Since discovering my family’s involvement in the Great War, I have researched and written about war for something like twenty years now. Sometimes I write about a regiment moving there, or a soldier dying there, a trench lost, a battle won.

I always endeavour to personalise the casualties. My books are full of far too many brief biographical footnotes. Born in such and such a place on this date. The son of Geoffrey and Mary, Pierre and Louise, or Gustav and Hilda. The number of children now without a father. The dead buried here or nowhere. ‘Remembered’ on this sad, and now ignored, memorial. War, after all, is essentially about killing people you don’t know because they wear a different uniform.

Increasingly, though, I write about the men, always old men, who send their young men to fight and die in such wars. The arrogance of these old men, their stupidity, their disregard for the value of all human life in pursuance of their ambitions, their vendettas, or their grievances real or contrived.

They exploit the naïve patriotism of their young men (and now women too). Through lies and propaganda, they excite them into the belief they and their families are somehow endangered by someone from far away. Someone they have never met and will never meet. Anonymous, faceless, and yet a danger.

Their different language, religion, politics, diet, way of dressing are all portrayed as an existential threat to the survival of nation X or nation Y. A threat which must be met, or pre-empted, by force. Deadly force.

Now, I may be wrong. Perhaps John Smith in Smith Street, Smithtown, does wake up one morning and say to himself: ‘Time we invaded Jonestown, I have never trusted the beggars’. Perhaps John Smith does then go from door to door, telling his neighbours, ‘It’s time to kill those Jonestown bastards. Grab your gun.’

Perhaps he does. My guess is, though, that John is more pre-occupied with paying the rent, taking his kids to play football in the park, wondering what’s for Sunday lunch, than he is about attacking some unknown family in someone unknown town.

So, why do wars start? Because the sociopaths and psychopaths who we allow to lead us, men who care not one jot about our well-being, our hopes, our livelihoods, our communities, DO think like the aggressive version of John Smith. And they set to manipulating poor John into believing their made-up threat is real, and that if we don’t get our retaliation in first then we are toast.

Sadly, a lot of these sociopaths and psychopaths in charge were elected by John Smith and his mates, by you and by me. Either by actively supporting them, or by stupidly not getting involved. Not stopping them in their tracks. Then these ‘leaders’ lie, cheat, and lie again to get us to do what THEY want but ultimately to OUR cost.

I am prepared to bet that the average Israeli and the average Iranian would not usually wake up and say to their wives over breakfast: ‘I fancy bombing Tel Aviv/Tehran’. But their sociopathic/psychopathic leaders may have persuaded them it was essential, it was right, it was self-defence…. It was god’s will to punish the godless.

In 1841, Charles Mackay wrote in his book ‘Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds’:

“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.”

Now, with social media and heavily politicised news media we are all ‘the herd’. Those who step out of line are criticised, dismissed, attacked, sometimes physically. And the sociopaths and psychopaths we have allowed to control social and news media tell us what they want. And tell ‘John Smith’ it is time to fight someone he has never heard of, in a place he has never heard of, for a cause which he doesn’t understand, and with a result which will be catastrophic for Mr Smith, his family and his neighbours.

If you are lazy, complacent, self-centred you get what you deserve. The West, in particular, is lazy, complacent, and self-centred. Unless we all ‘recover our senses’ rather more than slowly, then the world is getting what it deserves.