There is no crisis that a shrewd profession cannot turn to its advantage. Margaret MacMillan has shown herself time and again to be a master of her art. We are taught from childhood to “learn from history or else,” and as she rightly says, we sometimes do (“The dawn after the darkest hour,” June). But what does she mean in demanding we “use it wisely”? History is not a science, subject to peer-group review. It says merely: “Trust me, I am a historian.”
History has long been a banquet at which all can feast, left and right, democrat and dictator. Thus today, MacMillan feels she can already suggest that Covid-19 proves the worth of big government, dispels the “bugaboo of a deep state” and throws libertarians “on the defensive.” Suppose it “proves” the opposite? Suppose it shows the incompetence of big government institutions (as in the UK), the grotesque cost of one-size-fits-all overreaction and the validity of Sweden’s policy of mitigation and herd immunity? Suppose by then the politics of fear will have legitimised the greatest “deep state” intrusion on personal freedom in history? Just suppose.
Will she write that history?
Simon Jenkins, columnist and author
A brilliant and encouraging essay by MacMillan. International co-operation is indeed essential. MacMillan’s Canada and Britain have a long tradition of mutual support. My hero, the great Lord Haldane, gave his brilliant speech as lord chancellor on the subject of a “higher nationality” in Montreal in 1913. He went on to be the first minister to place a paper on the concept of a post-war league of nations before the cabinet in 1915.
Today, true statesmanship is rare. The crisis creates opportunities. If we grasp them, great things can be done—and great things done endure.
John Campbell, via the website
WHO is culpable?
As Ngaire Woods specifically mentions me (in the embarrassing company of Donald Trump) as a critic of the WHO, I should say I agree with a lot of her defence of the organisation (“Who is the WHO?” June). I have expressed my opposition to Trump’s intention to remove funding and recognise the essential work it is now doing.
It is of course difficult to run an international organisation when China and the US, the two largest members, are such awkward customers. Nor should the WHO’s failings excuse…