One hundred years since the declaration of WW1 is certainly a good time to reflect on what kind of world we have built since that day. In WW1 and also WW2 the cost was enormous. Have the rewards been as well?
It's a big question and of course the answer depends from where you are standing. What do you want to measure? Money? Happiness? Health? Too easy. To be consistent we need to measure freedom. That's the headline behind the war.
So I will tell my own personal perspective on freedom.
I have never been asked to physically fight for freedom and on that single point I can attribute enormous progress as opposed to my grandfather or great grandfather.
Nor have I ever been in the context of war. My parents were born just before WW2 and remember the bombs and air raids. It was the single biggest thing that has shaped their lives. They will always be a generation who actually remember the sights and sounds.
But hang on, perhaps I did grow up in the context of war. Perhaps some war just became more invisible?
I grew up in a small Norfolk village in the middle of the Cold War, next to one of the biggest radar stations in the UK. In fear of nuclear obliteration I was often woken in the dead of night by the sound of air raid sirens and would lay in bed listening out for the distant sound of a bomb dropping and anticipating watching all my Action Men melt in but a second. It was terrifying. When the Soviet Union crumbled it was real relief for me. I grew up aware it could all be over in a flash.
Speaking to those involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis at the wonderful RAF Neatishead Radar Museum sends shivers through your bones. We were as close as you can get. Jets lined up, armed, with engines on and lights on amber. Watching to see which ways those lights changed really was tick follows tock because once up they couldn't be called back. The guys who were there still sweat and tremble when they tell the tale 50 years later.
But so far we have achieved two things in last 100 years. We have avoided that nuclear disaster. And we managed to create a world order of sorts that has diminished the dark gloomy shadow of the mushroom cloud that I grew up under in the 1970s and early 80s. In the context of 1914 we have created and protected a sense of freedom.
How? Well I believe that evolved communication and understanding of the need to communicate better has played a part. It used to be called diplomacy but I think actually it is more basic than that. It's highly evolved communication.
Communication is a powerful art form. Communication has the power to start conflicts but also the power to stop them. It has the power to sell as well of course as I know well.
Communication has never been more powerful than in the media-saturated world of digital technology. We live in a world of total and automatic communication now.
As I learned as boy, war is not just bombs dropping. War is fear. Fear that restrains opportunity and freedom. Fear creates oppression.
We all have access to technology, data and platforms to influence like never before seen. Technology will develop fast and we have no appreciation of how. In the next 100 years let's be as careful with what we do with this as we have been with nuclear warheads.
I am less free now than I have ever been. I can be tracked via my phone use. Everything I ve looked at or been sent on email may well exist. My car has a computer full of data and I don't really know who it belongs to or to whom it even belongs. But it tracks everywhere I've been and at what speed.
We are in grave danger of replacing the shadow of the mushroom cloud with the shadow of the "data cloud".
My conclusion is that I have never felt oppressed for my portion of the last 100 years and the thought that my children will be less free than me is crazy. Oppression comes in many shapes and I expect there is an on going fight to understand this for years to come.