John le Carré on how far we have fallen from grace.
I try to imagine how it was for Palme in those times: the shuttle diplomacy, the tireless reasoning with people locked into their positions and scared of their superiors. I was the lowest form of spy life, but even I got wind of contingency plans for outright nuclear war. If you are in Berlin or Bonn when the Russian tanks sweep over you, be sure to destroy your files first. First? What was second? And I doubt whether your chances would have been much rosier in Stockholm.
In Berlin, in August 1961, I look on as coils of Russian barbed wire are unrolled across the Friedrichstrasse checkpoint, otherwise known as Checkpoint Charlie. Intermittently, in the days that follow, I watch the Wall go up, one concrete block at a time. Do I lift a finger? No one did. And maybe that was the worst part of it: the oppressive sense of your own irrelevance.
But Palme refused to be irrelevant. He would make himself heard if it killed him, and perhaps in the end it did.
It’s October 1962 and Cuban crisis time. I am a junior diplomat at the British embassy in Bonn and I have just moved into a new hiring beside the river Rhine. German decorators are painting the walls. It’s a sunny autumn and I think I must have been on leave because I am sitting in the garden writing.