I was back from school for Christmas when my father knocked on my bedroom door, thrust a book into my hands and declared with soldierly gruffness: “I think you should read this.” Expecting it to be a manual explaining the facts of life — it was the 1960s — I was taken aback when it turned out to be Know Your Enemy, a volume full of useful stuff about the East German military and the Red Army and their massed tank divisions pointing their barrels at us. More interesting in many ways than a how-to-do-it sex book.
It certainly made for intriguing family conversations. As a teenager my father had grown up with the idea that Britain was standing shoulder to shoulder with the Russian people against the Nazis. So one of the first questions he had to address as a young adult was when does your ally become your enemy? The issue hasn’t disappeared. It still informs the way we think about shifting geopolitical loyalties and alignments.