A reflection on why the Great War wasn't actually that great and would we rally round the flag so passionately if we were called upon again
You flick through several channels and finally stop on a fuzzy image of a car speeding down a desert back road. The image is blurred but what can you expect from 30,000ft away? A target sits over the vehicle. A smoke trail drifting across the crosshairs and seconds later a puff of smoke and that’s one less bad guy to worry about.
A video game or the reality of modern day warfare? This is how we sanitise killing these days – we win our wars from behind a desk. Now step back in time 100 years this month, no YouTube, no social media to keep us up to the minute informed. The only images of war are patriotic posters demanding you serve.
And so, caught up in the moment, you volunteer to do your duty without a second thought. The music hall songs demanded you pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile smile smile, and so they did just that in their millions. It was expected for king and country you served. But would we honestly go so freely and so fervently today? Would we march so proudly off to war? Would we defy our mothers, lie about our ages just so we could enlist in the local ‘lads’ regiments?
‘The revolution will not be televised’ sang Gil Scott Heron back in the 70’s, as we watched the Vietnam War on our televisions. Back 1914 you were lucky to make the inside pages of the local newspapers.
Today, Social Media would make it a worldwide trending topic until we got bored and switched to the latest celebrity hook up, football transfer rumour or anything else that grabs our goldfish attention spans.
This month all over the country the war that was said to end all wars is being remembered. Its centenary has brought into focus just how futile it all was. We Now understand that the Great War was mainly fought over a few miles of muddy ground in Northern Europe. The up and over orders that would send the boys into a hellish no man’s land were given without thought of consequence or loss. The huge waste of life only became apparent to the masses many years later.
Travel forward one hundred years, and in these high-tech times, we are raining mass destruction on nations every night via our X boxes and PlayStations. Why would anyone want to leave their armchairs for the real thing? How many of us would answer the call if asked? Would we still treat those that chose not to go with the same contempt? The white feather (a symbol of cowardice) was the greatest insult you could have received. Today their protest would be celebrated. It was a different time – the naivety of the masses to the reality of war meant that working class poorly educated boys thought the war was a heroic adventure. In hindsight, the whole thing was a futile waste of a generation. Today's equivalent generation maybe no older but social media has made them and us so much wiser.
And the if they called again would we answer? Probably not. There’s far too much other stuff to do.