Nobody who lived through that apocalypse, and they are fewer and fewer of them today, could imagine that humanity would implode so terribly again.
Equally, anyone born in the immediate aftermath of that catastrophe was exposed to eyewitness accounts deliberately shared to ensure that Stalingrad, Belsen, Dresden, London, Auschwitz, and Nanking lived on in our consciousness as the most powerful anti-war arguments. That objective has, by and large, been achieved but it is becoming difficult to hope that time has not weakened the argument or at least a real appreciation of it. The nuclear stand off between Washington and Pyongyang could hardly have happened if the main players had a basic understanding of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
That confrontation between two leaders so patently unfit for high office may be the most pressing, high-octane threat to peace today but a far saner, more erudite voice has warned it is just a symptom of a world sliding towards something known and awful.
John le Carré, one of the great writers working in English, has spoken of the “toxic” parallels between the rise of Donald Trump and the rise of 1930s fascism.
The 85-year-old former spy spoke of his disdain for Trump and his despair for America and the wider world. “Something truly, seriously bad is happening ... we have to be awake to that,” he said in London. “These stages that Trump is going through ... and the stirring of racial hatred … a kind of burning of the books as he attacks, as he declares real news as fake news, the law becomes fake news, everything becomes fake news.
I think of all things that were happening across Europe in the 1930s, in Spain, in Japan, obviously in Germany. To me, these are absolutely comparable signs of the rise of fascism and it’s contagious, it’s infectious. Fascism is up and running in Poland and Hungary. Even today, he warned, Ang Sang Suu Kyi is speaking of “fake news” in Myanmar, despite the fact that an estimated 280,000 people have been driven from their homes.
Britain’s Brexiteers would buck at any suggestion that they are fascists but how else could the immigration policy document leaked this week be characterised? That border wall on paper did not celebrate the values that sustained European stability and growth over the last half-century.
It may too early though to Google DIY bunker plans. Speaking in Athens, the French president Emmanuel Macron has promised to lead a “rebuilding” of the EU, warning that “sovereignty, democracy and trust are in danger”.
He called for greater EU co-operation and solidarity, reiterating calls for an integrated eurozone with its own finance minister, parliament and a standalone budget. That these, or variations of them, are issues Angela Merkel will address if, as is expected, she is re-elected chancellor later this month, suggests the future may not be just as President Trump and other dangerous blowhards imagine. It is hard to think of a time that a re-energised and reformed Europe was more important.
Ireland must be a part of that rejuvenation.