Free world salutes ‘the greatest generation’

The last survivor: Reg Charles, 96, the only living member of the glider assault on Pegasus Bridge, yesterday

Do we need to relearn the importance of resolve, courage and sacrifice? The Queen described the heroes of D-Day as “my generation” — the “resilient” old men and women who saved the world.

Seventy-five years ago, hundreds of thousands of young soldiers, sailors and airmen left these shores in the cause of freedom. […At] that time, my father, King George VI, said: ‘What is demanded from us all is something more than courage and endurance; we need a revival of spirit, a new unconquerable resolve...’ That is exactly what those brave men brought to the battle, as the fate of the world depended on their success.

Many of them would never return, and the heroism, courage and sacrifice of those who lost their lives will never be forgotten.”

Yesterday, the Queen paid tribute to what is often called “the greatest generation”: the men and women who came of age during World War Two and played a part in the struggle against fascism.

It was “a can-do generation who believed that they did not need to be perfect to be good enough”, writes the journalist Victor Hanson, reflecting on his father, an air force gunner during the war.

“Perseverance and its twin, courage, were the most important of all collective virtues,” he concludes.

“Such a spirit […] explains everything from the spectacular economic growth of the 1960s to the audacity of landing a man on the moon.”

Not so great?

There is, however, a different point of view. For example, the US novelist John Horne Burns has described the racism of Allied soldiers in Italy during the last months of the war. He describes watching a white officer, miffed that a black female singer in town had taken “his” place at a bar, utterly humiliate a black soldier in the troupe. Out together, his soldiers are coarse, self-pitying, dishonest, stupid.

Of course, human nature is also flawed, and war is ugly. But these veterans had optimism whilst accepting a man’s limitations during his brief and often tragic life. Time was short, but heroism was eternal.

You Decide

  1. Could it ever be good to be cowardly?

Activities

  1. Imagine you were about to be dropped by parachute into enemy territory at dead of night. Write a last letter to your best friend.

Some People Say...

“It is hard to be brave. It is hard to know what bravery is.”

Tim O’Brien, writer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
People can be resilient, say to an illness or to loss like a death in the family. Communities can be resilient, say to a hurricane or to a sharp increase in the cost of food and fuel. In any case, a system is considered resilient if it can recover without changing too much.
What do we not know?
We don’t know what really makes people resilient. Is it mainly about the ability to be flexible and able to change in unexpected situtions?

Word Watch

King George VI
Known publicly as Albert until he became king, and “Bertie’” among his family and close friends, King George VI reigned from 11 December 1936 until his death on 6 February 1952. He was the last Emperor of India and the first Head of the Commonwealth.
Endurance
Ability to cope with a difficult situation without giving up.
Resolve
To be determined.
Fascism
A type of right-wing power that tends that oppose democracy, and is often led by a military government. It values the idea of country over the individual.
Miffed
Upset, annoyed.
Veterans
People who once served in the army.

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