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Paul T Horgan: We have lost the stiff upper lip of the stoical wartime generation

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The murder of backbench novice Labour MP Jo Cox has dominated the news in the UK since this outrage was first reported.

Jo Cox was not only an MP, she was a wife and a mother. She took her husband’s name.

She was also the first woman MP ever to be murdered and also to have been struck down by a killer who was not involved with Irish terrorism for the last half century or so.

Instead, Mrs Cox met her tragic fate at the hands of a sloganeering madman.

The reaction to her death is also new. Previous MPs who have been killed in office have, in addition to being male, been Conservatives. Parliament has been recalled to mark Mrs Cox’s passing. There are tearful vigils. News reporters appear on the verge of crying. The nation is grief-stricken in a way that did not happen when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. The primary sentiment is sorrow and not defiance.

The stiff upper lip seems to have gone away. This may be because we no longer live in an age where death is relatively commonplace and near. The generation that had to live through the Second World War and were thus obliged to be stoic in the face of the death and destruction all around lest they have a nervous collapse has all but disappeared. To be in your twenties and facing the tanks and bullets of the Wehrmacht on the battlefront or the bombs of the Luftwaffe at home is to be in your nineties now. Born in the nineteen twenties, this generation grew up in a country that had just been through a devastating continental war and had experienced the loss of blood and treasure in doing so. Their existence was framed and informed by death, deprivation, and self-denial.

Their replacements live in a much safer and more plentiful age. Infectious disease has been conquered, over-consumption has replaced deficiency, machines have been tamed, pollution has been controlled and general war between the Powers has been averted due international agreements and the general horror by the rational over its recurrence. Violent death is something we see on our screens, not in real life. Most of the deadly images that are projected to us come from the imagination of Hollywood scriptwriters and not from the camerawork of reporters in a war zone or the camera-phones of frightened civilians. We have inherited happy, safe, healthy and long lives, all thanks to the humanism of our 20th Century ancestors. Anything that interrupts this continuity is now a cause of profound outpourings of emotion.

This demi-utopian state of affairs seems to have been recognised by Mrs Cox and her devotion was characterised by a desire to export the safe and healthy lifestyles we have earned in the West to other, less fortunate parts of the world. It is a tragedy that the kind of political violence more associated with those less safe shores should have emerged behind ours.

Our population has traded the quiet calmness in adversity in the adagio of Edward Elgar for the open grief in Samuel Barber’s. Reserve in the face of an unfairly interrupted life has been replaced by tears and senses of helplessness and injustice.

Mrs Cox was at the very start of her political career with decades of achievement ahead. It seems clear that the Labour party will be the lesser due to the loss of promise and talent caused by a mindless crime committed by a clearly deranged person.

We have once again been brutally reminded of the disruptive power of highly motivated individuals. But at the same time, we should be grateful that these outrages in our country only infrequently punctuate and sharply contrast with the fortunate, optimistic and forward-looking existence that we all enjoy today.

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Paul T Horgan
Paul T Horgan works in the IT Sector. He lives in Berkshire.

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