Tuesday, June 25, 2024

For King and country? Europe’s young may not be willing to fight

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Various reasons can be hazarded for this lack of patriotism: growing distrust of dissembling governments; fatigue and disgust with misconceived “forever wars” that have ended in defeat — and when it comes to America, the long-tail impact of Vietnam; a general loss of confidence in Western values; a sense of entitlement the young now seem to have in abundance compared to their predecessors; and conservatives, no doubt, would add over-apologizing for past Western misdeeds and a failure to teach pride in what the West has, indeed, done right to the list.

But where does this leave the European countries that are now pondering reintroducing some form of military conscription to make up for a severe shortfall in active and reserve personnel?

Britain’s King Charles talked of the “supreme test” of D-Day and feted a generation that “did not flinch when the moment came to face that test.” | Loic Venance/AFP via Getty Images

Several NATO countries, including Latvia, have now reintroduced a national service draft or, in the case of Sweden and Estonia, extended it to reach more people. According to former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, conscription could bring society together and help bridge social and political divisions. And noticeably, in polling data, the young in the Baltic and Scandinavian states are far more ready to fight for their nations than their counterparts elsewhere in Europe.

This week, German Minister of Defense Boris Pistorius is due to unveil a formal partial enlistment proposal to bulk up the Bundeswehr’s active service ranks and beef up reserve forces too. But he faces opposition from within Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s three-party governing coalition, as well as disapproval from the young — a recent Stern magazine poll found that 59 percent of young Germans are opposed to the concept in general.

And yet, maybe a warrior spirit will reemerge if push comes to shove. Maybe, if Putin really is thinking beyond Ukraine, he’ll be as surprised as Adolf Hitler was by the resilience and fighting spirit of his opponents.

Infamously, in 1933, Oxford University’s debating society passed the motion, “That this House will under no circumstances fight for its King and country” — which Winston Churchill later blamed for shaping Hitler’s conviction that his European foes were easy pickings. But when war did come, he was eventually disabused of that idea.

And how magnificently his opponents fought for what Ukrainians are now fighting for — the right to be. Maybe soon, we’ll find out if today’s young are made of the same mettle.

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