The Second World War was pretty hard on the British people. Alone on their islands, they suffered through rations and bombings. Their men were sent to war and their children to the countryside. There were no street lights at night – their cars barely had headlights. They had to make do with far less than they were used to eating, wearing, living with. Every day they lost more. Every day could be their last.
I’ve never heard of a riot in that time. I’ve never heard of public protests against the war. I’ve certainly never heard of people fleeing the country. I suppose this is due in part, perhaps in large part, to selective teaching. Yet it is impressive, isn’t it? A whole nation bearing such hardships for a cause they believed in.
I don’t know if it would have worked so well today. People don’t believe in things today, not like they used to. Not like that. I think that when the time comes to break under pressure or adapt and survive, most people surprise themselves. But still I wonder – if this happened today, if we had to fight Nazis today – if we had to open the newspaper every day dreading the names we would find there – how would we take it?
Is that what’s happening with the war in Afghanistan? I know there are families out there that live in dread of a letter on their doorstep, or whatever it is the Army uses to deliver such news in these modern times. But we’re not living it as a nation. We don’t have to worry about blackout curtains and rationed meals. We don’t live in fear, every day, of hearing the awful sirens that mean we must abandon everything – and everyone – and run for shelter.
People used to believe in things. In the government, in justice. We used to believe that there was Good and there was Bad, and all you had to do was stay on the right side. They used to believe that the Nazis ate babies, too. When everything is black and white, propaganda can be as liberal as it likes with the truth.
I was listening to a song once – “Shades of Gray” by the Monkees – and my mom said she had always thought that song was about the Vietnam War. She said that that was when America lost that view of things, that perception of Good and Evil as easily defined things. That innocence.
Now we are jaded and cynical. Propaganda doesn’t fool us! We don’t fall for those old tricks. We don’t believe in the government. We don’t believe in authority. We don’t believe in justice, in honor. We don’t believe in kindness. We don’t believe in Good. We don’t believe in anything. We don’t believe in belief.
We don’t believe in ourselves. In humanity. In people. In strangers we see on the street. In children we screen for guns. In little old ladies who want to cross our borders. In charities who knock on our door, asking for our money.
How are we supposed to believe when the children carry guns, little old ladies carry drugs, and the people at our door want to take our life savings? What is there to believe in?
We have to believe in something. We’re human. Living without belief just doesn’t work. So what do we turn to? Anonymous hackers who claim to fight for freedom? A government that was made to stand for freedom? Organisations that promise to protect our freedom?
What is freedom, anyway?
Do any of us know? Do you?
If you know, do you have it? Are you fighting for it? Freedom is a privilege, you know. Anyone with power can take it away from you. Can you take it back? Can you do it and not lose yourself in the process?
Can we – jaded, cynical, cautious and defensive – can we choose to believe in people? Can we decide that what we’ve been calling common sense is just paranoia and really believe in other people? In strangers we see on the street, in children we screen for guns, in little old ladies and people at our door? Do we want to? Can we afford to? Can we afford not to?
What do you believe?