Friday 22 November 2019

Kevin Myers: History rewards 'stickers' such as Queen Elizabeth II

NO ONE who remembers the last great royal wedding could possibly have thought that when the next such event occurred, the Queen would still be queen, the Duke of Edinburgh would even be alive and the Prince of Wales would still be the Prince of Wales.

Thirty years is a very long time -- as much as elapsed, say, between the 1918 general election and the Mother and Child Scheme, or the outbreak of the First World War and the Normandy landings.

Many improbable things have happened since Charles and Diana married. Britain and Argentina fought a war and Iraq fought wars with just about everybody. The IRA went into government with Ian Paisley. The USSR withdrew from Afghanistan and communism collapsed. A conflict between militant Islam and the Christian west, dormant for a quarter of a millennium, erupted again, with thousands dying in New York, London, and Madrid. Now, NATO and even Irish Army soldiers have taken over from the USSR in Afghanistan.

One thing that was certain in 1981 was that by 2011, King Charles III and Queen Diana would rule the United Kingdom. To suggest that Diana could end up dying with an Egyptian playboy in Paris -- having bedded at least a dozen other men, almost publicly -- would have invited howls of "TREASON!"

It would have been just as idiotic to suggest that when Diana's first-born son got married, Robert Mugabe would still be president of Zimbabwe or that the then 20-year-old grandson of a Kenyan tribesman -- who had once served as a humble cook in the King's East African Rifles in Burma in 1945, when the word 'King' actually referred to Elizabeth's father -- would now be the President of the USA.

Many other things would have seemed equally absurd in 1981 -- such as the notion that every home would have its own computer or everyone would have their own cordless mobile phone, which also functions as calculator, travel agent, radio, music player and camera, and which could even send video footage from Asia to the Andes in a second.

Nobody -- NOBODY -- foresaw that microtechnology was going to transform the world. A video camera in 1981 was the size of a Nissan Micra and you needed a friend to lean against to keep you steady. As for cost: well, it was either a video camera or a house. PC back then meant police constable: Mac was a raincoat: the words internet, email, laptop and Google didn't even exist.

History only makes 'sense' of events after they've happened. Hypothetical non-events might have been just as probable, except that the cards of historical contingency just fell differently.

That we consistently fail to foresee the future suggests that 'history' is the most fraudulent of all analytical tools: for who would trust a medical profession that was skilled only in post mortems? Or courtroom lawyers whose real talent lay in explaining why all their clients had been executed?

So how different would British history have been if her horse had bolted and the Queen had been killed after Marcus Sergeant fired blanks at her on the Mall, just a month before the royal wedding? Not very much, is the logical answer.

For Diana would soon have become queen, so the chances of her bouncing her bed with various captains of rugby and cavalry would logically have been somewhat diminished, and the House of Windsor would be not be a disorderly house. But does logic always prevail?

Actually, it's far less important in human affairs than sheer tenacity. History rewards stickers, who are not bowed by adversity and who -- most importantly -- manage to outlive their enemies.

Elizabeth II is a sticker. She became queen when the Korean War was raging, Truman was in the White House and Stalin in the Kremlin.

THE late Pope was also a sticker. Shot two months before the royal wedding, he survived to become the most influential pontiff since the Counter Reformation.

The McGuinness/Adams duopoly, by God, consists of two real stickers (or perhaps late-blooming stickies). They led Sinn Fein-IRA in 1981, as they lead Sinn Fein today, despite all we know about them.

And in glorious Zimbabwe, cuddly Mugabe remains in power. Simple: he is a sticker.

Neither law nor politics nor passing ethos can subdue raw determination, for it declines to bow to mood or mob, but instead sets its eyes unwaveringly upon its chosen path. Most people know some of the Kipling poem, "East is East, and West is West", finishing it -- wrongly -- with, "and never the twain shall meet". But the greater truth comes with the next line: "But there is neither East nor West, Border nor Breed nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth."

Kipling might have said, "women", had only the word scanned. So for how much longer will Queen Elizabeth reign? Let us foregather, you and I, 30 years hence, for the wedding of Kate and Will's first-born, and see if she rules still. I might even bet a space-shuttle, or my house, on it: the real question is -- which will then be more valuable?

Irish Independent

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