15 year olds a century apart. And Brexit.
So I did a couple of those terrible things. Firstly I went on Facebook. Secondly I also came across something about Brexit and then read it. Of course, I glanced over the comments and saw all kinds of things I disagreed with. But then my third mistake was to respond to it. I started typing, sent my response and then quit the browser.
Part of me believes very strongly in “don’t feed the trolls”, but another part of me thoroughly enjoys putting across my point of view if I have time and having a good discussion about it. So I thought I’d post it here unedited to get it off Facebook.
Oh go on then. I’ve got a little time at the keyboard, I’ll bite.
Individuals like Sapper Gavan through their willingness to engage in warfare often sacrifice their time, health, happiness, best years and even their lives for the sake of others. We can certainly say that many of us here today are in the privileged position that we are because of these people.
Because of people like Sapper Gavan, wars have come to an end in the favour of the British, politicians and diplomats have been forced to come around a table and talk through their differences in a reverse-Clausewitz-style and come to agreements. Sometimes it fails — League of Nations. Sometimes it’s awkward — UN. Sometimes it’s convenient — NATO. Sometimes it’s even a tiny bit beneficial — European Union.
We forget quite how militarised the European continent has been for thousands of years. Coming together with a parliament and bureaucracy and meetings and a willingness to put money into a centralised pot to help those less fortunate than ourselves to trade goods and services and freely move people around the continent isn’t such a bad ideal.
Imagine telling soldiers such as Sapper Gavan what we had achieved — that people from all around Europe could visit each other, study, live, work and learn from one another without having to apply and pay for a specific visa, being forced to leave once it was up, having to worry about receiving healthcare in another country or educational funding for pan-European research projects, and even that there are centralised courts of human rights and justice that we had contributed strongly to molding.
And then tell them that we were leaving it to stand alone. I suspect that many of those soldiers would stand by that UK. Willing to protect it to their dying day. But they might also be disappointed, confused and would ask why we were leaving the union.
Lastly, many people from many different walks of life over the centuries on battlefields all around the world have died to give the 15 year old with his flags and his hyperbolic placard the privilege to read up about how Brexit may affect his future and demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament. As each successive generation is lambasted for being lazy, unwilling to engage in politics and current affairs and who never turn out to vote, this 15 year old could be compared very favourably to Sapper Gavan. He isn’t volunteering to fight in Europe because thankfully he doesn’t have to make that choice. Instead he is volunteering to travel into London, fight for his beliefs. We should praise him for it.
Lastly, what is really food for thought and worthy of serious contemplation is the privilege that we are able to provide for our 15 year olds today. That they are able to engage with their European cousins through educational exchanges, easy and convenient travel and public funded discourse rather than attritional warfare where 15 year olds are losing their lives because of the factional conflict of empires.
I would suggest that the European Union might have contributed to at least a small part of that and for us to leave it is stealing the future that I thought 15 year olds might have.