I’ve been noticing a lot of t-shirts lately with the slogan, or some variation of it, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” There’s Keep Calm and Drink More Wine, Keep Calm and Teach, Keep Calm and Have a Cupcake—a whole bunch of them. And I wanted to know the story behind all these injunctions to remain calm.
I learned what a meme is. OK-- I may be late to the party; it seems like the word has been bandied about a lot lately. To make Wikipedia’s explanation short and sweet, a meme is a cultural idea spread through various media.So now I know that the whole Keep Calm thing is a meme but it still didn’t explain where the slogan came from.
So I hit Wikipedia again and will pass along these little gems of wisdom since I want my readers to be informed on these cultural goings on. I like to keep our standards high. I would think the people wearing these t-shirts would want to know a little history and not go wearing stuff willy-nilly. I know your average Walmart shopper doesn’t put much thought into their wardrobe but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.
The slogan originated in England in 1939 when the government was preparing for World War II. The Tudor Crown at the top was familiar to the British and was intended to let the people know this was a message from their government. They expected bombings followed by an invasion and occupation by Germany. The aim was to help strengthen morale when the bombing started. The government had a million or so posters made with this slogan but they never really used them. The slogan reappeared in 2000 when a bookshop discovered a box of the posters in a basement and sold them all as decorations.
You just gotta hand it to the Brits: always meticulous and dignified, cueing up politely at every chance, their intention was to remain calm throughout being bombed to smithereens, invaded and occupied.
What? No screaming in the streets? No garment-rending or suicide pacts? I still don’t know what brought the whole Keeping Calm and Carrying On idea to the American culture. But I’ve been thinking on the British character and what we could learn from it. The slogan was viral before the Boston bombings but this might be good to think on it in the wake of this latest terrorist attack.
Fareed Zakaharia had an essay in Newsweek and on his TV show after the Boston bombings. He seemed to be adopting the Keep Calm attitude and with intelligent reasoning.
Let me quote him here:
“Terrorism is an unusual tactic in that it depends for its success on the response of the onlooker. If we are not terrorized, then, almost by definition, it didn’t work.”
He goes on to say the guys who set off the bombs were textbook terrorists whose aim was not necessarily to kill as many people as they could but to frighten us. And he claims they did not succeed. The police and every other person wearing any kind of uniform, maybe even some park rangers or mail carriers, everyone trained to care for the public-- pitched in to find the guys and stop them. Then Boston, almost immediately, went back to normal, albeit with a few security adjustments here and there. They kept calm and carried on.
Then Zakaria brings up our word for the day: Resilience. The ability to recover readily after adversity.
We are not going to be able to prevent this stuff from happening again. Other terrorists watched as much television news as we did. They know what worked and what didn’t work in Boston; they know how to change their methods so they will work better next time. This terrorists bombing stuff isn’t going to go away. Our best, most effective weapon will be the ability to quickly recover and move on. Our best weapon against terrorism is to not let them bring us to a point of terror.
And that’s all I’ve got today. Yes, I know it’s short and sweet but I’m very busy right now. I am on “special assignment”, always working to find fun things to write about. I will have jolly and interesting words next week .
In the meantime, Keep Calm and Carry On.