A wise man recently said:
Our youth love luxury, they have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect for their elders, and no longer rise when a lady enters the room. They chatter instead of exercising, gobble up their food, and tyrannize their teachers.
That was Socrates, 2000 years ago, which I suppose qualifies as recent in the great scheme of history. The French would say, “Plus ça change;” I say, “What else is new?”
Good old Socrates. I wonder what he would say about today’s “trigger warnings” alerting students to upsetting content. In Norman Mailer’s explosive 1965 novel An American Dream, decorated war hero Stephen Rojack kills his wife by throwing her off the roof, buggers the maid, then goes out on the town looking for action. That narrative would send young people today on a tailspin—and that’s only Mailer. Just think what Shakespeare, Marlowe, or the Russians would do to their vulnerable psyches.
Although not of the same sexual persuasion as the great Oscar Wilde, I agree with the saying sometimes attributed to him, “It’s a pity that youth is wasted on the young.” Admittedly, I am an oldie who grew up during World War II, endured nightly Allied bombing raids, and witnessed a savage civil war. Trigger warnings were the last thing on my four-year-old mind. Dodging bombs and bullets was somehow more important. Never mind. I do feel sorry for the 16-year-old upset by a math exam question that required counting calories. “The weighing food and calorie question on the paper today triggered me so much,” she tweeted. “It just brought back so many bad memories for me that I was about to cry.” Poor little fatty, do four hundred sit ups and you might feel better.
It is only recently that negative or joking references to the overweight, homosexuals, women, minorities, and youth in general have been forbidden. I remember well an Oxford professor friend of mine who referred to his students as smelly and inattentive, fellow academics as a dreadful collection of deadbeats, homosexuals as deviants, and feminists as rancid females who feel they have not advanced in this world. He was Norman Stone, and died in June. Stone was a great professor and a great man, although I should have given a trigger warning before bringing up his name.
Mind you, there are some very silly women doing feminism no favors. “Free the Nipple,” for example, sounds like a Woody Allen fantasy film, but is an actual campaign for a woman’s right to bare her breasts. “Why should male nipples be allowed and not ours?” Facebook, probably the most destructive invention since the A-bomb, agreed to talks with those behind this rather childish campaign, giving the lactiferous-duct activists a victory over us male chauvinists. Personally, I would be all for freeing the nipple, but in my experience women who bare their breasts at the drop of a top are usually rather homely and overweight. In all my years on the Riviera and Greek islands I have yet to see a truly beautiful woman bare them. All this campaign really means is that some women stopped fighting genuine injustices and became very silly.
But let’s get back to the young—or snowflakes, as they’re called nowadays. Last year I spent a week on the beaches of Normandy in the company of military historians preparing their books for this year’s 75th anniversary of D-Day. We visited the first German bunker to be hit, about 50 yards from the sea. James Holland, the noted British historian, pointed out that the first Victoria Cross was awarded to a Scot grenadier who blew up the bunker, killing all the Germans inside. I pointed out that the defenders were mostly men over fifty and some youngsters of 16 and 17. They had a couple of machine guns and a Panzerfaust bazooka as weapons. They had seen 6,700 ships or so firing huge guns at them. Yet no one had run, but stood and died at their posts. It was not a popular observation among my British companions, but they did not dispute the courage of the German soldier. Nor, of course, of the invading American, British, and Canadian troops.
What does this have to do with the easily triggered youth of today? Everything! The men who fought on the beaches 75 years ago never saw themselves as worthy of special treatment. None of them were offended when ordered to hit the beaches under a hail of bullets. Ditto the Germans when ordered to stand and fight against incredible odds. When the snowflakes get upset about some rape scene in a book published long ago, I wonder what the men who fought on those beaches must think. Thank God very few of these brave men are left alive to read such BS. But dear readers, try and imagine these phone zombies, selfie addicts, and me, me, me gamers of today being ordered to attack or defend those beaches. They would expire before the first shot was fired. Long live us oldies.