1943, and counting
I've been thinking of how different Lockdown II is from Lockdown I. I am reminded a lot of civilian war diaries and letters in WW2. (If that analogy strikes you as a bizarre, even tasteless, think of the similarities – same number of civilian dead, England isolated from a suffering world, difficulties of travel within the UK…).
At the start of Lockdown I, as in 1939, there was more fear than there is now, because all was new and nothing was known. We washed fruit as it came through the door and were scared to go to the allotment, just as in 1939 people thought entire cities would be destroyed and gassed. It was scary, but also thrilling in a way. We really did felt ‘in it together’, were pleased and moved to find neighbours looking after one another, we clapped for ‘heroes’, there was strong, instinctive compliance with the rules. There was also a wonder - Nature remontant – and we thought that we would learn from this and be kinder to Nature and to each other ‘afterwards’. Initially, we thought only of the next 6 months and how to survive it, beyond that we could not see, and dared not try.
"I'm so glad Mr Burey is a fatalist. We were one gas mask short'
Now it’s, what, 1943, or early 44. We’re just so tired, weary, numbed not so much by the death count as by privation, restriction. It’s so long since we could do what we enjoyed and our previous lives seem a distant memory. We long for a bit of colour, a bit of variety and entertainment in our lives. We’re less scared now, true – we know exactly what to do to avoid death and what not to bother with – consequently we can live a little easier. And we know, in late ’45 or ’46 or sometime, that we will eventually ‘win’, once the vaccines become available. But we are so damaged by the experience that we’re not entirely sure what ‘peace’ will be like once more. The State is nearly bankrupt. And that sense of community has long gone. We cheat, we denounce others for cheating. Spivs and charlatans abound. Morality is less certain.
"And then to make absolutely sure, we always sit in the dark"
Some differences. Big ones. Of course, we don’t have a third of a million-war dead. We havent suffered near famine of massive shortages or long queues. But a lot of negatives, too. In the course of the War we became more trusting, not less, in Government. Government became more competent, not less. There were spivs and crooks aplenty in 1943 - but they were not running the Government. We did not, in 1943, have a sizeable minority advocating capitulation to Hitler, as some now do with COVID, peddling nonsense about our radios attracting V bombs.
And by 1945 we were much more confident about our future – we thought that though hardship would continue short term, we could build a much brighter, more just, more sustainable future than before the War. No one thinks that now. We’ve already shown that our contempt for Nature is more destructive than ever, and we know that when the COVID peace comes, the next catastrophes, environmental disaster, are following close behind. And we are planning now not a brave new world order, but ever great isolation from Europe, from the whole world – we can wait to shut ourselves off in this little island. No one likes us. No one looks up to us, as they did so much in '45.
We have learned nothing from this war. Nothing whatsoever.
I was formerly Finance Director of the Prison Service and then Director of the National Offender Management Service responsible for competition. I also worked in the NHS and an IT company. I later worked for two outsourcing companies.
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