Why the youth of today show little interest in WWl

The family left behind.

The family left behind.



It’s been all over the media in newly-published articles, books and TV documentaries: World War I, The Great War that callously mowed down fathers, sons, brothers, uncles and friends to secure another yard of land, started 100 years ago this month.

But there was also a number of scathing articles on the scant interest shown by teenagers of today in a war that maimed so many countries and families in so many ways.



But is that really surprising? I can’t say that I would have shown much interest in a war started in 1880, say, when I was a teenager back in the 1970s. We were, on the other hand, acutely aware of the prevailing Vietnam War and the killings and bomb explosions taking place in Northern Ireland.

I did know, however, that my Grandfather was called upon to defend the country, and had to leave his wife and their three young children to fend for themselves while he fought. Mercifully, he was one of the lucky ones who came home. But as he struggled to adjust to normality and provide for his family in the face of mass unemployment among returning men, I highly doubt that he was expecting to send his young sons off to the next war 20 years later.

He died in 1964, but what if Grandad were to return today? After all he’d been through, would he be hurt or outraged by his great grandchildren’s generation knowing so little about the brutality of World War l? I strongly doubt it, and this is why.

My Grandfather was an entrepreneur and town councillor. A man of his generation and a realist. No doubt he’d marvel in wonder at all the gizmos and gadgets around the house; at the Wi-Fi system that syncs the devices receiving pictures taken on tiny pocket phones or the concept of data stored in space. Be fascinated by the games we play on screens rather than out of boxes, although he’d probably be more fascinated by the microwave oven, triple-glazed windows and flat pack furniture. Or that the two cars outside are not only automatic but also imported from Germany and the US when Sweden produces good cars. We’d explain that many of the cars made by Sweden are made abroad or exported to places like Germany and the US.

Which leads me to thinking he would be a little baffled by the local recycling station as he tried to equate taking the time and trouble to invent the new-fangled technology required to recycle glass, metals and plastics in a bid to ‘save the planet’ with all the petrol-guzzling cars on the roads that have arrived from overseas. Grandad would also be appalled by the amount of consumer wastage as he watched so many fashionably dressed people toss household items into overflowing containers due to age or design rather than the fact they were worn out or broken beyond repair. Grandad would wonder why we didn’t just take a broken TV down to the repairman instead, once he’d figured out that those huge flat screen thingies were actually televisions.

We would show him how we can choose for ourselves when we watch our favourite TV shows. Explain that the other small box is for the old-fashioned way of watching films from a disc rather than simply downloading them. Which would mean, of course, that we’d have to explain what downloading and uploading meant; in his day they only loaded on, loaded off and offloaded.

We’d hand him one of the remote controls and let him have a go. Maybe the number of buttons would faze him to start with, but he’d soon get the hang of flipping among the dozens of channels. It will take us a little longer to convince him of why we need so many.

Inevitably, of course, he would stumble upon a news channel. There would be footage and news from the Ukraine or Iraq, the missing schoolgirls in Nigeria or the conflict in Afghanistan. He’d wonder when these pictures were taken, and we’d proudly tell him that many of them are live. Or just a few minutes old. But that we had already heard many of these news items earlier in the day thanks to instant updates from news apps in our mobile devices. Watching the news just fleshes out the information and provides much more graphic detail.

He’d ask if everyone has access to this technology. We’d say yes, in theory. If you have the money to buy it and learn how to use it. Many third world countries don’t, of course, and the old people struggle. But we would carefully reassure him of the progress made and how his great grandchildren can stay in touch with people around the world, some of whom they have even met and chatted with face to face.

He’d then ask about all the wars and unrest in the world. The number of refugees fleeing from one place to another. The genocides in the name of religion or land. The perpetual hunger, starving and deaths in war-torn regions. The school shootings and honour killings.

And he’d totally understand why the youth of today have little interest in a war fought a century ago.

There are only so many wars and atrocities that one generation can emotionally invest in.

Then Grandad might say: ‘Wouldn’t the world have been a better place if some of the time and money spent on inventing new technology and consumer goods over the past century had been invested in learning how to restore and recycle peace instead?’

Showing 2 comments
  • Matthew Wright

    Your post got me thinking. It’s incredible to think that this war started a century ago this year – a war that, absolutely, shaped the twentieth century. My take is it was played out in two acts and the broader cycle never finished until 1945. It affected attitudes, thoughts, and the way two whole generations lived their lives.

    My grandfather was a professional soldier who served with the British Army 1906-1915. He was machine-gunned and very severely wounded in the Second Battle of Ypres. He survived and emigrated to New Zealand, passing away in 1976. He always felt very sorry for the conscript armies of the First World War – the ones who fought with only very minimal training. They simply weren’t trained or prepared for what they had to face. Not like the professionals. But of course, the professionals had already been shot. A terrible war, a terrible outcome, for all concerned; in hindsight, at the human level, there were no winners.

    In my Twitter note to you, I couldn’t expand the point about NZ youth. Today, much of the way we define New Zealand’s national identity flows from mythologies generated in the First World War – the ‘birth’ of nationalism on the shores of Gallipoli and the way in which a generation was sacrificed. The realities of that war in a social sense have been well explored by historians – including myself. And they are awful. But they haven’t deterred interest – largely, I think, because of the association with our nationalism. Whether that will survive the upcoming centenary is moot, though – I think that after that there’s a high chance of a sense of closure, at wider social level, and NZ ‘s new generation will move on to other interests and identify with other things. We’ll see.

  • RuthKj

    Thanks, Matthew. You had me at ‘you got me thinking’. And you make some interesting points. Quite right there were no winners, but I’d never really looked at the inter-war years as being an intermission of one long war. But there is a case for that, certainly. Thanks for commenting – now you’ve got me thinking..!

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