Yes, the young are war-shy. But there's more to it than Jeremy Paxman suggests

Maybe it’s to be expected that the presenter of University Challenge sees so little stomach for a fight in contemporary youth

Share

In the eyes of Jeremy Paxman, if World War Three caught on tomorrow, British generals would struggle to fill a trench with young, biddable recruits, let alone send them over the top. A certain spine, he feels, is absent. The young, he believes, are bubble-wrapped by a feckless culture, in which the only Call of Duty they recognise is the videogame – and the only sinews they stiffen the ones that make love, not war. “There’d be so many tweets and so many Snapchatted photos of the trench digging”, he told a literary conference in Dubai, that public opinion would abandon a war effort and leave England’s pastures green to the advancing hordes – this time, let’s say, Russian. “What would [the younger] generation fight for?” Paxman went on, “The right to use your iPhone?”

To be fair to Mr Paxman, whose words interrupted me Flapping my Bird all over WhatsApp, if Putin were to take that right away, there would be ramifications on a geopolitical scale. At the same time – and this is where Paxman and so many, many commentators go wrong – I can’t be the only ‘Millenial’ who feels it possible to own a smartphone and believe in a value-system that stretches beyond the “materialistic, self-obsessed and hedonistic” (Paxman, again).

Maybe it’s to be expected that the presenter of University Challenge sees so little stomach for a fight in contemporary youth. Still, I would say there are a good number of reasons why the cardigan-wearing quiz-heads on that show might want to avoid digging trenches, before you get to Snapchat and Twitter. Give a nerd a shovel, for one, and he will quote Seamus Heaney before any soil is touched.

For two, it’s the changing nature of war (and this generation’s awareness of it) that seems to me to make the young trench-shy, not the changing nature of young people. You don’t need to have faced Paxman over a buzzer to realise that recent military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq have contributed little to global security, though their cost has been dear to Western soldiers, and dearer still to local peoples. Of the thousands of stories to illustrate the point, take the US marine who fought to secure Fallujah in 2004, aged 21, only to watch it this year fall back into the hands of Al-Qa’ida. “It made me sick to my stomach to have that thrown in our face” said Adam Banotai, “everything we fought for so blatantly taken away.”

Paxman asks what “noble causes” young people would consider risking their lives for, as if it’s a problem that no obvious answer presents itself. He may be right that British people born before 1914 were more ready to die for an ideal, or for their country. But it's strange to suggest that Tinder, Snapchat and the like - not the painful lessons of recent history - have eroded the young's willingness to go to war.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A teenage girl uses her smartphone in bed.  

Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb

Janet Street-Porter
Rohingya migrants in a boat adrift in the Andaman Sea last week  

Burma will regret shutting its eyes to the fate of the Rohingya boat people

Peter Popham
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor