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

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam