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They don’t make them like that any more

‘A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom’ Bob Dylan

By Matty LongPublished 5 months ago Updated 5 months ago 8 min read
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Unless you've been living under a rock for the past week, you will know that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has recently passed away. Outpourings of grief have followed all over the world and indeed the internet, for a woman who served her country dutifully for 70 years. There have also been many voices saying that now is the time to end the monarchy, and make Elizabeth the last. I don't think, unlike some, that it is an inappropriate time to make that argument. In fact I have a lot of sympathy for it (if you want to know my overall feelings on the royal family, read the article I wrote when Prince Philip died last year), but there has also been a lot of strong criticism of the Queen herself. Much of which is just disrespectful, and indeed based on lazy thinking, in my eyes. Not that I would deny that anyone has the right to those thoughts. But it's given me some thoughts of my own, which I intend to attempt to articulate here.

Last week marked the passing of the Queen, but it also marked the twenty-first anniversary of the September 11 attacks, and I was, until I heard the news, going to write about that. But now when I come to think of it, the story I was going to write about 9/11 has a lot of overlap with my thoughts about Her Majesty's passing. See, I was going to write about a man called Rick Rescorla. I urge anybody who hasn't heard of him to look him up and read about his fascinating life, but I'll summarise it as briefly as I can. Rescorla was a British man who became a soldier and eventually ended up joining the American military and fighting in Vietnam. His experiences at the Battle of Ia Drang were the basis of the book and movie 'We were soldiers.' Rescorla's comrades praised him as a brave man and a compassionate platoon leader.

On September 11th, 2001, Rescorla was working as the director of security for Morgan Stanley at their offices in the World trade center. After the first plane hit, his years of experience in his role told him that the South tower should be evacuated, before it was hit, despite instructions otherwise. As a result, over 2000 people owe their lives to Rick Rescorla. And then, after the South tower was hit, despite no obligation to do so, he went back into the tower to continue evacuating people, and was last seen heading upwards, saying he wanted to make sure everyone was out, when the tower collapsed.

I think it's quite fair to say that Rick Rescorla was a hero. But it wasn't only in death that this title was bestowed upon him. He was called a hero because of his actions in Vietnam many times, but when asked about his feelings about being a war hero, he is quoted as saying 'the real heroes are dead.' Similar phrases have been attributed to veterans of both world wars. For me, the irony is that the attitude these men have is what makes them heroes.

How is this relevant to the Queen you may ask? Am I saying her service during WWII is the same level of heroism. Not quite, but the Queen's role in the second world war is just a small part of her overall attitude to her country, her people and her duty. It wasn't a life she ever wanted, yet she dedicated 70 years to it. I'm sick, quite frankly, of the cheap shots I've seen made by people who couldn't hold a candle to her. You can go on and on about privilege, about "power," about "how it isn't really work though is it" (what because she isn't doing manual labour? I sit at a desk all day and I would take slight issue with anyone who tried to describe my job as easy - and I certainly don't want to still be doing it in my 90s), and you will miss the point every time. Elizabeth II came from a different generation. To her, whatever your thoughts might be in 2022, this was her duty. To turn her back on her role would be a betrayal to her family, her God and her country, and she wasn't prepared to do that. And, to be fair, twitter is not real life, and I do think, for the most part, monarchists and republicans alike, people do respect that. And her passing is, therefore, not only a great loss, but more than anything, the end of an era.

Elizabeth's subject Rick Rescorla's life may have ended on the other side of the world and have been cut short by twenty years, but he belonged to the same generation. A generation old enough to remember the war, to remember the real sacrifices that so many made so that we could have our freedom. For Rescorla, his life ended in that same sacrifice. And he didn't think twice about it. Nor did he expect anything back. And for the Queen, she knew, coming to the throne in 1952, that she represented the rebuilding of the country . And she was, as so many have recently pointed out, a constant and a comfort in an ever changing world.

And this is where my cynicism comes in. Today, we have generations who describe themselves as heroes. During the pandemic, I worked in McDonald's and I had people demand free coffee because they were "heroes" working for the NHS. Now, don't get me wrong, thousands of heroes worked for the NHS during the pandemic, and thousands of heroes work for the NHS every day. Many of them all day every day. My mother's a nurse. And to me she is a hero. But she doesn't go round calling herself a hero. Wanting everyone to know how brilliant she is. She just does what she thinks is right.

Most of the people who went around demanding they be treat like heroes aren't even frontline workers anyway. They were pen pushers who actually did less work than usual during the pandemic. Language is always changing, but bloody hell, it seems the definiton of hero has changed a great deal when we've gone from men who put themselves in the face of death to save others saying ‘the real heroes are dead’ to somebody hyping up their minimal role in something and proclaiming "the real hero is me."

People may push back at me for putting the Queen in the same category as Rick Rescorla here, saying that she demanded nothing back, as this makes no sense given her role as Queen. But I would contest that. I think members of her family were like that, but not Elizabeth. There has been an abundance of stories circulating about her warmth and humility when meeting ordinary people unexpectedly, including one I imagine everyone's heard by now about meeting a couple of tourists who didn't recognise her. She didn't demand they use the right title and get on their knees, she treated them like people.

But I'm probably being very general and very harsh. Is there really anything very wrong with the fact that modern generations have their own back? King Charles III has long used his position and influence to do things that are important to him, and he went against everything his mother stood for when he divorced Diana to marry Camilla, but Camilla was the woman he loved. He is from a different generation to the Queen. He chose love over duty. Is that really so bad? It's hard to argue with.

Maybe I should serve people hero coffees with a spoonful less cynicism, why shouldn’t they acknowledge their role? They may want to inspire others. Charles was ahead of his time, too, when you consider that many generations younger than him look upon millenials with disdain and despair that, when asked by a boss to do something, would question what is in it for them?

I can't fault this. Duty and selflessness can often lead to being taken advantage of. I just think in this age of social media, (foregrounded by the mainstream media that Charles could never avoid) and particularly that God-awful institution instagram, which I simply refuse to join despite it being the only website that many products/companies I'm interested in bother to update, there is a flavour of over-self obsession in the air. As online platforms gain significant control over our lives, and as generations go by, we forget what real hardship is. It's nobody's fault, but I've written before (when the war in Ukraine broke out) that our freedom and our comforts are not something to take for granted. And we owe these things to a generation and an attitude that, if we aren't mourning its passing, is getting a significantly bad rep.

When I think of that generation, embodied so wholly by Her Majesty, I just can't help but think, they don't make them like that anymore. And whatever that is, it's certainly something.

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About the Creator

Matty Long

”I have opinions of my own - strong opinions - but I don’t always agree with them.” - George H.W. Bush

Twitter: @eardstapa_

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