City Journal Summer 2014

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Summer 2014
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By Theodore Dalrymple

The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.

Eye on the News

Theodore Dalrymple
The Sob Factor
Quiet grief and private dignity are now things of the past.
11 November 2004

Three British soldiers, members of a famous regiment called the Black Watch, died recently in a car-bomb explosion in Iraq—the first British soldiers to perish this way in the terror-plagued country. For a few days, the British press and broadcasting media treated the event as if nothing else in the world mattered. The reaction was little short of hysterical, no doubt to the encouragement and pleasure of future car-bombers.

As is now usual whenever tragedy strikes, the press and broadcasters went straight to the relatives of the victims and asked them what they felt. Quiet grief and private dignity have become things of the past in contemporary Britain, replaced by sensation-seeking and shameless prurience. Journalists recently swarmed the survivors of a recent train crash and the doctors treating the injured, looking for tidbits to stimulate the jaded palates of the folks at home.

A sibling of one of the dead soldiers said in an interview that his brother had not volunteered in order to die on foreign soil but instead to bring home a paycheck. He never expected to go to war. Moreover, he believed this war to be wrong: ergo, Prime Minister Blair had innocent blood on his hands.

We may marvel at a society in which people join an entirely volunteer army for the pay alone, allegedly unaware that their lives might one day face danger at the orders of the government, whether they liked it or not, as if an army were some kind of alternative social security. Will medical students one day complain because they never knew they might one day see blood and death?

We should make allowances, of course, for statements that the bereaved make in the first shock of grief and loss. What is reprehensible is that interviewers should seek to provoke these utterances in the first place and then broadcast them far and wide. Exactly the same thing happened when terrorists beheaded the first British hostage in Iraq: the opinions of his relatives were sought and filled the newspapers and airwaves for days. This could only encourage more such atrocities.

Raw, undigested emotionalism now prevails in the British press and broadcasting media, whatever the subject. Weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth in public are almost compulsory if one does not wish to appear indifferent to the sufferings of others. Sobs are the ultimate argument, the QED of our age. The stiff upper lip belongs to a Britain that is no more.

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