On Grit [Jamie]

An internationally-renowned journalist emailed me this message yesterday. Maybe it's relevant to modern-day discussion, maybe not. But it's worth a read either way.

What is missing in all this is grit. I think of my parents
and their generation. Britain fought on alone in
1940 against impossible odds and my father was ontankers getting shot at and torpedoed in the Atlantic. His ship was sunk twice and he got away
in small boats. He said nothing was as
frightening as being all alone on the Atlantic
swell in a small boat knowing that the first
real squall that blew up would drown you. On
two other occasions he was on leave at home
for a weekend and the ship he had just
left was lost with all hands. All his friends
dead, twice. The losses on those convoys rivalled
those on the Eastern Front and were worst of all among
tankers - always the U-boats' chief target.
He was an engineer working in the bowels of
the ship and said that if it got hit the water
would come in somewhere over his head and he'd
have to scramble up against torrents of water.
Often the oil spilled onto the water and burnt
so even the sea was on fire, so to speak, so
you couldn't even just jump in to get off the
burning ship. He had to go through that several times.

My mother was at home at that time raising 3 small kids and was
regularly bombed - the Luftwaffe came over most
nights. Our house suffered a direct hit
once when she was hiding in the shelter with
the three of us. It was completely demolished. This
situation went on for years. We had little to
eat. So my dad, facing death every day, had no
consolation - he knew his young wife and 3 kids
were getting bombed, could be wiped out any
night. It happened so often. The family house was
only a mile from Birkenhead docks, an absolutely
basic Luftwaffe target. Yet they never for one
moment wanted to give in or make peace and they
never doubted ultimate victory, which was quite
naive of them. But the point is that they had
grit. The news would be bad - appalling - week
in, week out for months and they'd just say,
well, it can't be helped but we've got to go on.
And they did. That generation did have grit.

It seems nobody much has it now. But unless the US
and UK - the two countries that really matter -
have more grit than Al Qaeda, we could lose. This
doesn't mean we have to stay in Iraq forever. We
have to box clever too. But the one thing I am
sure of is that these two countries have to be
united. United, they have never lost - two world
wars, Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo etc. When they
were divided (Suez, Vietnam) things went
badly for the one or other of them.
And the rest of the world knows in its bones that
these two countries are closer to standing for
decency and democracy than any other
combination. Of course they're far from
perfect. They're just the best we've got, the
last best hope of mankind, as Churchill put
it. They didn't invade Europe to control it
but to hand those countries back to their own people,
and they did it twice. This means that, for all
the cacophony of criticism they currently
endure, they command more respect than
any other combination of powers. Just ask what armed
actions in the Balkans or Middle East or anywhere else the
world would tolerate from, say, Russia and France;
or China and Germany, or whichever other two
powers you like. No one would really stand
back and trust any of those combinations. That
said, this underlying trust in Anglo-American
decency is a precious thing. It must be
preserved, which means it must not be abused.

Grit used to be the Anglo virtue - absolutely
grim perseverance through long, terrible
reverses - though often laughing at oneself,
mocking one's political leaders, trying to
drown one's sorrows in warm beer and Glen Miller's music
-  but just never wavering. Wavering was for the
Italians and French maybe, but not if you
were serious. The Germans didn't waver. The
Russians didn't waver. So for heaven's sake
why should we ? I mourn the loss of grit.