Neo’s post yesterday was a reminder of the debt we owe to the generation who fought that war. Those who, like my dad, were born in 1903, saw two wars and a period of horrific unemployment; it marked them. I remember them when I was a lad. They did not often talk about the war. My own father was in a reserved occupation (ship-building was crucial to the war effort), but he lost both his brothers, one of whom was called Geoffrey, after whom I was named. My childhood, which was spent in Belfast, Manchester and Liverpool, was literally marked by the war – all three cities were heavily bombed by the Germans, and some of my earliest playgrounds were bombed out ruins. Life was grim in other ways – rationing was still in place, and I don’t think I saw a banana until my teens. The war had been ‘won’, and we were grateful, but my generation grew up in the shadow of the Cold War, with the prospect of nuclear annihilation. The moral code by which we lived was that of that generation – we knew right from wrong, and there was little in the way of ‘mercy’ (to use a newly popular word) for those who transgressed. But then the temptations we faced then were only the old ones, and against those the old codes worked well enough.
Sometimes folk talk and write as though there was something called the ‘sixties’, well, they say if you remember it, you weren’t there. I was, but it doesn’t much resemble some of the things I read – and I lived near Liverpool from 1968 through to 1974. I’ve no doubt there was a rock and roll lifestyle going on somewhere, but it was nowhere near me. Mrs S and I settled down and brought up our family, and I went to work in the morning and came back in the evening, and we went to church on Sunday and to BIble study on Thursday, and she went to the women’s meeting on Tuesday, and I to the men’s fellowship on Friday, and did some street preaching on a Saturday morning. The church was a key part of our lives, as it was of many of those we knew. This, we supposed, was the life others had given their lives for, and once a year, on 11 November, we remembered them.
Now I don’t recall back then that the media made the fuss they do now, but then we were faithful to what the fallen had died for, and many of their more fortunate fellows lived among us and could bear witness to what had been died for. But somewhere along the line, the values publicly lauded began to be infected by that rock and roll stuff: family values were undermined, and are now mocked; babies in the womb went from being safe and valued to be being unsafe and not valued by many; marital fidelity became disposable; sin became a thing not to be mentioned. How you ‘felt’ was what mattered, and if you felt ‘guilt’ that could be explained away.
How deeply that has infected our western societies is hard to judge. I read and see things in the mass media, but I don’t see many of them where I live, and folk still go about their daily business much as they used to. I’ve a suspicion that much of the madder stuff is the product of the self-obsessions of those who write for the media, although we can see some of the effects at work in a society where divorce and abortion are rampant and the young find it difficult to build a future. The old classicist in me sees in all of it some echoes of the end of the Roman Empire; when a society loses touch with the virtues which created it, it dissolves the glue which holds it together. Folk can call it freedom if they want – but I doubt it was for that my uncle Geoffrey died.