Why We Don't fight
Count me out of your citizen army
As I’ve got older and my testosterone levels have dropped I’ve found the idea of war increasingly difficult to think about. I used to love the occasional Second World War film and would habitually bring an Antony Beevor book to read on holiday; now it all seems too sad and needless.
The last war film I went to see in the cinema was 1917, and on exiting bumped into a friend who caught me crying. And that was like a Richard Curtis romcom compared to All Quiet on the Western Front, which I found profoundly upsetting and never want to think about again.
This becomes harder to contemplate as my son approaches adolescence, and at the same time the men forced to fight increasingly resemble children. I mentally switched off from the Ukraine War at an early stage, too easily upset by the images of young lads killed because a geriatric spent lockdown reading too many history books. I also feel visceral horror at social media accounts gleefully sharing drone images of young Russian men losing their lives in tanks or open fields; just a needless waste of life. I’ve also zoned out of the Gaza conflict, just as I did with Syria.
The idea that Britain might ever be involved in a major war has never really crossed my mind, protected as we are by nuclear weapons and the NATO alliance. Which is why I find it alarming when military leaders talk of ‘mobilisation’ and a potential war with Russia, which apparently would involve conscription for everyone up to 60.
This seems quite unwise, especially considering how the build-up of tension prior to 1914 was made so much worse by newspaper interviews and remarks by prominent leaders. I don’t think we are going to war with Russia, and if we did it would end with a nuclear holocaust. And if I was called up to fight, I would simply stick two pencils up my nose to fake insanity like my hero Edmund Blackadder.
I wouldn’t be alone. According to polling by Matt Goodwin, Britons are very reluctant to fight, with only 17% 'saying that if there was another world war they would ‘willingly fight for their country’ while a plurality of 30% say they ‘would do whatever is possible to avoid fighting’. This echoes a well-known survey showing that only 27% of British people would fight for their country.