My family and friends had a little get-together on Saturday night. There was good food and wine, laughter, and music. Around midnight, we were still playing boarding games and chatting when somebody checked their phone and said: “Iran has just attacked Israel.”

My blood turned to iced water. I’ve been writing and worrying over the world’s slow slide towards some sort of as-yet undelineated global conflict since 2021 when Russia began its troop build-up on Ukraine’s border.

Each month since - each day, often - we, as a species, seem to inch ever closer to the brink of something we won’t be able to step back from, when the time finally comes.

I watched the people around the table and considered our responses. We broke down into three camps: fear, resignation and avoidance.

I’m in the group marked "fear". The resigned shrugged their shoulders and said "it’s in fate’s hands. If it happens, it happens". The avoidant came in two forms: some were a little giddy; perhaps it was the wine. They said: "If Armageddon is coming, then let’s party while we can." The sterner-faced avoiders simply wouldn’t talk about it. It was too dark, too dreadful.

Within all of us, though, lay a sense of utter powerlessness. What could any of us do - no matter how we reacted - to change what’s going on? What will fear, avoidance, resignation or even desperate, understandable decadence do to stop any of the nations now gliding towards a conflagration none of us want to name, because the name is too terrifying to utter: World War Three?

The most important guiding figure in my life was my grandmother. She was a woman of courage and action. I recall her telling me of her memories of the world slipping into war twice in her lifetime.

Once as a little girl of 10, she spent the summer of 1914 playing in the fields of Ireland, feeding cows on her family farm. “The adults all knew it was coming,” she told me. “But what could anyone do?”

Power lay far away in London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Vienna. Aren’t we the same? Doesn’t power lie far from us: in London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Kyiv, Washington, Tel Aviv, Tehran, Beijing?

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Yet we’re the chips on the table. Aren’t we? If war comes, who dies? Not the politicians. Probably not the likes of me, either - I’m getting too old to pick up guns. But my two daughters? The young men who love them? The young couple next-door, with their beautiful newborn baby?

By 1939, my grandmother was in London. She’d later become an auxiliary fire-fighter during the Blitz. That year, summer 1914 seemed to repeat itself, she said.

Once again, everyone knew what was coming, but most folk spent those hot months dancing, visiting the seaside, watching The Wizard of Oz at the movies. There was a sense of "wildness" in the air, she said. Fear made people excitable. Panic mixed with decadence.

Aren’t we the same? Often, it’s just too hard - too horrible - to think of what’s happening on Europe’s eastern border, and in the Middle East. Why? Because if you consider these events, you see the spectre of what’s coming start to take shape.

Iran and Israel have crossed the Rubicon. Ukraine and Russia are in trench warfare. Something is being unleashed right now across the world. A whirlpool is sucking all of us - states and citizens - into its orbit.

Iran is Russia’s ally. Tehran is arming Putin, supplying weapons for his Ukraine war. The west is allied to both Ukraine and Israel. You can see the spectre’s outline becoming clearer.

China is hostile to Europe and America, and close to Moscow. Xi Jinping is eyeing Taiwan, as Europe and America are drawn deeper into conflict in the Middle East and Ukraine.

An invasion of Taiwan would create a third theatre - the Pacific - where our allies Australia and New Zealand watch their own backyard in growing horror. China has reaffirmed its “deep friendship” with North Korea. Pyongyang has a friend in Putin.

This is the new axis and allies. We can’t deny the truth of our eyes and ears. The world has divided, war is abroad and we’re coasting towards global conflict.

The spectre appears in its final form if you look deeper into this year and consider the elevation of Donald Trump to the White House for a second time.

I’ve spent a lot of this year talking to historians and security analysts about what Trump’s second presidency might mean for the world. Defeat for Ukraine, for a start.

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If Kyiv falls, because it’s starved of American military aid or forced into negotiations with its own butcher by Trump, then Europe is alone. Trump is no friend of Nato. Russia will be empowered. The Baltic states, Poland - our allies - will be in Putin’s sights.

When we get to that stage - pray it’s "if", though, not "when" - our slide to war will be over, the first act will have begun. We’ll be in it.

Our fates are in the hands of delinquent men in far-off capitals. There’s no mythic character coming to save us ordinary people. No Christ or Buddha will walk onto the battlefields and make the guns fall silent in Ukraine or the Middle East.

What will stop this slide to war? What stopped it in the past? Have societies sliding towards war ever arrested their descent into barbarity? Or simply inched into conflict that shredded youth and hope?

What gets us out of this? The UN? It’s the darkest joke on Earth. Our "leaders"? Have we ever had such shallow, foolish creatures in control of our lives?

Us? Ordinary people? Yes, we could do it. We could stop these wars. If we’d power. There’s billions of us, but only a few brutes in control who want death and murder. Yet they’ve all the cards. We’ve none.

So this is where we are. We can be scared, or resigned, or avoidant; we can reach for the bottle and party. But whether the tide of war sweeps over us our not, we’ve already learned one lesson: we ordinary people are powerless when it comes to matters of life and death.