I banned all discussion of the US Presidential election everywhere I went on Wednesday 9th November, the day the result was known. It was all too depressing. Looking at the election from a Defence perspective, President-Elect Trump poses a number of unknowns especially in relation to NATO. I have a number of NATO meetings coming up before Christmas.
The first meeting is in Istanbul. Turkey is having a number of internal problems at present which are causing concerns within the Alliance. The committee meetings will be addressing a number of serious concerns across the Alliance and it is unclear what the President elects views will be. The second meeting will be in Washington DC, by then it may be possible to gain a clearer view of the incoming administration’s future plans in the weeks before President-Elect Trump takes office. That, however, is for a future article.
These thoughts were going through my head as I stood at the war memorial in Bridgend on 11th November holding a wreath dedicated to those who fell at the Somme. The Battle of the Somme lasted five months and left one million dead and wounded on both sides. It was this battle that was said to have influenced America’s entry into the First World War. The American troops were led by General John Pershing who as his first act on arriving in Paris visited the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette. During the American war of Independence against the British, Lafayette supported the American revolutionaries.
“Lafayette, nous voilà!” (Lafayette, we are here!) the General is said to have stated. This act of homage was a recognition of how much America was bound to Europe. Lafayette was born into a French aristocratic family. He joined the military as an officer when aged 13. As a 19 year old he travelled to America to join the American revolutionaries and was made a Major General. Later he was to write, with the support of Thomas Jefferson, a document called the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
America had sworn to stay out of the European war but this changed in 1917. President Wilson argued that like Lafayette, American would fight for freedom from oppression in an effort to make the world a freer and better place. The arrival of the American troops changed the war. It also changed America. Entering the war increased American industrialization, expanded its army, brought women the vote and created a vision of its role as the leader of the free world.
By 1918 there were 17 million dead and 20 million wounded. Of the dead, 11 million were military and 7 million civilians. America lost 116,000. Europe was exhausted and impoverished. Woodrow Wilson the US President established a new organisation called the League of Nations in an attempt to ensure future world peace. The League lasted 26 years and after World War 2 was replaced by the United Nations.
After the Second World War another new organisation was created to ensure lasting peace. It was called the European Coal and Steel Community. Later it became the European Economic Community and finally the European Union.
As the new Nobel Laureate, Bob Dylan sang, ‘the times they are a changing’. We now have Brexit and President-Elect Trump, but what next? There will be lots of media articles, arguments, reassurances and alarms. There won’t be £350million a week for the NHS and it is unlikely that the Mexican Government will agree to finance a wall separating themselves from the US.
We have three Remembrance services locally on the first Sunday after 11th November. I alternate between Porthcawl and Bridgend. For the two services I cannot attend, I buy wreaths and arrange for local school pupils to lay them on my behalf. I always meet with the pupils beforehand and talk about the act of remembrance. This year I went to Mynydd Cynffig Primary and Brynteg Comprehensive. I cannot begin to tell you how impressed I was by the pupils I met. In the primary school I was asked about the American election and I left agreeing to go back and hold a Parliamentary style debate once they had created their political parties, chosen their leadership teams and agreed a debate topic. I discussed the US election with the Head Boy and Head Girl of Brynteg and was impressed by their insight and understanding. Time to lower the voting age. These young people will be facing the new world just being created.
At the war memorial there were lots of very young children. During the service one of the children turned to his mum and asked ‘are we remembering yet’. Children really do come up with the best lines. As I stood there, remembering, I couldn’t help but think about what the world will look like for that child in the years to come. The last year in politics has shown that the future is not something that anyone can easily predict, but one thing is for certain, times are definitely a changing.