Friday is 11/11/11 – for once a date that works in the American date format as well as that used by the wider world, for whom 9/11 technically means the 9th of November). Childish it might be, but many of us will not be able to resist the temptation of purposefully using the date somewhere, even if just for posterity, perhaps by writing out that increasingly archaic financial instrument, a cheque (or check in the American spelling).
Friday is also the day when veterans are honoured in the United States, and those who died in war are remembered in a number of other countries of “the developed world” – an expression that seems almost as increasingly dated as a cheque – including Britain, France, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
So it seems a fitting moment to pause and reflect. Could those who have died for those countries over the last hundred years have predicted the world we have today? Would they have approved of it? Would they be disappointed?
Perhaps if a Canadian or an Australian or a New Zealander from 1911 could have looked forward in time he would have been pleased to see his country today prosperous, dynamic, and fully independent. However, a patriotic American, Briton, or Frenchman of 1911 – or 1941, or 1961, or 1991, or even 2001 – might be quite shocked to see how much his country has declined in power and prestige.
Globalisation is a fact. The world is no longer the exclusive preserve of a handful of major powers run by white men. This is a right and necessary change.
What is neither right nor necessary is the crisis of confidence into which the old major powers have plunged as a result of this desirable development. For some years now, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union have been living on borrowed money and the memories of past glories. Now both are drying up, and the West is drifting, lost and leaderless, in an unfamiliar world.
It is not too late to turn things around. The 1960s and 70s saw a similar loss of confidence and direction. Yet new leaders were found and old values revived, the Cold War was won with remarkably little violence, and the West went on to enjoy a prolonged period of peace and prosperity.
It could happen again, but only if we find leaders who are prepared to admit there are problems and face up to the challenge of making American, British, and European businesses competitive in the truly global economy we now enjoy. The world offers greater opportunities than ever – but only to those who understand that it has changed.