Over the years the news media, initially press and later including television, have made me aware of a succession of assassinations and terrorist attacks against civilians, beginning with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi which horrified me as a boy of 7, and culminating with the London bombings of July 7th, 2005. So many, in fact, that it is impossible to say how many.
On the other hand, there have been three moments, all of them witnessed on BBC News, which had the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. One was the night of November 9th, 1989, when quite unbelievably one of the demonstrators protesting in West Berlin against the continuing presence of the Wall, actually climbed onto the top of it, to be followed rapidly by dozens more; and not a single shot was fired. Then the demonstrators began destroying the structure, the East German government bowed to the inevitable - Thank God! - and in no time at all, it seemed, East Germans were flooding through Checkpoint Charlie into the West.
I also remember how similar was the feeling I experienced when, again on my TV screen, on February 9th, 1990 I witnessed the sight of Nelson Mandela walking freely from prison after 26 years of incarceration by the apartheid regime.
Two events that changed the world for the better; and so too is the third, the thirtieth anniversary of which was celebrated her in Spain on Wednesday. On February 23rd, 1981, Spain’s fledgling and still fragile democracy was threatened when Lt.Col. Antonio Tejero Molina, a Guardia Civil officer stormed the Cortes and began firing in the chamber which was in session. That evening saw the first occasion that the hairs rose on the back of my neck. On my TV screen I watched as King Juan Carlos, dressed in full uniform as head of the armed forces, ordered all troops and Guardia Civil personnel to remain in their barracks, making clear to the Spanish nation just how completely Tejero had misread the political situation. Within a very short time the putative coup d’etat was over and the rebels had been rounded up. In my mind that night, and that broadcast by the king was the moment that democracy truly arrived in Spain.