I wonder what our parents and grandparents would have said about the dangers we seem to be facing today, exemplified by the recent Paris terrorism? After all, their generation lived through wartime periods of clear and present danger to their lives, whether they were serving in combat, or enduring the Blitz.
What should we expect governments to do, and to provide, to protect us personally from perceived dangers, and are those expectations proportionate and justified? I suspect our parents might think us a bit soft or unrealistic if we expect and demand complete security from terrorists.
I have in mind two conversations with my Dad and my Mum that throw some light on the question
Dad served as a submariner in WW2 in some particularly dangerous waters. I asked him about being depth charged and about fear. Of course, he said, when it happened he was terrified. So, I asked, weren’t you constantly worrying about it when in enemy waters? No, he replied: he was kept far too busy and he was more worried about when the next meal was due and when it would be time for his tot. I asked my mother about the Blitz in Liverpool. Wasn’t she terrified by the almost certain knowledge that the bombers would be back tonight and she might be killed? She said, and I am sure sincerely, that she and her friends were told by their parents that ‘Either it had your name on it or it hadn’t, and you wouldn’t know till you woke up dead!'
Such was Liverpool philosophy! And I suspect that philosophy was widely shared, and people didn’t think the government could protect them personally from the worst consequences of enemy action
Not for the first time, politicians are saying that the government’s highest duty is to protect British citizens from harm, and I’m sure that similar things are being said across Europe. But is that duty without limits and if so, is it actually possible? What would be the effect of terrorism if we refused to be terrified? Our generation lived with the threat of nuclear war without being collectively paralysed with fear. We also lived with terrorist attacks in the UK during the Irish ‘troubles’, were horrified by the details of attacks, but got on with life pretty normally.
The same was true more recently during and after the London tube bombings
Might it not be healthier for our society if, like our parents in the face of infinitely more dangerous threats, we got on with taking care of things within our control, and took a more robust view of things outside our control? We might begin, as was the case with wartime caricatures of Hitler and his cronies, by taking the p*ss rather than taking seriously the posturing of fanatics. Bullies rarely have a sense of humour and they do provide a tempting target for ridicule.