It makes the need for a strong European Union all the greater.
How much closer will the terror get if we tolerate the collapse of those ideals?
The warning on the front page of this newspaper is not intended to be allegorical.
If we tolerate this our children will be next.
Matt Kelly, editor, The New European