The summer of 1940 was glorious; as has been our recent weather. Hitler‘s troops stood triumphant at all points along Europe’s western shores. With a non-aggression pact with Russia secured, it would have been a simple task for his victorious army to cross the channel and conquer the whole of Britain. My father, a First World War veteran enlisted in Dad’s army. He came home armed only with an arm-band and a pickaxe handle. That was how Dad’s army was first equipped. Hitler thought he lacked air superiority. So the Battle of Britain took place in the air. Of it Churchill commented “Never was so much owed by so many to so few”. We still honour and remember the courage of the fighter pilots outnumbered, life expectancy very short, who saved us.
Will we similarly remember the much greater number of medics, carers and support staff who are now heroically sacrificing themselves in their duty to the sick? Memory can be very brief. I see a difference between the two situations. We watched the battle of Britain; saw brother and foe crash in flames to an agonising death. But, apart from getting on with wartime restrictions we did not have to do anything about it.
Now it is different. Everybody is saying: Life will not be the same. This time it is we who have to make the change. We live in a society of distorted values. A society which sets financial numbers to the value of people in their life-styles and roles. A footballer’s skill, fragile as the morning dew, is assessed at an annual salary of a size that would build a small hospital. The leaders of industry, law and others vote themselves enormous bonuses. Even the administrators of charities do the same. The carers get peanuts.
Will they voluntarily change this unjust system of values to benefit the poor? Some individuals will (perhaps remembering a little better the daily tally of health-workers fallen victims to Covid) but we are all deeply entrenched in original sin and its selfishness. Old habits die hard. The attraction of more money; envy of falling behind what others are getting. These will not disappear.
So what should be our reaction? No point in blame or talk. Nothing is achieved by envy. It is Pope Francis who is now the shepherd best placed to lead the policy-makers and us into the labyrinth of the post-covid world.
To start with he offers three priorities:
To give up being avid consumers.
To respect and cultivate the natural world.
To stop waste.
Anyone who makes that their daily objective will most effectively honour those who are making the supreme sacrifice in this hour of need.