Attitudes towards veterans

Discussion in 'Historiography' started by Callisto, Dec 23, 2012.

  1. “I spent nearly seven years of my young life in a war that had to be fought. I saw many hero’s –but doubt any of them would want to be called that. It was just something you did.
    My father served in the First World War and was wounded twice – the bad one lost him a lung. He never talked about his War and his generation didn’t call themselves hero’s.
    No one waved any flags when I came back in 1946 – I was chucked off the bus after giving up my seat – ‘six, seven, eight…off soldier’. The Iti in the shop said he only had cigarettes for his regular customers, he offered me five Woodbine – I told him where to shove them and said I’d been fighting buggers like him.
    No one talked about hero’s – war wasn’t mentioned, so we didn’t think we’d done anything special. Maybe its talked about more now. I have great respect for these young lads in Afghanistan,– I’m sure they wouldn’t want to be called hero’s -they are just soldiers doing a job.”
    Mel Senior
  2. Joe Brown

    Joe Brown WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Dear Mel,

    That's how it was. Also, I fully support what you say about our young men in Afghanistan. They are fighting a different war from what we did; our deployment against the enemy was controlled and we operated in close structured formations, but these lads operate well forward dealing with insurgents in a exposed and dangerous environment.


  3. Callisto

    Callisto Twitter ye not

    i am not sure how this has come about. Is there really one answer?

    maybe it's cyclical as i said before, having mentioned Hislop's interesting programme about the British stiff upper lip. Nelson and Wellington were 2 'popular heroes' from very different perspectives as far as the general public were concerned. One 'romantic' the other seen as 'professional'.

    social media as well as the traditional media and emailing must have a part to play also in perpetuating the lazy usage of the term hero, to the point where every veteran who hits the headlines whether they've been mugged or have raised funds for charity is automatically described as such.

    Drew5233 mentioned Royal Wootton Bassett again but i'm thinking did this sort of public and collective grieving not start with the death of Diana? If i remember correctly there was much discussion at the time about the manner in which the British public reacted then.

    Maybe it is one way for the public as a mass to express something that they feel others are doing, to have something in common with the rest of the herd.

    not so sure if being a veteran is necessary to feeling queasy about this misuse of the word hero, but if you've been on the receiving end of gushing reverence perhaps that does help.

    There is an automatic tendency to do the same here in UK. i don't find getting shot, blown up, stabbed or beaten to death particularly heroic, as with everything circumstances are important.

    We all will have heroes who we look up to, i have no doubt about that, but it'd be great to be allowed to make up our own minds instead of being told every one's a hero and don't dare say otherwise. This is a Joe Public thing, i doubt the majority of servicemen even want it. if there are daft bastards in civvy life you can bet some of them will end up wearing a uniform. so there are probably a few who will fall for this flattery, enjoy it even (though not in the same way as taking advantage of a free drink or something else, when it;s on offer).
  4. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    As to how it is in the States, some of the over-use of 'hero' here is due to a historical reaction of feeling. Vietnam veterans got pretty shabby treatment, and I think we are all ashamed of that now--justifiably so. I think we over-compensate as a result. But one trend is definitely healthy: we no longer confuse the soldier who carries out a policy with the policy itself or the policy-makers. I know people who were strongly opposed to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but they don't consider the troops evil and they can welcome them home. That is a big change for the better from the 1960s and 70s.
    von Poop likes this.
  5. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    It seems quite recent though, this phenomena of almost 'religious' praising of anything Military, and scatter-gun use of the hero word. Seems like ten years or so to me in the UK, maybe even since the Internet helped spread certain conventions more quickly worldwide, though I do think Brokaw's hagiography of an entire generation had something to do with it.

    In Britain, outside of times of national danger, certain great Victories and praise heaped on ennobled commanders, I seem to recall the Redcoat was more often vilified. Kipling described the phenomenon reasonably well, and despite the oft-quoted 'Every man thinks meanly of himself...' of Dr Johnson, that quote sits in a rather more complex conversation about the emotional power of the Military, particularly in a time of constant war.
    Wellington himself referred to "the mere scum of the Earth" on more than one occasion.

    Maybe the end of the 'stability' of the cold-war world, (along with the associated movement into another period of international instability and a preponderance of 'Small Wars' as the satellite and buffer states lose some of the grip previously exercised by the two main power-blocks) has triggered some of this recent cult of the military man.

    And we possibly have to somewhat separate political leaders and their treatment of Soldiery, whether good or ill, from what I can see was Callisto's interest in starting the thread thread - the 'sociology' of perceptions of the Soldier among civilian populations.

    The auto-protection of Brian here sort of feeds the theme to my eye - Brian often apparently reads a thread title (particularly one with 'Veteran' in it) and then lays in with stuff like the above without seeming to have read the actual question being asked, or if he has - ploughing on anyway.
    It's what he does, and I don't mind. Why should I - his prerogative. Yet the slagging of Callisto for then politely but firmly trying to confirm what their original question was while attempting to keep the thread on track - is somewhere in the territory of: 'He's a veteran, a wounded veteran at that, so he's right'. Or isn't it?

    Why must one 'Learn some Humility' for disagreeing with a Veteran in some way?
    What's that all about?
    I don't really see how an individual experience of war much feeds this particular discussion either.
    People can leap to whomever they like's defence, it's only the Internet - but at the same time they may well be reinforcing other points being made in the chat.
    Or do we automatically have to draw lines and declare a winner and a loser, a right or a wrong?
    I'm not so sure we do.

    I'd actually quite like to hear from Jeff/Slipdigit on this stuff, as I know he and I disagree fairly strongly on quite a lot of the theme, but we do so politely and seem to appreciate that we come from different directions.
    He's from what always sounds to me like a very traditional part of the US, and I'd guess his reasoning would pre-date the possible Brokaw/Internet/Vietnam effects by some measure.

    (Sorry, cross-posted with a few posts above. I see some of these points have been raised by them as well.)
    urqh likes this.
  6. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    I agree absolutely. After digging into WWII court martial records I know damned well that the Greatest Generation put their pants on one leg at a time, and the survivors are generally mentally healthy enough not to want to be put on a pedestal. Yet the GG foofaraw has stimulated interest in WWII as a subject, particularly among young people who knew little or nothing about it before. That interest, in turn, has stimulated some veterans to tell their own stories. I know of several such cases from my own experience.
  7. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    It was my good fortune to have met a few men who could be classified as to-day's
    heroes - who were awarded the GC - MC - MM's etc - but one I really got to know was
    awarded the V.C. - he rode on my Tank many times and it was generally agreed that he was indeed a HERO of the highest order.....

    You can google for him as his name was Ernest ( Smokey) Smith - "C" Coy. Seaforth Highlanders - 2nd Bde - Cdn 1st Division - for an action on the River Savio near Cesena Italy in October 1944 - they threw him in jail whilst awaiting an aircraft taking him to the UK to meet HM George VI - otherwise he would have disappeared to get drunk - more of a character than a Hero really....
  8. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Yes that is it Mel Senior and Joe Brown .....agree mates....Hero's? They should have tried to get back into work after coming out of a year in hosptial... For then the question of how "Others " see us would be made patently clear..... Struggling against long odds... LIke so many that had to try desperately to get back into work. When no one wanted you.... after the conflict.. When one talks about Hero's, then perhaps we were at times, not for the war, but for the long hours of work mostly seven dsays a week, to bring our nation back from total bankruptcy. And we did that as well.
  9. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    I think the current attitude towards veterans is healthier than what preceded it, but of course it is somewhat distorted. In 1970, soldiers were all seen as murderers; now they are all seen as heroes, and neither is true. The current view is subject to all kinds of distortion, but much of that is due to the press and entertainment. These great engines of popular feeling have a weakness for exaggeration, bathos, and sentimentality, and you can see it in many other areas as well. (Witness all the crocodillian, self-admiring crying we have done here over a couple of recent disasters.)
  10. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    couldn't agree more but what really irks me is the fact that anyone to-day- unusually dying regardless of their conduct whilst living - is canonised as a Saint !

  11. Jen'sHusband

    Jen'sHusband Punchbag

    If that is the definition of hero then I guess it's down to the individuals take on things. That SAS Sergeant sent to 'Collie' recently was branded a hero by the media, no doubt in a successful attempt to get him out-Personally I thought he was something else.

    You're not alone there, Drew.
  12. Lofty1

    Lofty1 Senior Member

    Always thought Clarkson got this bit right,and never forgotten it.------ I think the word HERO is somewhat worn out.

  13. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Another point worth considering (maybe) which has been slightly touched on is the MoD's PR machine...It was pretty much nonexistent in the last decade or at least most of it with the job being given to officers to do. At my unit the Adj used to do it and he really didn't have a clue how to work the media machine. I think thats changed now with the main job being done by civvies on fat salaries.

    It doesn't seem that long ago we started having troops returning from Ops marching through cities (never did anything like that on my 3 with the last one being in 2004) and not long before that we had the 'Armed Forces Day' that was said to replace the Royal Tournament. They also seem to talk of them being 'your local soldiers' trying to get that local pride that I suspected there was a 100 odd years ago in local regiments.

    I'm now wondering who is pulling who's strings, the MoD, the Government or the Media or are all three as bad as each other for encouraging Joe Public to loosely use the word hero?

    We even seem to get a bit of it on here from certain forum members, thankfully most of them aren't from the UK so its to be expected I guess :lol:
  14. sparky34

    sparky34 Senior Member

    to go back to the original question '' what do others think about us veterans ''
    personally i dont give a fig what they think many people of today under 60 know
    that national service finished in 1960 ,what is a '' hero ''i would suggest friends of mine who were N/S MEN fighting in KOREA for 28/- shillings a week those N/S MEN laided in ambush along side us regulars in MALAYA for the same miserly amount ..
    a few years ago my grandson said to me did you fight in the war granddad [ ww2 ]
    that certainly deflates the ego , i was only 11 years of age when the war ended ..
    how many know that it took 12 years to defeat communism in MALAYA ,but its the only
    small war where they were defeated ..
    sufficient going into a pub for a meal with my veterans badge in my lapel and getting a
    smile and a nod from a fellow ex-serviceman also wearing his veterans badge ..
    one need ask for nothing more ...
    urqh likes this.
  15. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Good for you Sparky..Well said.... I like it...
  16. son of a rat

    son of a rat Senior Member

    Wow this thread gets a bit deep for me I don’t know anyone that considers themselves a hero.
    I do know how I feel about all Veterans old and young, proud surely they don’t politics just obey orders ?. As for how do the public feel about Veterans, it seems when I take my Father shopping in the UK always wearing his beret and veterans badge we are in everyone’s way and slowing them up and when in Normandy everyone seems to stop us and thank him for his service. I wonder how WW2 veterans feel about there comrades that gave all to give the world a clean slate and look what we have done with it. Great Respect to all Veterans young and old you are all Hero’s. MERRY CHRISTMAS.
  17. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball It's a way of life.

    Thats very nicely put, Sparky.

    My Dad did his national service in Malaya with the Loyals. I know what he would say if someone came up to him and 'thanked him for his service' too. ;)

    Dad tells a good story about Vets that says everything about how attitudes were and how they have changed. In the pub where he used to drink in the 1950's in Bolton he got talking to a Vet of WW1. This Vet, Norman took an interest in my Dad because he had joined the Loyals and Norman had served in that Regiment when it was the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in the trenches. Whenever he spoke the WW2 vets at the bar would mutter something along the lines "Oh christ, not the bloody trenches again" or words to that effect. There was no hero worship but just that gentle piss taking the British used to be very good at.

    Norman never made a fuss about it but just smiled. Dad had a lot of time for him. It wasn't until the internet and ancestry came along and Norman was long dead that my Dad found out about his war. Trenches from 1915, Mentioned in Dispatches, FGCM for striking an officer and then winning the DCM. After that he lost his leg when taken prisoner in April 1918. He never made any fuss about it and never thought of himself a hero. I'm certain that all those who drank in the Greyhound then, be it WW1, WW2 or NS soldiers would have laughed at the notion of parades and military awards sponsored by the Sun and Help for Heroes and the Military Wives. It's all just very media driven, slightly American and frankly piss poor.

    Sorry for rambling. Good thread Callisto.
    von Poop likes this.
  18. Callisto

    Callisto Twitter ye not

    A fellow fuddy-duddy then.

    Interesting point about the PR, Ministries did similar things during WW2, releasing stories about various units, gallantry awards and victories for feel good purposes. i wonder how often hero was in use then in newspapers.

    :D i've noticed a bit of that, which leads back again to one of my original questions - is there a difference between commonwealth countries? would be interested in hearing comments from anyone in Australia or NZ about any over use of the term hero there. (after the festivities maybe ;))
  19. Wills

    Wills Very Senior Member

    I have said here before - I am no historian, I do however, wonder about some who claim they are. In newspapers on many subjects that are not acceptable conversation topics in the mess - religion and politics - just two! We read articles headed first time ever and what have we become? Yet most if not all have been around the block before. So hero worship is new! Odd that every antique shop has Nelson trinkets the must have of the day, Boer war parades in our towns reported - every military event 'celebrated' on cups and plates and many books and prints. There have been times when the military were/are popular and times when despised. As have unions, business, banks. I used to smoke a cigarette with the hat tally HMS Hero on the packet. What goes around come around. Only now it comes around with technology to give speed.
  20. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Old Hickory Recon

    I see this Adam. It will have to be addressed after Christmas as my time is limited for the next several hours.

Share This Page