Our Afghanistan heroes are playing to an empty gallery
The British public’s appreciation of war and glowing passion for a fight has gone, never to return again, says Peregrine Worsthorne
Love of market forces is disappearing with terrifying rapidity but with luck and good management that could surge back with equally amazing rapidity.
Market forces are not to be written off. But love of war, such as was felt by Winston Churchill, is a different matter. That kind of glowing passion for the fight has gone, never to return. It sticks in the modern gullet, as the ever-increasing concern over Afghanistan makes all too clear.
That great 20th century historian, the late JH Plumb, got it exactly right in his famous review of Churchill's The Island Race, the coffee table version of his History of the English Speaking Peoples.
"Wars... are the stuff of Churchill's history; but glorious, not nasty, no burst heads, no unravelled guts, no split livers rotting in the sun, no anguish, just fame. Men die for greatness... never lose their lives for other men's greed and lust for power. The evil [of war] is lost in the blaze of triumph... how strange this island race will seem to our children - a saga of world killer patricians".
Too true. Churchill's English history - one long series of military victories - no longer resonates as it did in my youth. Nowadays all those statues of generals and admirals, which my generation took for granted, embarrass rather than inspire. The new priority is to commemorate writers, artists, scientists and pop singers.
‘Wars are the stuff of Churchill’s history; glorious – not nasty – war: no anguish’
Something profound has happened to bring this change about. The bloody carnage of the First World War started the process, of course, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki accelerated it, but only recently has it reached the point where war has almost become a dirty word, like slavery.
All down history there were philosophers and theologians who denounced slavery. But suddenly, in the last half of the 18th century, voices raised against slavery in England became an unstoppable social force. Those against capital punishment did the same in the last half of the 20th century. The anti-war message has not yet reached that point, but it is not far off.
Market forces could win back our favour by putting money back into our pockets. For war to recover would require something much more fundamental - a change of heart. ·
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