The fate of the Bosnians is, if anything, of rather less interest than poor Peter Zizzi
Aweek spent in the idleness and luxury of a Suffolk health farm disposes the mind to turn outward and embrace the sorrows of mankind. There is no lack of opportunity to do so. Television and newspapers rub our noses in every mishap of the human race until we become numbed, brutalised, indifferent to all the suffering, even deri- sive of it.
Terrible things can happen to people on holiday, and at this time of year the media have little else to report. Foreign hotel swimming pools constitute a serious danger to guests, we are told by the Consumer Association. Tourists would be risking their lives if they swam in 75 per cent of pools inspected in Majorca or the Portuguese Algarve.
But the accident which caught my imagi- nation and set me brooding all week occurred to five-year-old Peter Zizzi, who received critical injuries when a tractor- drawn ride at a theme park overturned last Sunday. The 'Snake Train' at Drayton Manor Park, near Tamworth, Staffs, was one of the park's oldest and favourite attractions, having been running under var- ious names for 45 years. A similar accident occurred in 1978, when 12 passengers were injured, but since then there have been reg- ular safety checks, and the train passed one at Easter.
Peter and his parents were at the park to celebrate the fourth birthday of Peter's friend, Brookley Taylor, with a family friend, Billy Beet, 34. Billy suffered cracked ribs but Peter's father, Vince Zizzi, escaped with minor injuries. At least we can be thankful for that.
Mr Zizzi, full of remorse, blames himself because it was his idea to go on the ride, but I think we may reasonably decide it was not his fault at all. What happened was that the five-car train, pulled by a tractor which travelled at about 15 mph, turned over when the rear carriage swung off the edge of the tarmac track and struck a tree. It does not seem to have been anyone's fault. There is nothing to be indignant about, no Act of Parliament to be passed limiting the number of cars in the theme park children's trains to four, or limiting their speed to 10 mph. It was just one of those things. All that remains is to feel very, very sorry for Peter Zizzi, who was seriously injured, and the whole family.
Of course this will not stop a whole army of Health and Safety Inspectors from descending on the scene and making rec- ommendations which will later be trans- lated into impossibly restrictive regulations which will then be denounced by Christo- pher Booker as inevitable consequences of the Treaty of Rome. Even so, the uses to which Peter Zizzi's misfortune can reason- ably be put seem limited. We would not even know about it if the Telegraph, for one reason or another, had not decided to announce it over eight columns at the top of page three in Tuesday's newspaper: 'Boy critically injured in theme park crash' — presenting it as among the most important domestic news items of the day.
So, of course, it was the most important news of the day for Peter Zizzi, 5, his friend Brooldey Taylor, 4, Peter's father, Vince, 32, Vince's friend Billy Beet, 34, and every- body else involved. There are probably a hundred such stories to be told every day throughout the holiday season. Every casu- alty ward in every hospital could produce two or three. There is nothing for us to do about Peter Zizzi, or the many hundreds of other Peter Zizzis, but register the appro- priate emotions when we are told about them.
Perhaps that is the function of the press in a sane society: to exercise the wholesome emotions of the nation by telling stories of happiness and sorrow. Unfortunately, our political leaders do not seem to understand this. They read a story about a child being bitten by a dog, see photographs of the child's injuries and reckon that popular indignation will support them in an Act of Parliament condemning the entire breed of dog to instant sterilisation and execution by 'It's playtime.' due process of law if any appear out of doors unmuzzled.
Similarly, they read a story in the news- papers about a madman who has run amok with a semi-automatic rifle, and reckon this gives them a golden opportunity to harass owners of ordinary shotguns with a massive and troublesome list of new regulations designed to persuade them to give up their shotguns. Every story printed, of idle or passing interest to the readers, who forget it as soon as they have thrown the newspa- pers away, offers our itchy politicians the opportunity for further government activism, for passing fatuous new laws, issu- ing oppressive new regulations.
It is only in this context that one can understand the world's reaction to Bosnia.
Bosnia decided to have a civil war. Why shouldn't it? The matter was none of our business. A few of us may have had prefer- ences — personally, I could never rejoice in the prospect of an Islamic state in Europe and marginally favoured the Croats over the Serbs, as belonging to the Western European tradition — but nobody could pretend to have any interest in the matter beyond an idle one. The fate of the Bos- nians was, if anything, of rather less interest then that of poor Peter Zizzi, although we gloomily acknowledged that we would probably have to stump up something for humanitarian aid.
The world's statesmen, on the other hand, saw it as a golden opportunity for action. Perhaps we shall never know by what process the American administration reached the conclusion that the Bosnian Muslims were the 'goodies', the Bosnian Serbs the teddies', but it is plain to anyone who has studied the American culture that some such choice would have to be made. Impartiality is totally alien to the American ethos. Other countries were happy to pile in troops under the ludicrous pretext of peacekeeping...
It is a well known biblical aphorism that a sparrow does not fall to the ground without God's knowledge of it. Nowadays, the same is to a very large extent true for anyone who reads the Daily Telegraph. We are capable of instructing ourselves on nearly everything that happens in every part of the globe, from Peter Zizzi's accident at Dray- ton Manor Theme Park, Staffs, to warring Bosnians. What we lack is God's wisdom to know about these things without trying to interfere in them.