Content Warning: I swear
I have occasionally thought that my Dad might be a bit of an edgelord. (I mean to be fair I’ve thought this about both of my parents, my great uncle and myself so I’m in no position to criticise) This dates from way before edgelord was in my vocabulary and it’s rather unfair but there’s a reason teenage Mish knew all about the CIA selling drugs to black people,MKULTRA, Salvador Allende and any number of anti-establishment factoids.
Including the fact that Winston Churchill was a… any number of words just passed through my mind then but let’s settle for donkey, as in “lions led by“.
A number of thoughts have been swirling around my mind regarding this current pandemic. Three of them seem to have coalesced together. The first is that I think that now I kind of understand the feeling of the first year of the First World War, those first few months at least when the papers were reassuring everyone that it would all be over by Christmas. I think everyone does.
The second thought is that everyone since 1945 has been waiting for some huge global thing to prove themselves within. I’m not kidding, older Baby Boomers practically boast that they remember post-war rationing. They use it as some sort of weird hold over Gen X, millennials and Gen Z, almost as if because they were alive within a sniff of Hiroshima or VE Day that they were a part of the Allies in World War Two.
I mean, it’s not surprising, we’ve all been brought up in the collective trauma that the children of World War Two suffered. Older Boomers might have been brought up by those who were adults during that war but most of them have simply had a child’s perspective given to them by their parents, grandparents, etc.
There’s a huge difference between those who appreciated the adult nuanced and complex decisions of that particular war and those who were children during it. Because to the children, it was simplified and they were on the right side through sacrifice of things but no specific effort. And by that I mean it usually wasn’t the kids working out how to feed the family on rations, going out as fire wardens or deciding whether to risk selling something on the black market. To the kids, life was hard but because they put up with it something good happened (the good guys won against the bad guys).
I’m absolutely certain that that’s where this notion, continued through a lot of the younger Baby Boomers, that punishing the kids for having it better than the parents did at their age comes from. Because, and I have only anecdotal evidence for this, the adults actually fighting and seeing their friends die for their kids to have a better life, were by and large more supportive as parents.
But the kids of WW2, and us who are basically the grand and great grand children of that war, we’re left knowing that we can never repay that, constantly told (and double down here if you’re a millennial) that we aren’t strong enough to do anything like that. Suddenly here’s this virus and here’s a chance to prove ourselves, but by not doing anything…and there’s a lot of desire to take action to ‘prove ourselves’. I should point out that Gen X and Millenials make up most of the workforce at this point.
The third thought is the Boris Johnson wants to be Winston Churchill. He wants to be Churchill as you see him on Doctor Who, all cuddly, an individual way of speaking and cigars.
Somewhere online I’ve seen a meme comparing the British in our own stories vs the British in the stories anywhere else in the world. We have no idea what monsters we have been. But Churchill was a fucking monster, Gallipoli was a meatgrinder and, this being the first world war, rather than the second, he just fed men into that beach. And sure, he then served on the front line, but he ‘gloried in the Dardanelles’ where he fed ANZAC troops into a bloodbath.
We like to forget the first world war in this country. It gets handily conflated into the second world war which is so much easier for us to stomache. The second world war is where those countries that called themselves ‘Allies’ get to have been the good guys. The first world war, that was when the Upper Classes of most of the countries lined up their lower classes and got them to kill each other. It was the first modern war (ignoring the dress rehersal that was Franco-Prussia), modern weapons but a Feudal fucking attitude. This year, I’ve realised quite how far back we’ve slid into class structure due to capitalism. They tried, our great grandparents really tried after the second world war to build something but then their selfish capitalist children took over and they hadn’t learnt and encouraged us all to forget what the first war was.
And we’re left, wanting to prove ourselves in simplistic ways, I like to LARP, I love stories where the good guys hit the bad guys and then they fall over Bugsy Malone style and everyone wins. Because life doesn’t work like that, because when you have a ruling class making decisions that chunks of the population dying is fine then you set up a situation where Nazis can come to power, where the leftovers of Tiger Clemencau set up an antagonism that is still rolling across the Middle East. We’re left trying to prove ourselves in the childish way our Grandparents told us would work because they never examined what their parents were really doing. We’ve got an empty understanding of what a Draft is and why it’s so evil and it leaves us wide open to believeing that the NHS is full of heroes. Because heroes die.
Drafted soldiers didn’t get a choice, and they knew they were going into a warzone. Nurses and doctors in a developed nation chose to try and save lives never knowing that they would be asked to do so in danger of their own.
We are not in anyway in an equivalent of Churchill’s ‘we’ll fight them on the beaches’, we’re ANZACs on the beach at Gallipoli. Johnson is glorying in his Dardanelles.