People knew the news was grave before the second war war. They feel that now. In both eras, we have developed strategies to get by
Armed conflict, especially when fought against a more powerful enemy, produces the loftiest national rhetoric. It keeps our spirits up, and we tend to remember the best bits. In his speech to the Westminster parliament last week, Volodymyr Zelenskiy echoed Churchill’s “We shall fight on the beaches” passage from his post-Dunkirk oration, but the Ukrainian president might just as appositely have referenced one of Britain’s most hostile critics.
“These are the times that try men’s souls,” the English radical and American patriot Thomas Paine wrote in 1776, when the American revolutionary war was only a year old and its outcome far from certain. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country,” Paine continued, “but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered: yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
Ian Jack is a Guardian columnist