Standing firm is the price of civilisation. Are we still ready to pay it?

Reading some reactions to events in Paris, I’m no longer certain that western values would survive another long war

“…This becomes even more true when, as Sassoon did, you become a combat infantryman. One of the more troubling aspects of war, for those at the sharp end, is the knowledge that there may be occasions when either you personally — or your unit — are expected to take a hit for the team. That is, whether as ‘point’ in a patrol, or as the rearguard covering a retreat, or as the vital flank which must be held at all costs, you may be required to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to prevent what would otherwise be even greater losses among your comrades.

You generally do this not because you like it, let alone because you subscribe to the old lie dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, but because you know that your comrades would do just the same for you. And also because — as fighting men have appreciated through most of history from the Roman testudo and the Anglo-Saxon shield wall to the squares at Albuera and the foxholes of Bastogne — you’re only as strong as your weakest link. If one of you caves, you all die — so it’s just as well, really, that even (or especially) in free nations with relatively lax military discipline, men fear cowardice more than they fear death. Otherwise western civilisation could never have been successfully created or defended.

Do we still understand it now, though? Having read some of the reactions in some sections of the media to the recent events in Paris, I’m not altogether sure that we do. The excuses offered sound superficially plausible — ‘You can’t shout fire in a crowded theatre’, ‘needless provocation’ etc. — but strip away the rhetoric, and the irrelevant invocations of ‘the spectre of the far right’ and ‘Gaza’ — they all boil down to the same thing: ‘Please. Not me. I don’t want to die.’

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