The 75th anniversary of VE Day passed by without much fanfare, and it’s not surprising really given people’s preoccupation with avoiding Covid-19.
Most people still retain respect however for the gargantuan sacrifices that were made in World War II to defeat Nazism, for the ordinary men and women who left homes and families, with many losing life or limb in the war-effort.
They all played vital roles, some soldiers, some nurses, oftentimes fulfilling what moderns would consider stereotypical gender roles (and no one got offended). I often watch the footage in amazement, as bombs drop from the skies of Europe, as beaches are evacuated or stormed, and town after town is pillaged.
Wrongs were undoubtedly committed by both Axis and Allied forces, but the monstrous evil of the Nazi ideology, with it’s gas chambers for “lebensunwertes leben”, had to be faced down, and all of us today are beneficiaries of the past generation’s bravery in doing so.
A significant gulf exists between the character of men then and now however, in my estimation. Whereas I and my peers were raised with mass media and screens at our fingertips, breeding widespread but not total lethargy and decadence, which is a significant distraction from the gritty reality of our own mortality, older generations were generally much closer to both nature and life’s suffering, often man-handling the former in order to ease the latter.
This proximity to the earth, using one’s hands for building, reaping and slaughtering is in stark contrast to the typical upbringing of modern man, who’s fingers are much more adept at swiping and clicking than sowing and skining.
There’s no doubt that most soldiers then and now are scared during the heat of battle, and rightly so as the survival instinct kicks in, but I think it highly likely that our modern aversion to intense suffering and death at any and all costs would render most of us useless on the battlefield.
Whereas “the best of us” had and have an unbreakable sense of duty and honour, even if it means paying the ultimate price, many more of us would cling on to our remaining days, months and years, to continue an often dazed plod through life.
GK Chesterton said that the true soldier fights not so much because he hates what’s in front of him but because he loves what’s behind him; but what can the typical modern man truly claim to love, other than himself and his comforts?
Am I being unfair? Probably a little, considering the sacrifices many men make today for their families, and I’m certain that most fathers would still lay down their life if their loved ones were in imminent danger, but the general mindset is certainly not the same as yesteryear.
The importance of principles, beliefs and transcendent values appear to be waning nowadays. and with it people’s willingness to self-sacrifice for intangibles such as justice, truth and even freedom. Most values seem to be malleable and dispensable, with few non-negotiable red lines or hills worth dying on even in a metaphorical sense.
Unless we were really cornered with no other options, it’s likely that the vast majority of men, and women too, would shy away from service to an ideal that might put them in mortal danger.
Whereas countless men and women rallied to their nation’s call for help in rescuing the world back then through a grueling six years of war, I expect a similar call today would prompt derisive gifs and emojis from trolls, retorts of “OK Boomer” from millennials, and accusations of intolerance from the woke and enlightened.
Can you imagine the average keyboard warrior or Netflix binger rolling through enemy territory in a tank? I can’t.
Although there are always exceptions, most of us have become soft and complacent, in part because of an education system and culture that focuses on productivity and materialism, as opposed to virtue and valour.
The solution is surely to cultivate households and communities that promote true and transcendent values, whilst railing against the base inclinations we’re well-accustomed to.