My generation has been lucky. We’ve never had to fight a war, unlike those of my father’s and grandfather’s generation. Indeed, my Great Uncle, Clifford Norden, was killed only ten days before the end of World War I.
This week the head of the British Army, Sir Richard Sanders, made a slightly bizarre speech in which he warned that we were the “pre war generation” and we should be preparing for armed conflict with the Russians. He also raised the subject of the return of some sort of national service, as has happened in Sweden, and even conscription. Apparently this speech wasn’t cleared by either the Defence Secretary or Number 10. Sir Richard seems to be a bit demob happy as he stands down from his post in six months. He warned that the size of the army is far too small given the danger the country faces. On that he certainly has a point. It’s the smallest its been for more than 200 years. When you look at the war being fought against the Russians in Ukraine, it seems clear that conventional combat warfare is still very much alive and kicking, and we need to be prepared for that.
The problem is, some people believe today’s 18-35s would be reluctant to bear arms for their country. I did a phonein this week asking that very questions: Would you fight for your country? The audience was split. Everyone said they would indeed be prepared to do so if the country was invaded or was at risk of invasion, but they would not be prepared to fight in what they dubbed a ‘foreign war’. So if Russia invaded a Baltic State and Article 5 of NATO was triggered, according to my correspondents, Estonia would be on its own. Almost as if it is ‘a faraway country of which we know nothing’. These are the same people who criticize the current government for breaking its international obligations. Yet they’d happily do the same to avoid defending their own country’s interests and duties.
In 1914 there was genuine enthusiasm among younger generations for going to war. Conscription didn’t prove necessary for a further two years. In 1939 it was somewhat different, but people could easily understand the Nazi threat.
Nowadays, younger generations have been infected by a liberal world outlook which believes that armed conflict is always wrong. Iraq did that. Younger generations are better educated. Deference has largely disappeared. People have minds of their own and are influenced by what they see on social media. Question any of this and try to explain why sometimes we do need to go to war, and you’re dismissed as a warmonger.
I count myself very lucky that I have never had to fight for my country. I fear future generations may not be so lucky.