It’s pretty easy to pillory to the Cambridge Student Union’s stance on not promoting Remembrance Day because it “glorifies” war. It’s easy because my very first memories of Remembrance Day come from school: Wilfred Owen and young men dying face down in the mud. It all sounded grim. Even now those remaining old boys talking tearfully on telly to John Inverdale about their lost pals doesn’t exactly have me reaching for the bayonet.
It’s not to say you can’t glorify war, but it’s usually films that do. I’m sure plenty of people saw Dunkirk and secretly imagined that in that situation they’d be Tom Hardy heroically flying sorties over the beach rather one of those poor bastards getting squashed between a ship.
Nevertheless the Cambridge Student Union’s position is such an obvious provocation to middle England it could’ve been suggested by a plant working for the Daily Mail. And the provocation element is key to understanding what’s happening. Every generation has to rebel. Once upon a time it was easy – you just took more drugs. The problem for young people now is that my generation tore the arse out of it. We were the Roger Federers of drug-taking: smashed it then and many of us are still holding our own to this day. If you can’t compete then do something else. Consequently the Woke Olympics has become the mind-bending trip for some of today’s students.
Where my peers would take acid and stare at a cupboard for four hours, these lot get off their nut by banning or prohibiting stuff. Can you imagine the buzz when the guy at Manchester Uni suggested jazz hands? Loads of undergrads lying on bean bags staring at the ceiling listening to Ed Sheeran. Or the young woman who painted over Rudyard Kipling’s “If”. Never mind cocaine, the buzz of whitewashing Britain’s favourite ever poem must have had her gurning like a late-Nineties rock star.
And we bite every single time. When people write outraged responses such as this, they must piss themselves laughing like they just demolished a hash cake.
Imagine waking up and knowing Piers Morgan’s blood pressure was higher because of something you did. The first thought when you experience any buzz like that is, “OK, when can I feel like that again?”
I don’t believe everyone in these circles fully subscribes to what’s being said, because there are always influential ringleaders. I remember the derision when I turned down an offer of drugs and I’d imagine anyone querying the Remembrance Day stance ran along similar lines: “You too chicken to try speed?”…“What, do you support war?”
It’s our fault. We created a world where drug taking is passe and their perception of risk is so acute that felt-tipping over images of Uncle Ben makes them feel like they’re tearing down the establishment. There will come a point where they jump the shark. This generation will have their equivalent of a heroin overdose of wokeness. Maybe a history student will refuse to study Passchendaele because soldiers in the photos had “blacked up” (had mud on their face).
I appeared on BBC’s Politics Live with Will Self recently and he called it “presentism” – the inability to apply context in understanding moments or people. It’s the opposite of intelligence. It happened off campus with an astronaut apologising for quoting Winston Churchill. Companies are so disproportionately scared of this tiny minority of crusaders that if the Churchill dog ever starts trending you can be sure he’ll soon be traded for an endangered animal.
The truth is I’m not angry with these kids. I’m intrigued and a bit sad. I also feel sorry for the overwhelming majority of students who see this grandstanding as embarrassing. When Remembrance Day comes they’ll probably think about what it really means. A pause for gratitude that global boots on the ground conflicts are largely a thing of the past. Thinking back to relatives who had to get on ships and planes scared shitless and travel to places some of them wouldn’t return from.
Geoff Norcott is currently on an extended tour with ‘Traditionalism’, details here
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