This is quite something. The veterans of WW1 are gone now and in the next couple of decades we’re going to lose those from WW2. Years of textbooks, documentaries, period films and television shows conspire to make this seem not only like ancient history but another world entirely. Yet men and women like Harry Smith were ordinary people forced to become extraordinary by circumstance and as his words show, their fundamental concerns differed little from those of us born generations later. Crucially, they did something about it and created a system which, while imperfect, has benefited everyone who came after them yet is now under sustained attack – not only from politicians but from our own self-absorption and disinterest. It must have been difficult to develop much of an ego when you were submerged in death and destruction and it’s little wonder that a generation took stock afterwards. There is no great event that has forced us to do likewise (or seems likely to in the near future); little pressure to think about the kind of world we want to live in and, most importantly, the kind of person we want to be in it. Most of us who have had supportive families, who had a decent education, who have jobs which allow us a reasonably comfortable lives, are enormously fortunate yet we fixate on the ways in which we can feel oppressed and unlucky rather than asking why everyone can’t enjoy these simple benefits. This is not a trite ‘let’s all love’ observation but a question that is fundamentally political (few questions aren’t). We have the luxury of not having to think in any profound or uncomfortable sense but looking at the words of someone like Harry, who not only thought but acted and made a better world a reality, makes me feel profoundly ashamed. In her speech marking Thatcher’s passing Glenda Jackson noted that “We were told that everything I had been taught to regard as a vice—and I still regard them as vices—was, in fact, under Thatcherism, a virtue”. It’s difficult not to recognise this in the world around us today. Humility, compassion, reflection, solidarity all seem little regarded and sometimes even viewed as weaknesses. Instead we’re meant to fixate on how we are perceived, how we succeed, how we can be superior, how we can appear certain and confident and sassy and self-righteous. And one day we’ll look around and the people who connect us to a time when things were different, when a better world was forged from the remains of epic misery, will be gone. Perhaps on that day we’ll post some funny pictures of cats on our Facebook pages.