Over the last few weeks chances are you’ve heard someone say something along the lines of:
‘We’d be screwed if this was World War Two!’
‘If the snowflakes were the greatest generation, we’d be out of lockdown already!’
Or this great tweet by Lord Ashcroft
And lets be real, using the idea that society was way better in the Second World War, to back a half baked idea isn’t new. For example, during the Brexit campaign, my Facebook was awash with people pointing out that under Winston Churchill we weren’t part of the EU and that was the golden age of Britain! Which completely overlooks the idea that both the world economy and society as a whole is er, slightly different now…but I could see where they was coming from, so you know; you do you Aunt Karen and I’ll see you at the next family wedding/funeral.
BUT this new ‘Greatest Generation’ argument is really getting under my skin. Mainly because it is categorically and catastrophically incorrect from the beginning.
Ok so lets break this down. The main line of the argument is that the country is crumbling because people are breaking lockdown rules, hoarding and generally being very moaney. And that in the Second World War, when faced with huge lifestyle changes everyone just buckled down and did them. Which is why we won that war and are losing this one.
Here’s the thing. That didn’t happen.
Ok, lets use rationing as our first example. When rationing was announced in January 1940, The Daily Mail immediatly went on the warpath. They did side by sides of British rations vs German rations, bemoaning the amount the British were getting. They even ripped William Morrison, the Minister of Food, a new one, comparing his rationing plans to if: “Dr Goebbels were asked to help-to devise a more harmful piece of propaganda for Great Britain.”
As time went on, the majority of people got behind rationing. It wasn’t fun, but it was necessary. However, there were a minority of people who didn’t, which is why there was a thriving black market. As with breaking lock down rules, there were fines for breaking rationing and going to the black market. But people still did it. So much so that we have gone on to romanticise the black market ‘spiv’ as a loveable rogue (like Private Joe Walker in Dad’s Army)
Now lets quickly score off some of the other parts of the argument:
In WW2 nobody criticised how the government were doing things like we’re doing now – Sorry to burst your bubble, but people are people… of course they criticised the government! And often they well within their rights to!
For example, in the early stages of the war people were understandably not thrilled that Britain had equipment shortages and machinery that kept breaking. Loudly questioning why the hell the government hadn’t ensured they had stockpiles and a better equipment plan before the bussed a load of boys to the front line.
People were stronger. None of this ‘anxiety’ business! – The idea of the Blitz spirit has really been mythologised. Did those city dwellers living under constant threat of bombing keep on? Of course! But did they just merrily bounce out of bed each day after a night of bombs falling. No.
In 1941 after a series of bombings on Hull, a team of psychiatrists surveyed just over 700 people. They found that under the blitz people were drinking more, as well as experiencing extreme low moods, bouts of crying, and even loss of bladder control. Mental Health was a real issue, but it wasn’t something that was talked about to the level it is today.
Nobody would have broken the government guidelines to take a silly risk – Once again, it was a minority. But yeah no they totally did. For example, Writer Vera Brittain has talked about how young people would go party hopping during air raids, which became known as ‘Playing No Man’s Land’.
Were those who lived during The Second World War amazing people. Oh god yes! But were they perfect? No. We’re they better than todays people? Well they’ve been remembered as better, but not necessarily.
I’d be surprised if history remembers us as failures. It seems more likely this time will remembered much like the greatest generation. For people who kept going, joined together and clapped for the NHS and supported each other however they could.
So next time you see someone say we’d be screwed if this was World War Two. Well, first off, tell them the facts on that! But also remind them that just like World War Two, we’re all in this together. So maybe it’s time to stop trying to score points and instead realise that we need each other to get through this. After all, we’re stronger together.