I'm catching up on some odds and ends and writing tonight, so here's an old column that I still quite fancy.
I almost wasted some time playing a game this week. Regular readers will know that one of my favourite occupations is computer games. I got my first computer about a decade before games became sophisticated. In those days, playing a game meant spending a couple of hours programming the thing into the computer. As you can imagine, the arrival of packaged games and graphics cards was very welcome.
Unfortunately the game that I bought to play last night didn’t work. It seems I need a newer, faster mother board. Curses! I read the manual but I didn’t read the system requirements on the box. More’s the pity. It was a World War 2 game, my favourite genre. Still, I didn’t waste too much time, just an hour trying to get the thing installed.
I grew up with World War 2 as my companion. It was very cool. My friends and I used to run around pretending to shoot each other. The afternoons, as I remember them were long and exciting and involved a lot of hiding and jumping out from behind bushes with loaded fingers going ‘eh-eh-eh-eh-eh’ and then complaining when our opponents didn’t fall over and pretend to be dead.
Then there were the various comics. I have one or two of the small ‘War Picture Library’ comics in a box somewhere. I still read them, every time I do a spring cleaning.
When I was growing up, World War 2 was still a fresh phenomenon. Most of the older people around me could remember it from their childhood, or their participation. I lived in a neighbourhood that was split between English and Germans. An ex U-boat captain and a fighter pilot both had houses just around the corner. Rationing was still remembered. And there was the story of my great uncle, whose hair went white before the age of thirty. He was in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.
From the kids point of view, at least the English kids, World War 2 was a thrilling thing. Many of us had dreams of becoming soldiers.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, there haven’t been all that many wars with the same patina of glory and righteousness since. All the conflicts seem small, ugly and marred by serious ethical questions. It seems as if nobody is entirely right, although everyone has their own argument. It also seems as if everyone is absolutely wrong, especially if you take into account the amount of collateral damage that gets reported.
And who are the soldiers anyway? On the one side, there are a bunch of technicians with high-tech devices. On the other side, there are peasants. The uniforms, the moral purpose and the clear sense of what is fitting and proper seem to be missing from the equation. Who is right, if everyone is wrong?
In a certain sense, World War 2 taught the children of my generation what was right and wrong. We knew that the Nazis were the scum of the earth without any doubt. The war comics and movies told us this. As we grew up we were able to evaluate the various atrocities by both sides.
Bomber Harris may have been calculatingly brutal, and Churchill may have been a drunk, but what they put a stop to was obviously evil. How will the children of my daughter’s generation evaluate conflict? As things stand right now, it seems as if tossing a coin is a good option.
What defines evil on the global stage? Although we know that Hitler was evil for killing millions, nobody said to much about Stalin's thirty-five million, and it appears as if the ongoing genocide in various African nations is more comfortably swept under the rug. Apparently the diplomat with the fastest mouth and the best use of the press on his side gets to make the decision on everyone’s behalf.
In the absence of anything cut and dried, I’m sticking to my computer games. As for the children, the unenviable task of explaining to them that greed and fanaticism spurred on most of the wars in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries lies ahead.
Or maybe they will make their own decisions and take sides themselves. Who knows what the future will bring, and what judgments it will hold. Whatever the case, it won’t be pretty.