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Grumpy Old Men

LONDON – Having reached pensionable age, I qualify to be a grumpy old man. I should be boring my children, and the students at Oxford University where I am Chancellor, with grumbles about how everything is going to the dogs. But that is not quite how I see things.

I went to university myself in 1962. My first term coincided with the Cuban missile crisis. The world seemed to be teetering on the brink of nuclear catastrophe. Those were the days when global peace was sustained by a concept known suitably enough by the acronym MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction. Was that world a worse and more dangerous one than today, where our main nuclear concerns are how to prevent proliferation and strengthen the treaty that has deterred it for the last generation?

At the end of my years at Oxford, I went as a student to the United States and visited Alabama. You may recall the story of Richard Nixon attending the independence celebrations in Ghana. At a gala reception, he went up to one guest, mistaking him for a local, and asked what it felt like to be able to vote and enjoy freedom under the rule of law. “I wouldn’t know,” the man replied, “I’m from Alabama.”

Within my adult lifetime, we have moved from the murder of civil-rights campaigners in the US to the election of a black president. Nothing to be grumpy about there.