Monday 12 December 2022

'a great and wonderful innocence'

 In one of the more serious moments (and there are some) in Michael Wharton's often funny, sometimes lyrical and always disarmingly honest autobiography, The Missing Will, he has this to say of his fellow recruits on his first wartime posting:
'We were a very mixed lot. But in those early days we had one overriding interest. No, it was not beating Hitler and suppressing the Nazis. I doubt if I ever heard, either then or later, any such sentiments expressed. There may have been soldiers who talked in such Churchillian terms. If so, I did not meet them. There was merely a sense of being part of a great Necessity, whose purpose, neither questioned nor spoken of, was to prevent our country being changed by foreigners, whoever they might be, into something different from what it was. There was a great and wonderful innocence about these men, an absence of envy and mean class hatred. There were those, as I know now, who saw in the war a means of changing that innocence and decency, and to a large extent succeeded.' 
Allowing for Wharton's rather too indulgent attitude to the Nazis (he saw Soviet Communism as the greater danger), I think there is a lot of truth in his observation, and I have heard it echoed in the testimony of many who fought in that war, especially in its early stages: they did not see it in terms of a great struggle against Fascism, but rather as a necessary defensive action to preserve the country they loved against the very real threat that everything they most valued about it would be destroyed by foreign aggressors. This love of country has been seriously underestimated (and undervalued) by the political class in recent times.  Rationalists, technocrats and 'anywhere people', they simply cannot see it as anything more than a marginal and tiresome relic of former times. As they were to discover when the Brexit referendum blew up in their faces, love of country and resentment of foreign influence is still, despite everything, a potent force, even in a world where the 'innocence and decency' Wharton detected have indeed been seriously corrupted.  

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