In December 1971, at the outset of “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland, Edward Heath’s then home secretary, Reginald Maudling, announced that the British government had managed to ensure that an “acceptable level of violence” had been achieved. Taken out of context, these awkward words—which essentially meant that civil war had been averted—were thrown back at the government many times thereafter. They were said to denote a poverty of ambition, implying that the people of Northern Ireland would just have to deal with terrorism and civil strife as part of everyday life. The current conflagration across the Middle East brings to mind Maudling’s words once more. It seems that the wider the flames spread, the less the west seems exercised by the details.
Photo credit: David Poe