D-Day bravery reminds us of what modern life has lost

9 Jun 2014 @ 9.53 am
| History, Opinion

'Those men were incredible' – the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944. Photograph: Wikipedia
‘Those men were incredible’ – the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944. Photograph: Wikipedia

Miles On Monday

The weekly thoughts of York writer Miles Salter

It was moving to hear the recent content about D-Day over the past week: the news reports and documentaries showed the decreasing band of old men, some in their 90s, who travelled to the beaches of Normandy to honour their dead comrades.

Those men were incredible. Thousands died on D-Day, some barely getting out of the boats that landed on the beaches.

They had to walk over the bodies of their dead comrades. The scenes they witnessed are unimaginable.

Rod Liddle, the columnist, was on BBC Radio 4’s Start The Week programme a week ago, discussing his new book, Selfish Whining Monkeys.

The book is a critique of contemporary society. In it, Liddle suggests that the stoicism and community mindedness which characterised previous generations has largely gone.

He gave various reasons for this, including the Margaret Thatcher government and its creed of individualism, as well as the spirit of the 1960s. He also examines the increase of mental illness and depression.

Surveying our society’s preoccupation with career, money and appearance, it’s hard not to agree, at least in part, with Liddle.

Multiple television programmes examine house conversions, makeovers, the battle with youthful appearance or the never-ending quest to lose weight. Singers compete for fame in ‘reality’ shows.

Compare the simpler, less avaricious, more community-minded society that existed in the 1940s, and contemporary society looks sadly lacking.

Could we bear it if we had to endure the privations of the 1940s? Rationing would be regarded now as an offensive outrage to many people, so accustomed have we become to obtaining what we want, when we want it.

(I was at ASDA at 8am on Sunday morning trying to buy milk. It was shut. “But it says 24 hours!” I wailed at the man behind the glass door. More fool me.)

This week, pictures surfaced on Twitter of anti-homeless spikes, which have been placed in doorways in London. It’s depressing. Something is wrong if can’t bear to help people whose lives have been derailed.

Working on community projects in West and East Hull in the 1990s, myself and my colleagues tried to do our bit to help the community repair itself. It was hard work, and sometimes very frustrating.

But one of those projects has survived, and continues to do fantastic work with disadvantaged families. It’s a drop in the ocean, but I’m glad it’s there, and I’m glad I was part of it, if only for a brief period.

If we lead our lives entirely in the glare of our own self-interest, we’re impoverished. Anything we do – however small – for the good of others, is of value.

The men who stormed on Sword Beach and Omaha beach 70 years ago fought and died for the common good. It’s worth remembering their amazing example.