What a world

The latest round of scrapping between Israel and the Palestinians has brought some things back into sharp perspective.

I guess anyone under 20 may not have much of a political recollection of the nineties. What's weird is that the nineties had us fooled.

A friend of mine is fond of describing the sixties as a "decade of hope", and I think of the nineties in a similar way.

Strictly speaking, the Berlin Wall (believe me, it deserved the capital letter) didn't come down in the nineties, but 1989 was, for many, the start of this weird, almost hallucinogenic decade. The Berlin Wall had stood for nearly thirty years, dividing democratic West Berlin from communist East Berlin. Then, it was pulled down. People from both sides came together - ceasing to be East Germans and West Germans, starting to become simply Germans once again - to topple the edifice. Hands reached through holes torn in the wall, people separated for nearly three decades embraced, and a new era was born.

It became a little rocky when Iraq invaded Kuwait, but after the allies kicked him back home - and after he brutally repressed the George H W Bush-inspired rebellion - Saddam Hussein almost faded into the background. He'd pop out for a speech or two, dedicate a new statue (usually of himself), make some disparaging remarks about the west, and go back to his palace.

This tailing-off was happening all over the world. The Protestants and the Catholics started talking and, along with providing Clinton some nice photo-ops, talking led to doing. The guns, as the old saying goes, fell silent. Northern Ireland knew weeks without sectarian violence. Weeks stretched into months, then into years.

The Palestinians and the Israelis started talking. And talking there, too, led to doing. So important was the peace talks that, in 1994, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts towards reconciliation.

Nelson Mandela made it out of jail, stood in South Africa's first free elections, and was made President.

Names like Colonel Gaddafi and Ayatolla Montazeri started to fade from our televisions.

The Soviet Union collapsed. Yes, for those who remember the cold war, this was the one. The Soviet Union collapsed! We woke up one morning and it was over! The Great Enemy was gone. The threat of nuclear annihilation was wafting away like a bad smell.

Peace was breaking out all over the world. In a century which had seen - maybe - four or five days without some form of war happening somewhere, this unexpected quiet was a little worrying, but welcome. We began, cautiously, to breathe out.

Decades of living under the shadow of world-wide nuclear destruction, of turning on the news every day to images of violence all over the globe, of wondering if we were going to make it to the end of the day, let alone the end of the millennium, were starting to seem behind us.

It almost looked like we might be headed towards that Utopia promised by Star Trek.

And it wasn't just war. Disease was being tackled. Illiteracy rates were down. Crime in a lot of countries was heading downwards. Abortion rates in the USA and the UK were dropping. The internet was opening up the planet. We were shaking hands with people on the other side of the world on a regular basis. We started working together to end environmental problems like the hole in the ozone layer and global warming.

And then the other shoe dropped. Hard.

Now, Iraq is a hell-hole for Iraqis.

Now, the Protestants and the Catholics are at it again.

Now, the Israelis and the Palestinians are killing each other for who-the-hell-knows why.

Now, racist-inspired violence in South Africa is as bad as it ever was, it's just that whites are the target now.

Now, all of the former Soviet Union's nukes are in the hands of ex-Soviet states, under the command of whoever had the full clip this week. And hardliners are taking control of the Russian government, leaving Putin as just about the only moderate in the country. They're even talking about restarting their nuke programmes. Kim Jong-Il has nukes (he's had them for a while, it's true, but now he has the delivery method).

Peace is now a scarce commodity.

The nineties fooled us.

We hate the nineties.

Once again we're back to the eighties. Every news item is war, famine, death, recession, destruction, terrorism, corruption.

Wake me up in 2010. Maybe the next decade will be better.

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