Adam Chapman

For King And Country

The now iconic finger point of Lord Kitchener calling upon the men of Blighty to volunteer for the new army to fight for king and country. This poster could be found on pretty much every street in Britain at the start of the first world war before conscription was instated in 1916.   

The effects? Hoards of young men from every walk of life put their lives on hold to pick up a rifle, travel to the continent and fight tooth and nail for scraps of the European countryside. What was supposed to be a quick affair “Over by Christmas” would drag on for 4 years costing millions of lives scarring a generation both physically and mentally. 

The sacrifices made by our forefathers cannot be forgotten and should be honoured. Many may have been naive as to what they were signing up for, many may have got caught up in the rush of patriotic nationalism that spread across the country or many may have felt it was their duty to pick up arms in defence of their homeland. 

The thing that gets me however as I sit here in 2018 is how I cannot for the life of me see this sort of enthusiasm for “King and country” ever being replicated in the modern world. 

This isn’t to take away from the many people out there who’ve made a career in the armed forces. They’ve done something that I’d never (by choice) find myself doing and I do hold a certain level of respect for them. In fact, there are around 81,500 people currently employed full time in the UK’s army with another 27,000 trained reserves. That’s a hell of a lot of people but in 1914 over 478,893 joined up to the army between 4th August and the 12th September. You would never see that rush of volunteers for such an endeavour in the UK ever again.

Ever since I first started studying History (of which I ended up earning a degree in) I was always fascinated by 20th-century history. A world so different but still within living memory, somehow unimaginable but not so far away. 

I guess you have to ask yourself why? Where has the national pride gone?

Now I’ve never been one to call for militaristic national pride, sure be proud of where you come from, the parts of your culture that you get involved in, but you didn’t really have a choice where you were born right? It’s kind of the lottery of life and doesn’t instantly make you better or worse than someone born in another country. Just because in the past people drew some imaginary lines in the soil and said “Here you’re this and 20 meters over there you’re that” doesn’t truly entitle you to anything and to think it does, in my personal opinion, is incredibly ignorant. 

The 20th century led for a push in globalisation, people from other cultures and upbringings have mingled and developed modern day multiculturalism. There seems to be more of an attachment to the national village rather than your immediate surroundings. The world has opened up, with more and more people travelling and living abroad, to use the tired old cliche, the world has become a lot smaller…metaphorically. This has been seen as a bad thing for some as can be evidently seen in the rise of right-leaning parties in global politics but I would honestly like to hope the majority of people don’t hold these views. Has the merging of cultures lead to demise in sectoral nationalism? It’s fair to argue this case.

Myself personally has spent most of my adult life mixing with friends from other nations holding little pride in “Being English”. Sure when the football is on I’ll happily don a jersey and cheer on the representatives of the country I’m attached to but there aren’t many other times I’ll use my citizenship as a defining factor. 

This could possibly be down to the state of recent politics. Politically the UK hasn’t come to represent me since I became eligible to vote. So far I’ve struck out in every election I’ve voted in, going a solid 0 for 3. It doesn’t exactly give you much national pride when you feel the majority of people disagree with you in how they feel the country should be run. The divide between the youth and older generations when it comes to general elections and the Brexit vote casts a clear indicator of a divided nation. With a divided nation on such a scale, the recent Brexit vote being 48% – 52% it’d be bloody hard to rally the UK behind one common goal as the disillusionment felt by many surrenders the effects of the war cry.

Adding to this it’s possible that the apathy felt by many towards politics and the distrust of politicians is fuelling this decline. The everyday man feeling less and less obliged to do the bidding of those in power. Could you imagine Theresa May calling for all men between the ages of 18 – 30 to pick up arms to fight in a war for Queen Elizabeth and Great Britain? A poster of Boris Johnson pointing down claiming your country needs you? It’d be met with a scoff and possible laughter by a large amount of the youth of this country.

Obviously, it’s pretty clear to see that my generation is lacking what some would call national spirit but it’s not purely a generational thing.

It’s evident to see all around. Modern-day Brits are also less likely to fly the flag. The UK has never been on the same level as our cousin across the pond as you can barely walk down the street in America without seeing the stars and stripes somewhere but it’s becoming rarer and rarer to see the red and white in England. To many, the detachment they feel towards the flag is possibly due to what it has come to symbolise over recent years. Waving the St Georges Cross holds a certain connotation, rightly or wrongly, that doesn’t fit with how they see and represent themselves. I’m not for a second suggesting that everyone who feels they want to fly the flag is doing so with sinister thoughts fueling it, just doing so isn’t something I or many others choose to do.

Maybe a major war on Britain’s doorstep would change the feelings of the nation. The threat of endangerment to friends and family might be enough to stoke the fires enough to get a rush of patriotism like that felt by those hundreds of thousands of young men in 1914. I hope it never comes to that but it would be incredibly interesting to see the contrasts in reactions of the nation in 2018 and that of over 100 years ago.

Let me know what you think. Do you feel patriotism is on the decline? Do you still fly the flag proudly? Let me know in the comments on our social media channels.