The Price of Errors
What’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made? Clearly for Nicola Thorp on her first day as a receptionist at PWC, it was the decision not to wear heels to work, whereupon she was laughed at and sent home. Quite right too – I bet her skirt wasn’t short enough either. A straw poll amongst random women of my acquaintance informed me that this is quite ‘normal’. Clearly it is 1966 and not 2016, and a powerful time warp is in operation.
Staying on the theme of sartorial errors, one of the highlights of a trip to the hairdressers is the chance to browse through copies of Hello and other similar ‘celeb mags’. These august publications delight in pointing out how actress/model X had the temerity to go to the supermarket dressed in her slippers/tracksuit bottoms/stained t-shirt. And yes, it is nearly always a woman featured. Having said that, my recent blog berating current fashions in the length of men’s trousers has generated considerable comment, so maybe the magazines have it right after all.
While we can all chuckle at some A-lister’s latest faux pas, what about the kind of errors on the international stage that have repercussions that resonate well into the future and damage the lives of countless people? The 20/20 vision afforded by hindsight tells us that Tony Blair’s biggest mistake was to support President Bush against the independent advice from the UN weapons inspectors and go to war on Iraq. Chamberlain’s biggest mistake in 1938 was to believe Hitler and return to the UK claiming he had made “peace with honour”. Again with the benefit of hindsight, it is extraordinary to note that at the time Chamberlain was hailed a hero by the countries facing the possibility of war with Germany. In Strasbourg the Avenue de la Paix was renamed overnight the Avenue Neville Chamberlain. The Prime Minister of Egypt, Mahmond Pasha, sent a telegram to the Prime Minister saying: “Your name will go down in history as a statesman who saved civilisation from destruction.”
I am no historian, but let’s not forget that this ‘historic agreement’ was predicated on the division of Czechoslovakia and the appropriation of the Sudetenland by Germany. The area did indeed have an ethnic German population, and Hitler’s rationale for its annexation was alleged privation being suffered by its inhabitants. The trouble was that after the war, a newly liberated Czechoslovakia forcibly kicked out all the ethnic Germans from the region.
I have a German friend, Hedwig,* who was five years old in 1945 and living in the Sudetenland. Czech officials appeared on their doorstep and gave her mother half an hour to leave the family home. She bundled her two younger children into the pram and loaded it with whatever possessions she could grab. Hedwig clung to the side of the pram as they were herded off to the station, where they boarded trains back to distant relatives in Germany. Their father had been killed at the Front, having been conscripted to fight for a country whose ethos and activities he loathed. On the way back the train was stopped by Russian soldiers. Hedwig’s mother was one of the young women ordered off the train by the soldiers and flung back on a few hours later. She subsequently committed suicide.
That’s the thing about mistakes: it is frequently someone else who pays the price, and it seems to be the politicians who routinely get off scot-free.
*not her real name