It was one of the most moving events of my life: last week I was invited to preach at St Lawrence Jewry to the veterans of the Far East campaign of the Second World War. The church was packed with old heroes who had endured unspeakable treatment at the hands of the Japanese. Lady Mountbatten attended the service and she was guest of honour at the reception afterwards in the Guildhall. Words are pretty useless in the face of the suffering those brave old men had lived through. I told them about a man I once knew in York.

In the Second World War, Neil Boyd was plucked out of the western desert and sent to fight in the Far East where he was captured by the Japanese. He was kept half-starved in a cage underground and the passing soldiers urinated and defecated on him. Occasionally he was taken out and tortured. This continued for two years, then one morning he was put on a train. He hadn't a clue where he was being taken. Well, it turned out to be Hiroshima. In his own words: "It was a morning of the most brilliant blue. I was awoken out of my dozing by a Japanese soldier jumping up and down, shouting and pointing at the sky. Suddenly a series of explosions rent the air and it seemed the whole universe was splitting apart. Fearful and brilliant colours, the like of which I had never seen before, like an evil blossom enveloping me.

"It was like watching my own death. The mists and darkness began to clear a little. I was blind in one eye with only dim sight in the other. In this pitiful state, I began to look for my companion and fellow prisoner. All that was left of him was a shadowy imprint on the tower wall. And the tower was the only thing standing except for two factory chimneys in the distance. I had survived only because I had been sheltered by that wall and lying down."

Neil eventually returned to England, took up painting and wrote a brilliant autobiography. He went back to Japan many times, confronted the leaders of the nation who had held him captive and drew from them only partial apologies. There is much talk of reconciliation and that is surely right.Of course it couldn't happen again, could it? We're all so civilised and "modernised" these days. Whom do we think we're kidding? It could happen again and we would have only our own foolishness to blame. Here is one way to provoke a global catastrophe: set up a European rapid reaction force - as Mr Prodi said: "It's an army, whatever you want to call it." Then obey the French decree that this army should be allowed to act independently of Nato. The French proposed this as a way of demonstrating their hatred for the Americans.

Look at what's happening in Russia. The most chilling picture of the week was of an old woman in Moscow waving a Soviet navy flag and holding a portrait of Lenin. This as a celebration of Putin's decision to bring back the old tune for the Russian National Anthem. What will the Russians make of a standing European army on their doorstep? Might they not reasonably see themselves as threatened by it? There is colossal instability in Russia today. Don't take my word for it, but read what Amy Knight, one of the world's foremost experts on Russia, wrote this week: "Yeltsin had a golden opportunity to take Russia in the direction of democracy. He failed abysmally. Yeltsin left as his legacy a Russia that is economically crippled and led by a President whose main goal seems to be a return to Soviet days."

Such a return would restart the Cold War and the only power on earth that prevented the Cold War turning unpleasantly hot was the military might of the USA in the Nato alliance. That is what kept the peace for 50 years. Given the resurgence of Soviet authority and, after the votes fiasco, the disaster of a weakened Presidency in the USA, then the prospects for continuing peace start to look very dodgy. World peace depends upon America not turning isolationist. I'm afraid the creation of a European force independent of Nato will encourage them to do just that. From there it's only one small step into the abyss.