Remembrance Sunday always gives me pause for thought and reflection. This year was no exception as the ageing and now depleted ranks of our Second World War veterans marched past and paid their respects at the Cenotaph.
It was one more chance to watch the last of a generation so very different to the ones that have followed it. As one ‘old boy’ summed it up: “We grew up very quickly; the war made us. It made us responsible and brought us together.”
They – he – grew up in a way we today can hardly conceive.
Aged ninety four now, he must have been 19 when he was conscripted in 1939 and barely 24 when the war ended after 5 years of service.
Compare and contrast him and his peers with last week’s violent student mob protesting outside the House of Commons. Imagine their reaction to having to sign up for Queen and country?
Imagine the two fingers our laughing rioters, set free despite refusing to give their names to a magistrate, would put up.
Also compare and contrast the war generation with the militant junior doctor corps currently threatening strike action – many of them women – and their lack of qualms about exaggerating their pay cuts or abusing the system to maintain their cash flow.
Doctors or students, entitlement is the name of their game.
The war generation had so very little compared with the indulged generations that have followed. They willingly defended a country they were proud of without recognition, fanfare or expectation. They lived by moral precepts which they believed in – unselfishness coming close to the top of the list. No ‘me’ time for them.
Since then each generation has been given more, only to expect and demand even more. All rights, no responsibilities. Always somebody else to do the dirty work, never them.
Of course, this is a massive generalisation and there are a myriad of kind and selfless people around doing wonderful things for society. But overall it is hard to deny the huge cultural change in attitudes and expectations that has taken place.
In the fifty years following the Second World War Britain ‘transitioned’ from a selfless to a selfish society; thanks to evermore mollycoddling governments in hock to the ‘progressive’ thinking of radical feminism, equality and ‘rights’. Ever more irresponsible with the nation’s finances, each administration bar one continues the addiction to ‘public’ spending and debt – as Cerberus details here. People pleasing not probity or prudence is their political epitaph.
The result? an infantilised society with a toddler tantrum culture. This ‘me, me, me’ culture and its individualistic battle for rights has swept all before it – including commonsense. It has turned complaint and victimhood into a veritable art form. Any ‘grown up’ failing to pander to these imagined discriminations and resentments becomes persona non grata. Britain has, metaphorically , become the family where the parents are incapable of resisting their ever more spoilt and demanding offspring, so placate them.
No wonder the Government now finds it so hard to work out what exactly British values are when any sense of balance, priority and principle has been lost by the ranks of those who most influence their policies.
For example, do we see a feminist protest or campaign about the Taliban’s continued stoning of young women to death? Another was reported last week and videoed in a defiant display of this ghastly and cruel aberration of justice? No, what we see are these beacons of enlightened opinion protesting about the far more serious matter of the under-representation of women on the new passport design.
We have truly become the silly society.
If this has the makings of a modern morality tale, why not also examine the contrast between the entitled but understandably confused, stranded and helpless British holidaymakers at Sharm el-Sheikh with their complacency rudely awakened, and the Syrian refugees arriving half drowned on Mediterranean beaches for whom there was no assumption of help, who were prepared risk peril at sea to reach safety and the promised land. Would the average British tourist be up for that – or capable of it? Or do they assume the Marines will come to the rescue?
Which brings me back to Remembrance Day and our need for our armed forces, which successive governments have run down to breaking point despite yesterday’s annual ritual of respect.
The truth is that Britain’s armed forces no longer have the resources for a major war. Do they even, one wonders, have the resources to evacuate 20,000 Brits from Sharm-el-Sheikh if push came to shove, let alone the 14,000 or so who live and work in Egypt? It is a salutary thought and one the Government could do with dwelling on.
For all the signs are that our era of safe self-indulgence at home and abroad is drawing rapidly to a close. Whether we like it or not, we are going to have to grow up fast if we want to survive and thrive in an unpredictable world. Achieving that means taking a leaf out of the Services’ book and learning some self discipline and self reliance. It also means paying the Services the respect of investing in them, not just parading them as showpieces.