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Freedom is worth the cost and the effort - just ask those who don't have it.

There is that old story about the frog at the bottom of the 33 feet well, and how many days does it take for him to climb out if he climbs three feet every day and slips back two every night? Thirty-one days because on the last day, he is out.

I think about that process of climbing - slipping back - more climbing, etc., because it is a reflection of my life - and somewhat tenuously, following the analogy through - I suppose when I climb out - I have shuffled off to the next big adventure or for all you atheists - I'm dead. But that is also how I equate history to civilisation - creeping forward, slipping back - but overall, the momentum is forward. That is, we should, in theory, be becoming more civilised.

And when I look at the world stage today - it is enough to make my eyes tear-up in despair.

I think of myself here in my warm cosy study, an open fire, a cup of hot coffee, looking across green fields, safe and free. Free to think, say and do what I believe. (And there is another whole discussion as to why I should be so fortunate and others aren't.)

And then I think of heroes like Alexi Navalny, Jimmy Lai, Aung San Suu Kyi and all those thousands of innocent unspoken names and so often admirably courageous individuals. Arrested, incarcerated, and often tortured - and too frequently and appallingly, like Mustafa al Dawwish - executed - solely because of their race, their gender, their creed, beliefs, or they bravely had the temerity to voice an opinion. And we hear about one or two of them, but I don't know who they all are, and I probably never will. In fact, I have no idea how many - (I suspect horrifyingly, you would get into the hundreds of thousands) - entirely innocent human beings are at this minute locked up by these evil, depraved, corrupt and brutal regimes - from China to North Korea, from Saudi Arabia to Russia, from Burma and Iran to Syria, Belarus and Afghanistan and all the others that are far too prevalent in our world. Roughly forty per cent of the world's population live under autocratic regimes. Plus, all the other nations that are, frighteningly, on the tipping point of becoming autocratic - about another forty per cent of our world population.

And all this suffering is usually caused by one person and their enablers, who are small in number. The end result being vast numbers of innocent people made to suffer by a tiny minority - and the scary truth is; we not only allow it to happen but quite often, I suspect, tacitly encourage the brutal, cruel and ruthless behaviour of these dictators, who are always and only serving their own means. Sometimes by exporting our weapons and even just trading with them, and more ominously at times, by just doing nothing, effectively giving them the green light to continue with their malevolence against their own native people.

Back to the frog climbing the wall of the well - it is the effort required to climb. Nothing is for free. Everything has a cost. We should treasure our democracy; we should nurture it and protect it whenever and wherever it is under threat.

What is the point of life? Niteche said it was the pursuit of happiness; however selfish that is, I get that. I certainly don't have any definitive answers - but as we all meander through our own lives - we all must surely come to a place occasionally when we wonder - why? What's the point?

We are born naked and with nothing. And we die with nothing except our legacy - the memories and encounters we leave with others.

That poses the question; perhaps the real meaning of life is to give happiness to others.

And in my experience, for people to be happy, they need to be free. Free to hold themselves accountable and free to take responsibility for themselves. Free to make their own decisions and live with the consequences.

And whilst far from perfect, democracy is the only system we have come up with that approaches these criteria. The pursuit of civilisation is an infinite process. There are no rules, but we know that democracy moves us in a forward direction - however bumpy the ride at times.

So the dramatic headline of "german tanks rolling across Europe again", while true, is this time around - all about standing up and defending democracy. It is not an act of aggression; it is an act of defiance.

I am all for turning the other cheek, hard as it is sometimes, the loss of face, the damaged pride, bruised ego etc., but sometimes you have to make a stand, that is - if you stand for anything.

I have taught my children to stand up for those in trouble - whatever that trouble is. Help people who need help. That must be the civilised thing to do and is a defining part of democracy. We all have one voice, and we take responsibility for our actions and hold ourselves to account and are held to account by everyone else. That is surely one of the marks of civilisation - Helping others who are in need of help. Failure to help those in need must be the opposite of civilised.

There are bullies everywhere, and we have all met them and recognise them when we see them. A bully needs to be stood up to, or they will continue to bully.

Biden's failure to recognise this in his tragic decision to withdraw from Afghanistan brought misery and despair to millions, particularly women. As we hear in the news, that continues in an increasingly devastating way. It was the wrong decision and made the previous twenty years of struggle and loss in Afghanistan pointless.

If you study the Vietnam war, the stats tell a terrifying but stark story; American lives lost were just over Fifty thousand. Vietnamese lives lost were over a million. The Americans lost no battles - yet they lost the war. Why - because the Vietnamese were committed and fighting for their country, and America never committed to winning.

Most generations are called on at some stage in their lives to make a choice. To decide what they stand for.

Most wars are pointless and end up in peace talks, and one is left reflecting on the waste of life and resulting devastation. But sometimes, there is a cause so great that it is worth dying for. As in, "no greater love is there than giving your life for a cause greater than yourself - your fellow man" - and that is the pursuit of civilisation, freedom and justice. And that is why all the true democracies of the world need to support the people of Ukraine in their pursuit of liberty. To engage and support the fight against tyranny - because it is civilisations fight - it is democracy's fight - it is our fight. And if we fail to stand up and fight for what we believe in - then the Bullies win, and we cease to be free and claim any right to live in a civilised society.

Defence is or should be the number one priority of any government - of any leader. It is the insurance we all need - that we can live our lives in freedom. Successive governments of all persuasions have chipped away at the defence of our country to the extent that if we were attacked today, we could not defend ourselves adequately.

It is a national disgrace.

A wise insurance broker, who became a personal friend, told me when I brought my first house back in 1982 - and I did not have any spare funds - "only insure what you cannot afford to lose Rikki".

And that is the point - living without a sufficient defence force is taking a hell of a risk. We become complacent and start telling ourselves - "that can't possibly happen here, again - we are far too civilised for that",- and before we know it - "that" is happening and right on our doorstep.

I am not suggesting we get into an arms race, but we urgently need to bolster our Defence Force, both in numbers of trained people and equipment. The cost of not doing that could far exceed any savings made by not keeping our forces at fighting strength.

But that will depend on the moral strength of our leaders and the greed of the rest of us. Can we see beyond the end of our noses?

Are we capable of making solid long-term decisions? I guess that remains to be seen.

As individuals, what can we do - how can we "one's" make a difference - and that is the beauty of democracy - we can. We have a voice. And if enough of us "one's" tell our MPs - and everybody we can - then just possibly democracy might live on, and our world civilisation will keep moving forward - possibly.

I feel that a test of humanity's civilisation is fast approaching - now is not the time to put our heads in the sand or proceed in a half-hearted way - now is the time to stand up straight - face the bullies head-on - And commit ourselves to uphold democracy and our civilisation - whatever the cost. As General Norman Schwarzkopf was fond of saying - Rule Thirteen - Do what's right.

Rikki - Suffolk - UK - 8th February - 2023

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