Peter Rhodes on a vegan row, a confusing 'they' and how the world stumbled into war

Was I the only one who heard about the Team GB sailors striking gold in the Forty-Niner class and found myself humming Clementine?

War by Blunders
War by Blunders

I was alarmed to read about a rash of resignations during a bitter falling-out in what ought to be a gentle and convivial organisation. One of the resigners identifies as non-gendered, disabled and working-class and denounces the organisation as “not a safe place for young people, for black people, for queer people or for any other marginalised people” and having a “white supremacist culture.” The caring, kindly organisation in question is the Vegan Society. Frankly, I blame the lentils.

A complication for us hacks in reporting the vegan blood-letting drama is that when one non-gendered person and four gendered people resign at the same time, we are required to refer to the genderless person as “they” and to the correspondence as “their resignation letter.” But how does the reader know that “they” refers only to one person, or that “their resignation letter” has not been jointly written by all of them? By strictly following modern self-identification rules, you could easily defame people by unwittingly attributing views to them. In this Brave New World there will always be work for lawyers.

On this day 107 years ago, Britons woke up to discover their country was at war with Germany. Every school pupil should study the events of the momentous 37 days from the assassination of an archduke in Sarajevo to the first shots in the First World War in 1914. The relentless blundering of heads of states, their ministers and generals took Britain into a war that never should have happened and which led ultimately to the Second World War and a total butcher's bill for the 20th century's conflicts of nearly 100 million lives. What do we learn from it? Surprisingly, that saying, as Britain repeatedly said in the summer of 1914: “We'll probably stay neutral” far from calming things, only hastened the carnage.

For grown-ups interested in the 37 days I can recommend Sean McMeekin's excellent book, July 1914. It makes you wonder how, with just an ounce of common sense, the world might have turned out.

Has anyone ever written anything more truthful about the ageing process than this, by India Knight, a few days ago? “The fact is, ageing is wonderful – until, at some point, it isn't.”

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