Tuesday, 19 March 2013

During the War...

Welcome wargamers once again to my sporadic textual emission.

Today, for a change, I will talk about something other than wargaming, but which is still military in nature.

What I am going to talk about is in no way intended to belittle anybody, merely point out a difference that I perceive from my personal point of view. I will be talking about the differences between equally valid experiences, and the effects that those differing experiences have on those who come after.

I am from what is essentially a military family. My great grandfathers on both sides served in the army fighting for Britain and Cyprus respectively, my grandad on my dad's side served in the British army for twenty five years. My dad and my uncle are both Navy men, and my male cousins in Cyprus have all done their national service. It is really with my generation that this tradition of military service has ceased in our family. I remember considering joining up when I was in my mid teens, and my granddad advised against it.

What I have come to believe recently is that, to me at least, there seems to be a line. Before the line, are people like me, who could all have the conversation that began 'what did your grandad/dad do in the war', 'The War' being the Second World War. After the line are those folks whose grandparents were too young to have served, even if they lived through the war as children, who have their own unique stories to tell.

To me, it feels like people who grew up being able to have that conversation about their grandparents share a bond that seems less present amongst those who aren't able to have that same discussion. Watching parades on TV and seeing the World War II veterans march (or roll) past has a different meaning when your grandparents served during the conflict.

I'm not implying that this makes everyone else 'less' in some way, just that I personally see a distinction, like people who like marmite and people who have a sense of taste. The half dozen people who like Jedward and everyone else in the world. It's like the kind of bond that people have through an experience that their family members lived through. I guess you could compare it to meeting people who are complete strangers, until you find out that they too are wargamers, and then they don't seem like strangers anymore.

I know there have been other conflicts since the Second World War, but none in my mind that have the same lasting impact. It shaped the world as we know it today, and it's events reverberate down the decades that have followed. It was a different kind of conflict from anything that went before or after, a unique few years in this races shared history that separated entire peoples, and tied others together forever.

It is my feeling that when there are no veterans of the Second World War left, it will truly be the end of an era. When there are no people left who even remember being told about the war by their grandparents, the world will have lost something of the sense of connection, the gravity of that experience, that it can never regain, however many books we read or films we watch. We can all show respect for those involved, but the personal connection carries something different.

War in any situation is a tragic thing, and I'm sure the vast majority of right minded people would prefer it to be avoided in all but the most dire of circumstances, but I also realise that sometimes it is unavoidable. At these times, it is the experiences of the common soldier, sailor or airman that are passed down through the generations to their decendants, and I think having had that living connection affects the way we view the world.

When we see in the news about things like War Memorials being vandalised, it makes me sad and angry and sick all at once, but it also makes me think that people who can commit that kind of despicable act are unlikely to have had the kind of personal connection to the War and the people who served in it that I have. I'm not saying for a second that if your granddad didn't fight in the war you're going to go out and vandalise a memorial, just that I can't see from my biased viewpoint how anyone who has that connection could even contemplate such a thing, because it would be so massively disrespectful to the things that members of their own family fought and possibly died for.

I think it's fantastic when I meet someone younger than myself who doesn't have that connection, but talks and feels like they do, and this gives me a kind of hope that, for all the bad things that came from that horrendous conflict, the good things that came from it like the sense of cameraderie, of the good side of national pride, and tremendous respect for the people actually fought on our behalf.

I also like to see programs on TV that show old service people who fought on opposite sides during the war meet decades after the war ended, and who bear one another no ill feeling. It reinforces the idea that the common soldiery were simply there to do a job, and were not themselves responsible for the actions of their overall commanders. They were just two people wearing different uniforms and speaking a different language, but with many things in common with each other that allows them to empathise. In another life, they might have been great friends. This is not always going to be the case though, because war is war, and some people never get over it.

In my mind this allows people of whatever country to take a certain pride in the actions of their own family members when all those family members did was show courage in the field, and look after themselves and their mates in some of the most unbearable situations a person could ever have to survive. Some things are impossible for a person to live through and not be profoundly affected by their experience, and the way that this affects them can colour the view of that experience held by their families.

I am very fortunate indeed. My granddad survived everything the war had to throw at him and came out in one piece. I am fortunate because I got to enjoy and benefit from having a grandparent like him that, molded by his experience, was a courageous, pragmatic man that saw the job that needed to be done and got on with it. You might call it a sense of righteousness, or fighting spirit, but it probably isn't even that complicated. I think he just had a simple idea of what was right and what was wrong, and saw it as his duty to look after those around him. I think his experience made him grateful to be alive and grateful for what he had to show for it - his family. I hope it has made me think about things the same way.

Again, I stress that this is just a ramble about how I feel, and isn't intended to comment on how anyone else should feel about the subject. Everyone is entitled to their own views and to express them, which is what gives us all the potential to be interesting in our own right. Maybe there is something in my view, maybe it's all in my head, maybe I just miss the old bugger, but if others have an opinion I'd be interested to hear it.

Thanks for reading.