14 May 2020 No Comments by The Northern Standard


One of the many legacies of the Covid-19 pandemic will be a rethinking of how we organise in the future what we were not that long ago accustomed to calling “public events”: occasions of celebration, commemoration or reflection of a significant contemporary or historical happening involving the gathering together of people in significant numbers. We are being conditioned to anticipate a “new normal” when the shadow of the virus lifts from the globe, and one of the ways in which this new normality is likely to manifest is our approach to communal activity.

The remainder of our Decade of Centenaries, for example, is likely to unfold somewhat differently to the pattern thus far set. Those customarily public occasions in the calendar that have not been cancelled or deferred due to their coincidence with Coronavirus restriction measures have been marked in individual rather than collective ways, and in the virtual realm rather than in public indoor or outdoor spaces. A case in point was the manner in which VE or Victory in Europe Day – the date when the Second World War officially came to an end on our continent – had its 75th anniversary acknowledged last weekend.

While the landmark was suitably spotlighted by appropriate ceremonial and reflection, its visibility and its register on the collective consciousness was undoubtedly lessened by the circumstances in which it had to take place. Much of the commentary generated by the anniversary linked it to the “invisible war” now taking place across Europe and the globe to stem the march of the Covid virus. This was understandable, and useful perhaps in its evocation of the need for solidarity between nations to control and conquer a common foe. But, even in the midst of a global pandemic of ubiquitous reach and irresistible dominance of our lives, thoughts and actions, the meaning of VE day is deserving of discrete meditation.

As time distances ourselves from the horror and upheaval of that global military conflict, we can easily grow complacent as to the cautionary messages its causes and its conduct have for how we begin to reshape our lives in the post-Covid era. One of the things that seems to distinguish the Second World War from the Great War that preceded it and the conflicts of lesser scale that have continued throughout the 20th century and into the 21st is how relatively clear-cut its moral landscape is in broad terms. Those who valued the democratic principle of governance and the freedoms associated with it fought against and achieved victory over forces that cleaved to ideologies of racial superiority, fascism, dictatorship and censorship.

We are still haunted, but also fascinated, by the genocide perpetrated by the Nazi regime and see in the actions and motivations of Adolf Hitler and those who supported or facilitated his thirst for power an embodiment of evil and darkness so intense that those who stood against it are bathed in an eternally heroic light. Much of what we would have witnessed as public spectacle had VE Day 75 proceeded as envisaged would have taken the form of celebration of that heroism. But this conspicuous focus for remembrance would have naturally led on to consideration of why such bravery and sacrifice were necessary, why a war had to be fought to contain evil of such an abhorrent nature that it seems unthinkable that it could ever have found a seedbed in a single human soul, never mind in those of millions.

We are at a moment in the human story when we should not let the opportunity for such reflection and discussion pass merely because the occasion inviting it was muted, and sidelined, by the invisible war we are currently all helping to wage. With a roadmap for a tiered restoration of employment and social activity beginning to unfold, many of us are understandably impatient, chaffing at the restrictions on our freedoms we have been compelled to endure in recent months for the common good.

We tend not to think that we might not have had these freedoms in the first place had the Second World War not been fought, or if its outcome had been different. It is not so much that we take our everyday freedoms for granted as we have grown up in a society where they have been so deeply embedded that they are now an invisible binding fabric of how communities and nations function.

When we have to give up a little of our freedom of movement and association, even when it is patently needed for the wider welfare, we easily get irritated. But there are still forces in the world that would rob us of more essential, intangible freedoms, if they were let. The face of fascism tends to be well masked these days, but every time a new strongman leader takes the reins of a country and begins to cultivate a nationalistic agenda that encourages people to see others as different, or less than, the mask slips. This used to happen at a distance, but over recent years it has started to happen closer and closer to home.

Each time people who come to our shores or our doors for help or refuge are met with suspicion, distrust and begrudgery, that evil face peeks out again, and smiles. When we let fear into our minds and hearts and seek scapegoats for our current troubles in near neighbours or distant nations, we are drifting without realising uncomfortably close to the renewed sounds of the march of jackboots and the language of war.

The world will be a fragile and frightened place when the shadow of Covid-19 finally passes. It is important that in the rebuilding of our economies, our close associations and our confidence, we keep an outward and accepting focus rather than an inward, downward glance and that we take salutary lessons from even the darkest pages of our past for fear that those pages might get reprised in the story of the future that we must all take on to write together.

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