not so bad

Last night, half-listening to – without watching – one of those TV programmes where bratty errant Brit kids are sent off to unusual camps run by caring Christian Americans…

What would happen if you tried to make today’s young generations fight the First World War? The thought is hilarious, beyond impossible; you’d get laughed at and resisted and ignored completely, with no amount of state or legal persuasion having any effect. And that’s good. When people suggest national service or say “we need a good war” (or even offer less militarised ideas such as civic duty or national community service) as solutions to the ‘problem’ of youngsters today, it has the opposite to the desired effect with me: reminds me that I’d rather see generations of venal, selfish (or at least self-aware/self-absorbed), materialist hoodie kids loping around the place, than the sort of generation who picked up guns, abandoned their families en masse and got on boats and planes without question, to go kill foreigners ‘for their country’.

Yes they’re admired for heroism and our kids miss out on that. But overwhelmingly, the vast masses on all sides were valueless cattle fodder who put themselves through the worst hell imaginable for unexplained ideologies and feuds, to prop up monumental injustices and inequalities of old, massively exploitative systems that they didn’t understand. The little shit with an iPod up too loud on the train doesn’t seem so bad.

True, there are serious, real problems at the extremes that need sorting out and rolling back; drink and drugs and knives, willful ignorance and burgeoning nihilism.

But I don’t think we ought to wish away fiery independence, or strong sense of self-worth, or noisy exuberance, as buffers to our ridiculous modern world.

And true, it’s worth looking back to those times for lost skills and humility as life gets harder.

But I don’t think we ought to over-worship the humble, thrifty, quiet, devoted, loyal, faithful, monstrously stupid motherfuckers who, when the aristocracy demanded, blindly shouldered the burden of killing that was World War One.


3 responses to “not so bad

  1. You make a good point, but I’m not so sure that people were so blindly patriotic as the history books have it. My great grandfather Bill volunteered at the start of the first world war. He was a china clay pit worker, with a young family, very poor. With his wife was suffering from a lung condition and his youngest child having rickets he needed a way to make enough money to build a better life. Army pay was good. Fortunately, he survived and saved enough to start his own business.
    Coming forward to today, a handful of my daughter’s friends have joined. One, aged 20 was killed last year. He had no particular patriotic spirit but simply wanted the opportunity to learn a trade.

  2. Hi Chris,

    I enjoyed this blog and found it interesting. I don’t agree with everything that you say and certainly not the way you worded some of it.

    I agree that national service and therefore drafting isn’t and never will again, certainly in this generation, be an accepted or possible. I further agree that this, on the whole, is a good thing.

    While i do not think that national service is a realistic approach to dealing with the various deficiencies in today’s youth i do subscribe to the idea that some sort of military training teaches a lot about self-discipline, team working and living in a society. The obvious counterpoint to this idea is that the individuals that will benefit most from this are the ones who would never volunteer for it and thus would have to be forced or coerced somehow into doing so. This idea of forcing people into things I’d find difficult to justify, despite my being utterly convinced that the outcome would be overwhelmingly positive.

    I must express my distaste your choice of words in your closing paragraph. I think you summed up your position well but the ‘monstrously stupid motherfuckers’ part was unnecessary and crass. Even saying ‘monstrously stupid’ would’ve been ok, i would still not entirely agree with you but i wouldn’t have been offended in the way which quite honestly i was. I’ve always looked at these people as brave and often selfless in a way that i can’t even relate to or imagine myself being capable of. I accept they were misled and often naive but i don’t believe that bravery and naivety are mutually exclusive and so i believe ‘monstrously stupid’ is a little too sweeping. That said, i can’t recall a time when I’ve ever been offended by someone’s comments about other people so, keep up the good work!

    I know it seems from this overly long response (sorry!) that i don’t like your blog but on the contrary i found it interesting and challenging and i look forward to reading more.


  3. I love reading your blogs, even when you get it wrong.

    I’d agree that the men sent off to fight were ignorant. They had no idea of what they were getting into – how could they? And once they were there, their options were fairly limited. The evidence on how many were shot for desertion seems fairly mixed, but I don’t doubt that it was enough to make a point. Rocks and hard places, nothing but rocks and hard places.

    I’d agree that the young get demonised though. Maybe I’d think differently if I lived in a big city somewhere, but the hoodies that I come across have never seemed any more or less unreasonable to me than bunches of youths anywhere, anytime. None of us are born considerate. Very few of us really get the hang of it until we’re comfortably into adulthood.

    (But I do still enjoy singing along with Frank Turner, on ‘Thatcher fucked the kids’…)

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