Our mistake

Thoughtful Guardian column by Martin Kettle. Excerpt:

In Vasily Grossman’s remarkable novel Life and Fate, there is a powerful scene in which two Bolsheviks encounter one another as prisoners in one of Stalin’s labour camps in 1942. The younger Bolshevik, Abarchuk, who is convinced he is there in error, remains a believer in the cause; but his older mentor, Magar, has gained wisdom through experience. When the two comrades snatch what turns out to be their final conversation, Magar looks around the camp and distils their years of revolutionary experience in words of terrible simplicity and force. “We made a mistake,” he tells Abarchuk. “And this is what our mistake has led to.”

It has become increasingly hard for a truthful person not to apply those same words to the situation facing the US and Britain in Iraq. It is not Stalin’s Russia and Bush’s Iraq that are the same, of course. It is the dreadful clarity of Magar’s conclusion about the way events can evolve. In Iraq we too made a mistake. Adapting a comment by the 19th-century diplomat Talleyrand, I see Britain’s role in the invasion not as a crime, but as an error – and the scenes of desecration and murder this week across Iraq are what our mistake has led to.