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Should I Fight for a Country That Can't Even House Me?

Updated: Apr 23

I’m proud to be British, as are many of my friends. But, in what world can a young British person still be expected to fight for their country when it has ceased to work for them - a country that appears to be working against them?

Sitting in many a classroom through the years, and reading works of literature from the First World War, I often pondered whether I would have the bravery, the vim, the vigour of those giants of history to fight for my country. I often thought yes. I would be a fool not to. To fight for freedom, for prosperity; it would be an honour. Whether I would be physically up to the task was rarely contemplated, and seemed far less relevant to the allure of a life of grandeur as a war hero. Regardless, I’m part of the keto generation - the intermittent fasters - of course I would be fit enough! 

But in 2024 could I really delude myself into believing I am fighting for freedom and prosperity? Am I still ardent for some desperate glory?

As a means to policy ends, a conscription-level war is unlikely to break out. Rather, it is more likely to begin in order to protect our way of life. I still struggle to reconcile national pride, with policies and systems that feel rigged against my generation's prospects and hopes. With runaway rents, spiralling house prices, and mounting food costs, our leaders have shredded the social contract between generations. So, when I read that General Sir Patrick Sanders was advocating the need to train a “citizen army”, I remembered the Great War poet Wilfred Owen and his most famous poetic conclusion: The old lie: Dulce et decorum est / Pro patria mori. Owen plucks this "old lie" in the work of the ancient Roman poet Horace, it translates to “it is sweet and proper to die for one’s country.”

As I graduate from university like so many others, the next phase of my life feels uncertain and ambiguous. Moving back home with my parents, as lovely as that would be, seems regressive – a step backwards instead of a step towards my aspirations, but I am left with little other option. Don't get me wrong, I know I'm fortunate compared to many. Still, this common situation exposes the lie that I was told; not that it’s sweet and proper to die for my country but that if I study hard, go to a good university, I will be rewarded with a ticket to a successful career. I would like to think I'm not naïve, but there certainly is an unspoken belief - encouraged by schools and society - that following this script, was the surest way to security. The reality, however, is far cloudier.

It should then come as no surprise that the sentiment of British youth today, contrasts previous eras of high patriotism. The Office for National Statistics reports over half of 20-24-year-olds now live with their parents, priced out of an inflated housing market. In 1982, on the cusp of the Falklands War, the average house cost £21,811. Today, it exceeds over thirteen times that number, per the UK House Price Index. Given this comparative prosperity, the path to patriotism was far easier for the youth of the 1980s: and that is saying something. Mrs Thatcher’s readiness to wrap herself in the Union Flag and appeal to national pride during the Falklands War was, in retrospect, far less of a gamble than it would be for the current Prime Minister. 

In the forty years since the Falklands War, we have slipped from our standing as a global giant; rarely do we feel like ‘Great’ Britain. It is projected over the next 12 months another 300,000 people will find themselves in absolute poverty, and to think, we expect them to fight for our country? Whilst past generations of leaders stood up for Britain, the current crop pays little homage to the plucky Brit. I feel proud of my nation's past, but not its present. The Britain my generation has inherited is a diminished version of its former glory. 

A recent YouGov survey found that amongst 18-40 year olds, 59% of respondents would not volunteer to serve in the armed forces if war broke out, and 38% of those would refuse to serve even if conscripted. Although alarmed, I am not surprised. I too feel increasingly undervalued by the institutions of my home country. Universities had always been a beacon of British exceptionalism in the world. Now, they continually prioritise international students over domestic applicants, due to their higher tuition fees. This is just another example of how the social contract feels broken – the country I was born in, no longer feels I am a priority. That’s okay, but do not expect my quiet compliance to fight in a war over trade routes or a geopolitical advantage. I do not wish to be an expendable pawn in a game I have no stake in.

I am not a pacifist. I have always wanted to believe I would fight for my country. I fiercely believe in the right to defend fundamental values of liberty, democracy, and justice when threatened. But look at this country; the current government has cracked down on the right to protest through the Public Order Act, and a man with multiple allegations of sexual assault still roams our royal palaces. With liberty and justice in the rear-view mirror, it appears only democracy is left as the last bastion of British values. 

So, if I am to be conscripted to fight in Ukraine, Yemen, or some such place, what then am I fighting for? I certainly won’t be fighting for the job I cannot find, the house I don’t own, or the values that me and my country no longer share. 

I fear that if asked “who’s for the game” the answer will be, not me.

Image: Staff Sgt. Benjamin Stratton

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