I wrote recently about how we should be a little bit nicer to Russia. I’m probably sitting a lot closer to Russia than you are, so we’re more inclined to be nice to nearby giants. I’m doing a little background research into the Special Operations Executive, a spying and sabotage outfit formed around the start of World War 2 in Britain. SOE is synonymous with heroism and derring do, and has much in common with the SAS. Except that the SAS was staffed by soldiers, and SOE was for the conscripted amateurs. They made some absolute howlers. This got me thinking more broadly about world affairs.

The particular incident that caught my imagination today was the sorry tale of Serbia, then part of Yugoslavia. The reason for this is that, inexplicably, Churchill mistakenly chose to back Communist guerillas led by Tito against the pro-Western resistance led by General Mihailovic. The tremors were felt right through the 1990s war that eventually led to the collapse of Yugoslavia. It was a horrible name anyway, but a bad choice in World War 2 led to decades of struggle and the gaining of another toehold by Communism. The Americans and Russians would never have made this error: Churchill chose to back the Communists because the other side, he believed, were openly helping Germany. He had a terrible choice to make, and made the wrong one. This was due mainly to fake reports emanating from SOE in Cairo. The fake reports were created by Communist sympathiser James Klugmann, who inexplicably rose to become deputy director of SOE’s Cairo office.

Later research showed that Tito the Communist was also, oddly, pro-Nazi. Tito then, becomes the genius of espionage and Churchill looks like an idiot on this occasion. So, of course, Stalin would never have let the Communists down even if they were (illogically) also Nazis. Roosevelt would never have backed the Communists even if the other side were waving their arms about and growing moustaches. Churchill got caught up in his calm logic, as Britain did again later on when they sold jet engines to Russia which were then improved and used against the US in Korea.

What was it about this that caught my eye? It is simply the notion that you can only fight today’s struggles. Yes, you always look ahead and plan and try to predict the consequences of your actions. Churchill did all that and was still wrong. One reason I suggested going lighter on Russia is that Putin cannot last forever. There could be a new Gorbachev right now planning his, or her, revolution. Unlikely, but possible. Russia will prevail, even long after we’re all very much older. Or dead from Kim’s nukes.

But no matter how far ahead you try to look, you cannot predict everything. When it comes to taking action, as our current leaders seem so frightened of, you must, in the end, choose the option which makes sense today. Perhaps this is why our current leaders are so afraid of action: they have seen the mistakes of the past. Much easier to wait, and hope you are voted out before anything needs acting on. This is how most senior politicians are: they wait and wait, and only do the actions which are urgent. This is practically built into the system.

It is the logic, and the language, of choosing your battles. Of doing the minimum, because anything more than that increases the risks of mistake. And the price too, in stark terms. Dropping one bomb is cheaper than dropping two and only half as dangerous.

You can apply the same logic to everyday work and life, too. There is so little time to do the things you enjoy. So choose yourself. Choose life, as Renton said. Choose your mates. Turn away from other people’s battles. Slim down and declutter. You’ll be happier, and so will everyone else.

About Author

P. C. Dettmann is the London bureau chief and contributing editor at The Z Review. Born in Hull, living in London, he is the author of Locksley: A New Spy, Ernest Zevon, and as Paul Charles, From Beyond Belief and Kicking Tin. He indulges his love of espionage by running spy tours for Airbnb.

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