WE uncovered some family photos the other day. We aren’t altogether sure why my grandmother had shoved these family heirlooms to the back of the drawer, obscured by packs of old dog biscuits, but we aren’t surprised either.
In one my great-grandfather, Herbert, is dressed in his soldier’s uniform. A young man of 17 or 18, the next months and years would irrevocably alter his life. One of the many who signed up under age, he sought adventure abroad. His adventure came to an end at Trones Wood during the Somme as he covered the advance of the 6th Northamptons on his Lewis gun: a German bullet went through his neck and he was invalided back to Blighty. He was never the same man afterwards.
In another photo, below, is his father, Frederick. It’s just that we’re not sure which of the three men posing for the shot he is: is it the man in the officer’s cap and greatcoat, or the chap with sleeves rolled up, broom in hand? My guess is the latter. With his hat at a jaunty angle there is something Baldrick-esque about him.
Herbert and Frederick fought in the same trenches in the first war. In the next one Herbert’s son, my grandfather, parachuted into German-occupied France on D-Day a few weeks shy of his nineteenth birthday. He survived the war – barely. In March 1945 he found the wrong side of a German bayonet while crossing the Rhine into Germany. Thankfully an American medic got him to a US field hospital in time: my grandfather to this day speaks in admiration of the facilities and equipment the Yanks had, as he puts it. I too, am grateful. After all, without the Yanks I’d not be here today.
When I think of British patriotism, I am inevitably drawn to these deeply personal stories. Lives of young men who answered the call of duty and who, unlike so many of their unlucky comrades, survived to tell the tale. It’s my own perspective on the sacrifices people make for the greater good – for their country.
With such matters in mind I find myself somewhat repelled by the repurposing of the notion of ‘patriotic duty’ of late. Scrolling mindlessly online – something caused by and which serves only to exacerbate a sense of melancholy – I came across the conservative movement’s greatest shining star, a certain Tom Harwood, recently appointed political correspondent of GBNews.
Responding to someone who asked whether he believed in the principle of ‘my body, my choice’ over being able to refuse a Covid vaccine, Mr Harwood made the following assertion:
‘Yes. I also believe in my right to say you’re making bloody stupid, selfish, unpatriotic choices if you’re the sort of idiot who refuses the vaccine.’
‘Un-pat-ri-ot-ic?’ I found myself repeatedly saying, the sheer nonsense of the sentence taking time to be fully absorbed into my mind.
This was followed in quick succession with another call by Mr Harwood to wave the flag and get the jab:
‘Young, fit and healthy? Get a vaccine. It’s not for you, it’s for your country and those you love.’
It’s for my country? We are surely stretching the limits of credibility at this stage.
There are perfectly valid reasons not to wish to have a vaccine that is due to come out of clinical trials only in 2023. Many may be desperate to participate in the onanistic virtue-signalling that is invariably associated with being injected by AstraZeneca’s latest, but I am willing to wait.
This is owing in no small part to the fact that the virus poses statistically no risk to me, as with the vast majority of us. Moreover, with vaccines purportedly not offering immunity and not stopping the spread of the virus, it will take more than accusations of being ‘bloody stupid’ for me to reconsider.
(If I may add a personal consideration: I have already had Covid-19, therefore granting me a significant degree of natural immunity. For the millions such as me who have already have Covid, why on earth should I receive a vaccination too? I am more than willing to trust my immune system in this instance.)
But all this brow-beating and totalitarianism is to be expected from the ‘conservatives’ of the modern world who, much like their ‘libertarian’ friends, are fully onboard with state-sanctioned coercion and the suffocation of individual and civil liberties.
These people are the paper tigers of freedom: they will root for you to be able to smoke what you want and down as many fizzy drinks as you like, but when it comes to the essential ability to be free and not be jabbed against your will (oh silly me, it’s not against your will, it’s just you won’t be able to go anywhere or do anything unless you have it: freedom of choice reigns supreme!) they offer as much resistance as cardboard wellingtons.
Attempting to turn the vaccine debate into one of ‘patriotism’ is sickening intellectual bastardisation. One can argue in favour of vaccines all one wants, but resorting to such arguments is truly beyond the pale.
I was under the impression that one of our greatest cultural achievements was the respect of individual autonomy and freedom. Other so-called conservatives appear to have forgotten this and run headlong into the embrace of the healthcare totalitarianism. These people wouldn’t know ‘freedom’ if it walked up to them and slapped them across the chops.
At 95 years of age my grandfather got the vaccine, but it had very little to do with ‘patriotism’. It, instead, had everything to do with his own health. Let’s keep the debate there and not conscript such obnoxiously facetious lines of argument as Mr Harwood has attempted to do. Let’s not cheapen the idea of patriotic duty, debasing it with the base material of vulgar contemporary expediency.