I've been thinking lately, which in itself is never good, about old age and what will happen in the near future
I, and pretty much everyone alive right now, have all grown up with old people who went through the second world war, they may not have even served, but they witnessed it, grew up through terrible hardship... et cetera, et cetera
This has always produced an anchor of respect for the older generation, 'they fought off Hitler', or 'they lived through the blitz' - the onus has always been that the younger of us haven't done anything so meaningful
And by younger of us, I now mean anyone under the age of 70 - only those older than that will have any meaningful memories of the war, and to have served you need to be at the very least 82
I am not questioning what they went through, I am questioning what will happen when they're gone - in 10-20 years there will remain but a few centurions in wheelchairs, much like the last survivors of the first world war we have now
Even if there are still quite a few left by then, that broad connection that we all have with the war through our own relatives will be lost, grandparents will be like my own parents - Baby Boomers
No more will we have grandparents who witnessed D-Day, or even German air raids, as my own grandfather did, too young to actually serve, and yet he has already passed of old age
I've been wondering how this will affect generational communication, the loss of the living memory of one of the most significant events in world history is in itself important, but I've really been wondering how this will affect how the old will be viewed
You might think we just go back to how it was before - but there never was a 'before', our modern world has never had a generation who didn't go through one of the major world wars - we're talking about the end of the Victorian period here, not only was old age a relative rarity but technologically and politically it was eons ago, the world is immensely different now (we have the X factor now...)
So I see this as a real break - the first point in 'modern' (or post-modern if you want to be a pedant) history where the old will have no moral authority over the young, no massive issue of respect to beat the rest of us with
Think about it, the old aged will soon be the Baby Boomers - the generation which many of its own call 'the worst generation' - what tales of horror will they scare the grandkids with? The Cold War? The Summer of Love?
I don't particularly regard the Baby Boomers as any worse than the rest of us, they are usually seen as indicative of greed and excess, with a monopoly on power and placing a burden on the future generations, but that really doesn't matter - the point is that they aren't held in any higher esteem than the younger members of society
So when they become the old there'll be no nostalgic stories of where they served, or respect based on the fact that they shot down 17 Nazis, they'll just be people who lived through a time of relative security and increasing standards of living, granted there were negatives like the threat of Nuclear holocaust and the IRA attacks, but they don't compare to the nostalgia of 'fighting Gerry'
So how will it change? Will we as a society be more resentful of the large, privileged group who will now be a burden upon us? Will we continue to respect our elders and nothing will change? Will politics modernise substantially?
You could use the monarchy as a metaphor here - the Queen will, I'm sorry to say, eventually die, the much-loved sovereign who is held in high esteem and whose good grace has probably kept the monarchy alive in this country, will be replaced by her son - ridiculed by many, held in contempt by some, he will never attain the same level of respect as his mother, what little deference there is left for the monarchy will die with Liz, and that may well represent the symbolic death of that generation as well
In a wider sense, will we learn from the past? Many historians attribute, at least to some extent, the farcical first world war on the century of relative peace preceding it - the hardship of war was long forgotten and in many ways, romanticised
Somehow I doubt we'll be sending Imperial forces off expecting them home for Christmas, but will nations be less inclined to make peace the main priority? Maybe we'll become more selfish and protectionist, despite the impact of the UN and globalisation
We've already seen that people have largely forgotten the fear over totalitarian ideas that Nazi Germany provided us, I wonder how many adults from the 1950s would like the idea of ID cards being reintroduced - there has been an increasing trend of late for our selfish fears to circumscribe the basic freedoms that Churchill celebrated
No doubt we are a freer and more liberal country now, but it seems we are more and more willing to give up basic rights for our 'safety'
Likewise people seem to be prepared to resort to more extreme action, I could use voting for the BNP as one example, but there's a lot of other issues in that one
No doubt it will be an interesting few decades - in some ways it will be good to see what happens without a generation who can inspire huge levels of guilt in the rest of us, it really is quite amazing how a conflict which people had no choice over has been used as a stick to beat the rest of us with - many right-wingers talk about disrespect and how the young couldn't have fought the war (not that they did either) when in reality they had no choice in the matter and behaved as any human would have when confronted with that reality
I often wonder what the vast number of soldiers who never got out of their twenties would make of the use of their names now
But regardless, I just hope that we do in fact remember our history as it becomes less and less raw to those currently alive, and we don't, once again, forget our past