Neville Chamberlain came back from Berlin and shouted, 'peace in our times,' thereby ending the war of words. Soon after, Germany invaded Poland and England was sucked into what would be five-year World War of attrition.
Today, some 70 years later, that insidious phrase 'war of words,' is being heard again and it does not augur well for the elusive peace that we seek but do not find. It is a sobering thought that conflict in the past century has only had 15 days where the guns were silenced. The rest of the time the hot spots of the world have continued their relay of bloodshed and misery and with terrorism now adding a second dimension to battle, there seems to be little chance of a sixteenth day in the near future.
The escalating tension between Washington and Teheran was softened this weekend by the rescue of 13 Iranian sailors held captive by pirates in the Gulf and returned to their native country. Even as Teheran extended its gratitude, setting the stage for a less hostile confrontation over its naval exercises in the Straits of Hormuz, the gesture was robbed of its worth when an Iranian news agency dubbed it a Hollywood stunt. The fact, however, is that the sailors were rescued, and if this rescue can de-escalate tensions that goodwill must be harnessed. One has to grasp at straws when relations are stressed. There is no percentage in a head on collision. As it is, there is the spectre of a global financial crisis looming at us and it is far too fanciful to imagine that adversity will have any sweet uses or that gearing the weapons industry will somehow be the miracle worker for the global economies to jump start. These are fictional scenarios and the bitter truth is that if the Western powers and Iran cannot come to some common grounds for understanding, things could seriously boil over. This is a time for statesmanship and restraint and not for the beat of the drums.
The impasse as it stands is serious enough. Iran has threatened to close the Hormuz passage if more sanctions are applied to it over a nuclear programme. Such sanctions have seldom worked in the past and one can only hope that third parties of like-mind can galvanise the United Nations to create the power of global opinion to bring the two sides to a negotiating table and switch off the heat. It is not a good start to 2012 and the suddenness with which the stakes have been raised is worrying.