Monday, September 27, 2010

50 years separate Leaders at top and Teen riflemen at bottom

In every war, the top national leadership are usually in their sixties.

My definition of national leader goes well beyond prime ministers and generals to include the unseen, semi-retired, powers behind the throne: the newspaper owners, the chief shareholders of the largest corporations, the professors emeritus etc.

By contrast, the men at the pointiest end of the stick, the infantry dogfaces armed only with a rifle and a shovel, are often in their teens.

Fifty years, a very long half century, usually separates the men who run the war from those who merely did as they are told.

So a historical approach which focuses too much on the memories of youngest veterans, the ones who survive the longest on civilian street, can seriously distort the historical record.

Yes they actually fought the battles and this makes for dramatic stories.

But, but, but - a focus on their experience comes at a high price.

Babies may experience history but they certainly didn't form it.

We need always to remember that the men who caused World War I -  and who led it -  had their formative experience of their life in the Pre-Modern Era ( back in 1850s and 1860s).

But their front line teenage soldiers were children of the Modern Era at its most florid - the worldwide Wheat and Rail Boom that led into the Edwardian Era.

So there was a disconnect.

In the Viet Nam War, the leaders were fully from the Modern Era but the teens fighting it were of the Post-Modern Era.

Another disconnect.

However in World War II,our only fully MODERN WAR , both its leaders and its teen soldiers were both fully in the same Modern Era ----albeit up to a point.

After all its leaders grew up in the booming Edwardian Era and the kids fighting in its front lines grew up in the depths of the Great Depression.

Probing further, we can see that the Edwardian Era was one where people were both, at almost the same instant, extremely optimistic and extremely pessimistic.

Progress and Degeneracy were their two bywords.

Most Edwardian Era adults held both views but still leaned consistently more to one side or other side.

I would, for an example, place Howard Florey on the optimistic side and Henry Dawson on the pessimistic side of the Edwardian Era estimation of Man's ability to favourably affect Reality.

My book on the wartime Penicillin Saga will not shortchange the leaders of the various wars it covers.

 I will highlight the fact that for most of us, our definitive values-forming experiences occur in our mid teens.

And I will then focus on the paradox that we
only get full rein to impose those teen age values on those younger than us when we are about 50 years older and our victims are themselves in their own mid-teens !

WW II leaders and their populace generally were
less convinced about the effectiveness of War elan and were more convinced of the effectiveness of War Science, in comparison to Great War populations.

This was partly due to the effect of recent experience - elan hadn't worked too well against machine guns in Flanders' Fields.

But it also reflected the intense belief in the 'Power of Science' held by Edwardian Era teenagers who were now running the Second World War at the very top of the food chain...

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