This may be off my usual topic, but there is a connection; bear with me.
Yesterday I watched a wonderful and deeply moving programme in the BBC’s Battle of Britain commemoration series.
We were told the story of that battle, in September 1940, by following two brothers, the actor Ewan McGregor and his older brother, Colin, who is an RAF pilot and has served in Afghanistan.
The story was as much about the boyish dreams of the McGregor brothers to, one day, fly in Spitfires and Hurricanes as it was about the battle and the story of some of the veterans of that battle.
Four Battle of Britain fighter pilots told their story and recalled incidents in conversation with the brothers.
The highlight of the programme was watching Colin McGregor train first in an old Gypsy Moth, then progress to a US Harvard which was the aircraft used to train the original pilots. Finally, Colin flew a two-seater Spit, fulfilling his life’s ambition. When he returned to the airfield he sat in the cockpit for a few moments in the realisation that he had just done something he had always dreamed about. It was a very emotional moment for him and the viewer.
But just as emotional was Colin’s decision not to take his seat in the second flight which was two Spitfires and a Hurricane in close formation following the route of the South Coast defenders of 70 years ago. He had had his moment, now it was Ewan’s turn. The sense of brotherly love was palpable and so moving as Colin told Ewan that he was giving him his seat.
Ewan, as a passenger in the two-seat Spit, then had his dream come true. Colin appeared to get as much pleasure from Ewan’s experience as Ewan himself. Their brotherly embrace as Ewan returned was very touching.
Why is it that these iconic aircraft and the story of the veterans are so moving? Why do we, rightly, venerate these pilots who, in their early twenties, risked all for their country?
I grew up in the decades just after the war. The War, with a capital ‘W’ was part of my life almost as much as if I had lived through it personally. My mother regaled us with her experiences in the East End of London and the family’s enforced evacuation to Buckinghamshire when their home was hit by incendiaries and ‘time-bombs’.
The War seemed so exciting and even amusing to me as a child.
Countless films about the war told us that we, the righteous, had won and that evil had been defeated with great sacrifice. It was glamorous, it was poignant. But in the end it was a just war.
And so these veterans are our heroes; they saved our country and our civilisation from tyranny. Even the generation after me, in the form of the McGregor brothers, still grew up with this story, and Ewan even said that had it not been for The Few we would all be goose-stepping around. Well, that’s not certain, but many more dark years and even more suffering would have resulted if Great Britain had not held out, alone.
And this, too, is why, the very sight of a Spitfire or a Hurricane, and definitely the sound of them, conjure up a time when our country was united in purpose, when the entire population was engaged in a single momentous enterprise: a fight for survival. In 1940, everyone knew what it was to be British and everyone knew that the values inherent in being British were worth fighting for.
I think it’s worthwhile revisiting Churchill’s speech as the battle was about to commence:
What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.
But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.
Does this not strike a chord with what we are experiencing today?
Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation.
Some believe our Western civilisation is under thread from Islamisation, some believe it is under threat from secularism. I don’t have to explain the reasons for the former. But for the latter we have the recent visit of Pope Benedict to reveal to us a growing movement of aggressive secularism and atheism.
Of course, we all have the right to be atheists or secularists, but the Pope was attacked by a mean-spirited bunch of secularists and militant atheists led by Peter Tatchell and supported by Stephen Fry, Richard Dawkins and others.
I have enormous admiration for these three men, but what we witnessed was a new intellectual hubris fed by self-righteous indignation and assertive secularism which focused on the negative aspects of the Roman Catholic church whilst missing the wider picture.
Although I can agree with the indignation felt by those who support Gay rights, right to abortion and condemnation of paedophiles, what I can’t agree with is the belief that these issues invalidate Christianity and all the positive aspects of religion and moral teachings and hundreds of years of philosophical thought.
It is as if the secularists want to make a tabula rasa of our civilisation and culture by kicking out the Judeo-Christian baby with the holy bath water.
And this is where I bring it back round to Israel. Just as the Church has its problematical teachings and behaviour so Israel has its own issues of human rights, religious extremism, social justice.
And just as the secularist mob attack the Pope, so the Leftist/jihadi axis attacks Israel, and both choose the vulnerable underbelly to delegitimise and demonise but miss the broader picture; they miss the charitable work, the teaching of moral behaviour, the ideas of love and redemption in Catholicism and they miss Israel’s central role as a bulwark against the dark forces of political Islam, its many achievements, the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and the ethical foundation to Jewish thought, teaching and jurisprudence.
What do today’s generation think of the Battle of Britain and the heroes of the RAF? Do they think they were war criminals for bombing Dresden, maybe?
Will Ewan McGregor’s generation be the last to be in awe in the presence of a Spitfire pilot, the last to be thrilled by the sound of a Hurricane, the last to believe that the War was a just war?
What war, if any, are we now engaged in? Is it Western civilisation pitted against Islam or is it Judeo-Christianity against secularism and atheism? Is it both?
I ask myself this question: if we reject the moral authority underpinning our Judeo-Christian civilisation, whence comes our moral compass? Where do get our ethics? How do we know how to behave?
You may say that this question has already been answered by the Enlightenment, by the Bill of Rights, by Human Rights legislation, that church and state have long been separated and we don’t need medievalists to tell us what is moral and what is not.
Yet all these things come ultimately from the Judeo-Christian belief system which are the foundations and cornerstone of our civilisation and in direct contrast to the beliefs of those who would destroy that civilisation, built piece by piece, brick by brick, stone by stone over several millennia.
We seem to be living in an era of self-righteousness and simulated moral indignation. Everyone has to apologise; politicians, theologians, bankers, sportsmen, doctors, scientists, the heads of oil companies. Put a foot wrong and the New Moral Army sticks a microphone under your nose and asks if you are going to apologise and they continue to do so until and unless you do. This is what replaces understanding and forgiveness. This is what will pass for morality in the future.
Hubristic intellectual self-righteousness is the new religion.
Who will stand up for our civilisation now? Who are the Few who will stop ”all that we have known and cared for, … sink[ing] into the abyss of a new dark age”
Did the valiant Few fight and die to preserve our civilisation for just 100 years?