Watch CBSN Live

London Comment: First World War

Do you remember when Donald Rumsfeld referred contemptuously to those on this side of the pond who didn't sign up to the war in Iraq as "the old Europe"? At the time a lot of people over here were thoroughly offended. But maybe he had a point about The Old Europe always looking over its shoulder and trying to learn the lessons of a bloody past. Here in Britain, we've just spent the fall commemorating those civilian and Royal Air Force heroes of what we called The Blitz. Seventy years since German bombers tried to destroy our major cities, we've been paying our respects to the thousands killed during those terrifying Second World War raids. Right now, Stephen Spielberg is shooting his latest movie up on the English moors, about ten miles away from my farm, and he's highly thought of by the locals. The film he is making is based on Michael Murpergo's story of a horse bought by the British Army from an English farm and sent to France to serve during the horrors of the First World War. More than a million British horses were killed in France between 1914 and 1918, and in the book Joey is one of the few survivors. Before Spielberg came on the scene, "War Horse" was first a hugely succesful book and then an enormous hit on the London stage. It's coming to New York soon. Another play adapted from a novel about the lost generation of the First World War has recently opened here, and by the way is the hottest ticket if you're planning a trip to London. It's called 'Birdsong'' and captures the pain and pity of a terrible conflict. So maybe Rumsfeld was right when he talked about "The Old Europe" so dismissively, and maybe we're guilty of looking back a little too much, sometimes perhaps to avoid working out where we went wrong on Iraq. This year, on Sunday the third of October, Germany handed over nearly a hundred million dollars. That was a final payment, to clear the country's First World War debt to its victims in Belgium and France. So it's taken ninety two years to settle that obligation and for Germany, finally -- financially -- the war is over. I wonder when it will all be over in Iraq? This is Simon Bates for CBS News in London.

Simon Bates