Instant Opinion

‘A nuclear attack is unthinkable, and yet we have to think about it’

Your digest of analysis from the British and international press

A mushroom cloud from an atomic bomb

1

Daniel Finkelstein in The Times

We need to start talking about nuclear war

On thinking the unthinkable

Sting once sang that we might be spared a nuclear war “if the Russians love their children too,” remembers Daniel Finkelstein. However, he speculates, they might “have a different idea of what loving them might mean”. Although many strategists have commented that President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine seems “unreasonable… many of the same people seem to believe he might be completely reasonable with his weapons of mass destruction”. But this assumes “that Putin and his regime view things as we do” and that “they think success in Ukraine isn’t worth sacrificing millions of people in a nuclear war”. The Times columnist argues that “given the number of aggressive leaders who may not fear the death of their children, the horrific truth is that one day we may be subject to an attack with weapons of mass destruction” and that although “this is unthinkable” we “have to think about it”. Calling for the issue to be put at the centre of political debate, he concludes that “of course we should discuss our approach to weaponry that might kill millions, that could even make the Earth uninhabitable” and hopes that “the violent challenge from Putin will wake us from our slumbers”.

2

Tim Stanley in The Telegraph

Addressing a Parliament of wannabe Churchills, Volodymyr Zelensky embodied the real thing

On oration and ovation

President Volodymyr Zelensky was not only the first foreign leader to address Parliament within the Commons but also the first person to do so in a T-shirt, points out Tim Stanley. Noting that the Ukrainian leader quoted both Shakespeare and Churchill, he added that “MPs quote them all the time as poetry, a bit of colour” but “for Zelensky, they are a description of reality”, and “in a Parliament full of wannabe Winstons, it was humbling to encounter the real thing”. He added that “the atmosphere in the Commons wasn’t emotional, it was sober” but he only spotted one MP, Labour's Emma Hardy, crying. Zelensky’s speech was bookended by two standing ovations, noted The Telegraph’s man. “This is not something the Commons normally does, and one might gripe that it wasn’t done for Syrians or Yemenis, or the victims of the Taliban or of the wars that the West tolerated or even prosecuted,” he wrote. “It would be inaccurate,” he argued, “to call this time in our Parliament’s history ‘unprecedented’ because war is perennial”. Rather, he concluded, “it might be the moment the West finally paid attention”.

3

Steerpike in The Spectator

Eight embarrassed Bercow backers

On red faces

John Bercow has been found to be a “serial bully” and a “serial liar” by an independent inquiry and Steerpike is ready to go after the former Speaker’s supporters. The Spectator columnist writes that the verdict is “damning of those who continued to prop up and cheer on the former Speaker in office”. For instance, he takes aim at LBC presenter James O’Brien, noting that Bercow has appeared several times as a guest on O’Brien’s show and “his friendly ‘grilling’ on the bullying claims” was “notably more gentle than the treatment which O’Brien metes out to others who call in to his show”. Steerpike adds that Gary Lineker described Bercow as both “principled” and a “difficult act to follow”, while Alastair Campbell once said Bercow had a “big heart”. Cometh the man, “cometh the sycophant,” Steerpike says of Barry Sheerman, the veteran Labour MP who defended Bercow as “a great reforming Speaker of the House of Commons who deserves our thanks and respect.” Steerpike asks readers to “pass the sick bag”.

4

Rafael Behr in The Guardian

Putin is betting that the West is too decadent to defend its values. He is wrong

On a flabby forecast

“Vladimir Putin bet on a short war because he did not think that Ukrainians would resist invasion,” writes Rafael Behr. “Now he is betting that Russians will tolerate a long war and that the West, amid noisy complaining, will let him finish it.” Focusing on the last of those three predictions, The Guardian columnist says the Russian leader “now expects economic pain to rebound on to the West,” where “the war is stoking energy prices and fuelling inflation”. He says the underlying bet is that “democratic governments are hamstrung by their need to satisfy impatient consumers” and “the will to maintain sanctions will be depleted by the appetite for oil and gas”. He describes this as “an extension of the Putinist view that liberalism is a decadent creed” which “turns people flabby, feeds them drugs, debilitates national virility with gay pride and other violations of traditional morality”. These societies are “expected to blink first in a war of economic attrition when pitted against Russia’s manliness and its historically vaunted capacity for stoicism and self-sacrifice,” he writes. However, he concludes, “dictators underestimate the strength of democracies because they see only weakness in leaders who submit themselves to the risk of regime change in free elections”.

5

Peter J Pitts in the New York Post

Please, New Yorkers, just let it slide! We’re masking ourselves into fits

On a brewing risk

“Welcome to my world,” writes New Yorker Peter J Pitts, “where wearing a surgical mask has replaced wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt as a social-justice signal in post-pandemic America”. Despite “very clear guidance” from the authorities, many of his neighbours “want to keep their masks on (which is certainly their privilege), but they don’t want me to take mine off either,” he writes in the New York Post. “And they’re aggressive about it. Withering stares and cutting comments.” He believes this is more than “just your run-of-the-mill New York City neurosis” but “a real public-health risk brewing”. He argues that it bodes ill for future waves or pandemics. “If we can’t support our friends and neighbours who want to take off their masks when such actions are strongly supported by science, how are we going to get them to put their masks back on should the situation call for it in the future?” asks Pitts.

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