The young must invent a path to a newer freedom
The is an edited extract of Bob Geldof’s address to the One Young World Summit in Dublin
We are a tiny little island, but being here this week for the One Young World Summit and watching the flags at the opening ceremony, part of me dreads it, because I really dislike nationalism.
But then (the parade of flags from 180 countries) starts and I think it’s cute, like kids’ school plays and then I become very moved, and then I think that there isn’t a single country where there isn’t something that’s wrong.
There’s so many little guys here, so many young adults, so proud to wave their tribal markings.
And that’s us, that’s us in Ireland. We get buffeted, we get blown apart by the global winds. Largely because of the backwash from the great powers, the big guys, and we can do very little about it, but for whatever reason this country talks up a storm, a storm in the face of global turmoil. A storm that can rebut a lot of the false arguments of our time.
I have an aunty Fifi, she’s 106. Before her mind went off to a different part of the human universe, when she was 103 I sat down with her in Mount Merrion and I asked her about the First World War. There isn’t a single one of you here in this room who’s country was not affected and devastated by the war and the great flu epidemics that followed it, that killed even more people.
It was a war that wiped out all the past economic systems, and all the past political systems up to that moment, and it was preceeded by a single tiny event in a tiny country that had no true significance.
I asked my aunty Fifi had she any foreboding, was there any, within the family, was there any sense that something truly momentous, something truly barbaric and beyond imagination was going to happen. She was a very young girl. But she said no, she has no memory of there being really any difference.
In two years this country will celebrate 1916. Some revolutionaries, some teachers, some poets, some trade unionists decided to take matters into their own hands and begin, or continue, a long fight for independence. She never felt that but I have, in my house, framed the letters from the British Commander of Dublin city allowing my grandfather to leave in the middle of our Rising, in the middle of our rebellion.
There was no sense in our family, that this was coming, and yet I remember sitting here in Dublin during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and my father being desperately afraid. I asked him what was happening, I’d seen the priests running up and down the corridors, in the classrooms whispering to each other.
There was a great sense of fear and my dad said, ‘I think there might be a war’, and I said ‘Will we be in it?’, and he said ‘It doesn’t matter, it’ll be the last war’.
I’m telling you now, things are worse.
I know afterwards you’ll come up and say: ‘Bob give it a rest, you know, it’s not that bad.’ It is. It is.
We don’t need 1914 again. And where will it be? Your country? Is it Syria? Is it Gaza? Is it Ukraine where, once again, another country can just walk in, and we do very little about it. Is it Afghanistan? Thank God there were no black flags at the OYW Summit for those murderers in IS.
Where is it? Where is the little spark that, for no reason at all, will set off the next conflagration?
The great Irish poet of the twentieth century was W.B. Yeats, possibly the greatest poet in the world of the twentieth century, and he wrote one of the most terrifying poems ever written in the English language, it was called The Second Coming and he wrote it just after the conflagration of the first war which killed 250,000 young Irish boys and women.
He saw it happening again, he saw the ruins of what we had made and destroyed. It’s happening again. There is not one person here who will probably disagree with me, they might put it differently, but we are at a critical moment.
There are roughly 170 million people who directly are descended from the Irish and still we leave, we’re too small to really sustain the numbers of us, and that’s true of the world right now.
But in this tiny island, Ireland, as you may know from your own news, we are no strangers to civil strife.
We know economic devastation and growth, we know about state and religious corruption, we know all the things that affect other countries, we know about brutes who were our leaders, we know about no leadership.
We know that you cannot be a leader and be a thug, you cannot be a leader and be a brute. And we know about the lack of leadership in the great democracies.
Where are the leaders of Europe? Where, when an ex-Chancellor of Germany sips Putin’s filthy champagne, and takes his dirty money, and is once again a German chancellor complicit in the invasion of the Ukraine.
No shame. No shame.
We have to imagine what all these things that we have in our back pocket, these services that have been invented, possibly the greatest invention in the history of mankind, we have to understand what it means, what greater communication means, what it is we’re going to communicate.
Why the great new companies of the future, of this supposed golden age, your Facebooks, your Googles, your Amazons, your Apples, are no different to companies of the past. Monopolists who seek to sell you, if you let them, where the state believes that it can intrude in your life and monitor everything you say or do.
I don’t want that world. Never have. There’s too much wrong.
What are we doing about Sierra Leone? A country just beginning to breathe, and because they’re poor, they die. Like back in the eighties when myself and Ali Hewson and her husband, and a bunch of us got together to talk about what was happening in Africa and the great African famines.
They were not dying of hunger, they were dying because they had no money to get food because the state had no systems, because it had no money.
They are not dying of this filthy little virus in West Africa.
They are dying because they are poor. I don’t like that. That cannot stand. We must think. We must find a way through the terrible situation we’ve blocked ourselves into.
And we must navigate an elegant, intellectual path to a newer freedom.
But our time is gone.
If you don’t do it, there’s a problem.