Keep calm and carry on. It’s a cute maxim, as British as tea and crumpets. And it captures an admirable characteristic of the English, their indomitable spirit and capacity to remain resolute in the face of adversity.
But it can also be a colossal handicap.
This trait was on display in London on March 22, when an Islamic terrorist in a rental car mowed down more than 40 people on Westminster Bridge, smashed into the fence that protects Britain’s Houses of Parliament, and fatally stabbed a policeman. Within minutes of the attack, the main message radiating from every corner of Britain was: “Keep calm and carry on.”
That evening, Prime Minister Theresa May encouraged the nation to behave as normal. “Tomorrow morning, Parliament will meet as normal. We will come together as normal. And Londoners, and others from around the world who have come here to visit this great city, will get up and go about their day as normal” (emphasis added throughout).
The following tweets, pulled from thousands, encapsulate the general response on Twitter: “As ever, the best reaction … is calmness, not hysteria. We’re British, that’s what we do ….” “Don’t start finger pointing and blaming, don’t turn on anyone. Keep calm. That’s how it gets beaten ….”
The morning after the attack, signs with motivational messages popped up in Underground stations across London. One read, “All terrorists are politely reminded that this is London and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on” (March 22).
Simon Jenkins, the popular and influential Guardian columnist, counseled Britain not to “overreact.” Jenkins compared the Islamist terrorist threat to that of the Irish Republican Army (ira) in the 1970s and ’80s. “[F]or the most part, British freedoms were not infringed, life went on and the threat eventually passed,” he wrote. “Let us hope the same applies today.”
The reaction to the March 22 attack was an example of how modern Britain and America deal with crisis. When catastrophe strikes, our immediate priority is to calmly return to normal life as quickly as possible and to hope the threat passes. It feels rational and mature. And we believe such a response is a mark of our sophistication.
Truth is, this contemporary interpretation of “keep calm and carry on” is destructive. This mentality has put these nations on the road to national suicide.
Carry on Sleeping
“Keep calm and carry on”was coined in July 1939 by Britain’s Ministry for Information, and it embodies the spirit of wartime England. It was one of three slogans created to boost the morale of the British people during the Second World War.
Though “keep calm and carry on” was never officially used, the other two phrases were printed on posters and plastered all over the nation. These two reveal the motive behind the campaign and the broader mindset that was starting to take hold on Britain in July 1939. One read, “Your courage, your cheerfulness, your resolution, will bring us victory.” The other stated, “Freedom is in peril, defend it with all your might.” Notice. These slogans convey a sense of crisis; they were clearly designed to stir the British people to action.
Britain in the summer of 1939 was finally beginning to accept that it faced an existential crisis. The enemy had been clearly identified, and there was consensus on the magnitude of the danger. Britain’s leaders were finally recognizing that Adolf Hitler wanted war and had started to prepare the nation. There was a fighting mentality behind “keep calm and carry on.” It meant, keep calm and carry on fighting. Keep calm and defend freedom with all your might. These slogans consoled and motivated a nation that recognized it was experiencing a crisis, a nation that was prepared to act. These slogans engaged the public in the fight against Nazi tyranny.
Today, “keep calm and carry on”is deployed to disengage the British public from reality. Today, “keep calm and carry on” stems from apathy and complacency. It is used to dissuade people from contemplating the truth, from asking tough questions, and from putting in place meaningful solutions. The phrase that once meant keep calm and carry on fighting now means keep calm and carry on sleeping.
Its appeal makes it all the more deadly. It conjures images of wartime Britain. It makes the English who use it feel proud, brave and patriotic. Meanwhile, in their effort to keep calm and carry on, they ignore reality. They don’t take serious action to address the fundamental causes of the crises.
Khalid Masood, the terrorist who left London strewn with bodies on March 22, was born and bred in England. He was radicalized in English prisons, and he had connections to the Islamic State. His attack on London ought to have initiated some searching questions. What conditions had made his radicalization possible? How many others are there like him? Why didn’t Masood’s “moderate” friends and acquaintances inform the authorities about him? What does the radicalization of Masood and those like him reveal about multiculturalism in Britain?
When you look honestly at these questions, practical solutions begin to emerge. For example, how hard would it be for Britain to actively purge radical Islam from its prisons? Could the government do more to encourage moderate Muslims to join the fight against radical Islam and terrorism? All sorts of meaningful actions could be initiated.
Terrorism isn’t solved by keeping calm and carrying on. It is solved by asking tough questions, by recognizing where our system is failing, and by changing the way we think and behave. It is solved by taking action.
But this is not happening today. On March 22, even with London locked down, Britain exuded remarkable calmness and composure. Though there was a sense of alarm on the streets surrounding Parliament, that was the extent of it. In some respects, the calmness was admirable. But it exposed profound passivity and apathy. One would have expected an attack of this magnitude and the publicity to arouse greater indignation, to provoke much more reflection and self-evaluation.
Londoners could have searched for answers. Why did this happen? Where have we failed? What are we doing wrong? How do we prevent this? They could have demanded meaningful action from the government. A purge of Britain’s correctional facilities, greater scrutiny of Britain’s Muslim communities, more aggressive steps to get dangerous individuals out of the country (and to prevent them entering). Londoners could have initiated a national conversation about multiculturalism and the state of British culture and society in general.
Instead, the nation opted to “keep calm and carry on.”
Learning From History
Reflect on the mood in Britain before the summer of 1939. The prevailing mindset in the nation for virtually the entire decade was much like today: Keep calm and carry on.
During the 1930s, multiple crises erupted, each revealing Germany’s motives and ambitions. Evidence abounded proving Hitler’s deep hatred for the Jews, his desire for lebensraum, and his determination for conflict and conquest. The Nuremberg Laws, passed in 1935, endorsed the persecution of Jews. In March 1935, 22,000 Nazi soldiers marched into the Rhineland. In August 1936, Germany introduced conscription. German factories were churning out warplanes, tanks and weapons throughout most of the 1930s. In November 1937, Germany signed a military pact with fascist Italy. Also in 1937, the Luftwaffe bombed Spain. In March 1938, Germany invaded Austria; in October, it marched into Sudetenland.
Such actions got the attention of British leaders and initiated some urgent discussions. In the end, however, the general response was to keep calm, carry on as normal, and simply hope for the best.
On March 7, 1936, a few hours after his troops took the Rhineland, Hitler addressed the Reichstag. In his message he promised no further acts of aggression. “Germany will never break the peace,” he promised. The West naively took Hitler at his words. Winston Churchill listened to the speech and said that Hitler’s message was “comfort for everyone on both sides of the Atlantic who wished to be humbugged.”
This, sadly, is the state of Britain (and America) today: These nations wish to be humbugged! In Britain, neither the leaders nor the public have the will to discuss the truth about Islamist terrorism, and certainly not to take serious actions to confront radical Islam. The U.S. has the same willful blindness. Both of these nations experience one crisis after another, one terrorist attack after another, one political failure after another, one social disaster after another, one financial crisis after another. Yet rather than using each crisis as an opportunity to reflect, to ask some searching questions and then to take meaningful actions that will prevent the crisis from happening again, these nations choose to keep calm and carry on.
Instead of changing the behavior that caused the crisis, they determinedly return as quickly as possible to behaving exactly the same way!
When Hitler invaded the Rhineland, France’s foreign minister tried to persuade British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin to support a potential French decision to dispatch police to the demilitarized zone to oppose the Germans. The Nazis had not yet secured their position and intelligence indicated it was still possible to oust them. Baldwin told the French, “You may be right, but if there is even one chance in a hundred that war would follow from your police action, I have not the right to commit England.” In the end, France and Britain did nothing.
To Britain in 1936, “peace was ‘worth taking almost any risk,’” William Manchester wrote in The Last Lion. That was the spirit of England in the 1930s, to keep calm and carry on ignoring anything uncomfortable. Instead of acting, they merely hoped Germany’s acts of aggression would pass. Britain’s silence and apathy only empowered Hitler and made the inevitable conflict much worse!
“I cannot recall at any time when the gap between the kind of words which statesmen used and what was actually happening in many countries was so great as it is now,” Churchill wrote in the Daily Mail in 1932. “The habit of saying smooth things and uttering pious platitudes and sentiments to gain applause, without relation to the underlying facts, is more pronounced now than it has ever been in my experience.”
That gap is even greater today. Think about some of the remarks following the March 22 attack. The sign in the London Underground station telling terrorists, “whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on.“ The tweet telling Britons, “Keep calm. That’s how it gets beaten.” Such poetic remarks may sound rational and virtuous. But truly, when was the last time an evil force was “beaten” by a victim who remained calm and carried on with normal life? Defeating a determined enemy always requires action. Perhaps not military action, but certainly changes in thinking, changes in behavior, changes in government policy.
Britain and America today are making the same mistakes they made in the 1930s. They prefer pious platitudes and smooth things over the cold, hard truth. The Prophet Isaiah discussed this destructive tendency. He prophesied that these modern nations would be “rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord: Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits …” (Isaiah 30:9-11).
Instead of encouraging her people to carry on as normal, Prime Minister May ought to have been bolder, like her World War ii counterpart, Winston Churchill. Braving the accusations “war monger” and Islamophobe, the prime minister should have stated the obvious—radical Islam has burrowed deep into Britain. That it is a threat to the nation, to its institutions, culture and communities. That multiculturalism has failed. That Britain, if it is ever to truly solve this issue, will have to take meaningful actions on a large scale.
Instead, Britain’s leaders and its media pundits responded with smooth words and pious platitudes. Encouraging the nation to not overreact, to remain non-judgmental and to carry on as normal made people feel righteous and rational. Invoking the “keep calm and carry on” maxim makes everyone feel brave and tough, like their forefathers in World War ii.
Yet does such a response do anything to prevent another Islamist attack?
The Prophet Isaiah also compares Britain’s and America’s leaders in the end time to lazy, slothful watchdogs. “His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber” (Isaiah 56:10). What an apt description of the leadership and mainstream media in Britain and America. (For proof that the term Israel in these prophecies refers to these modern nations, read our free e-book Britain’s 4,000-Year-Old History at theTrumpet.com/go/BritishIdentity.)
“People are just not alert to what’s happening in this world, and that includes the media,” Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry said in his Dec. 22, 2002, Key of David television program. “God calls most of the watchmen just dumb dogs. They won’t bark! They won’t tell you what’s really happening, either because they don’t know—and even if they do know they won’t really tell you the blatant, scary truth about all this.”
Why are they silent? Verses 11-12 explain: “The shepherds also have no understanding: they have all turned to their own way, each to his own gain, one and all. ‘Come,’ they say, ‘let us get wine, let us fill ourselves with strong drink; and tomorrow will be like this day, great beyond measure’” (Revised Standard Version). The leaders and media are more concerned about selfish interest than about the peace and safety of their nation.
Ponder that final statement: “Tomorrow will be like this day, great beyond measure.” This is the Prophet Isaiah prophesying—roughly 2,500 years ago—that Britain and America would in the end time have a deadly keep calm and carry on mentality!
Of all the questions that needed to be raised and discussed following the March 22 attack, one is especially important: Where was God? God witnessed the attack. In fact, He knew what Khalid Mahood was thinking the instant this evil entered his mind. Yet God allowed him to do it. Why? Why has He removed His protection from Britain? How can His protection be restored?
What about you? Will you avoid this “keep calm and carry on as normal” mindset as you watch world events? The Apostle Peter wrote, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Vigilant means “to take heed lest through remission and indolence [or laziness] some destructive calamity suddenly overtake one.”
When crisis strikes, either individually or collectively, the natural tendency is to quickly move on, to “keep calm and carry on.” But this can be a fatal mistake. We must learn to stop, analyze the events, recognize the mistakes, meditate on the lessons, and then change the behavior that caused the crisis. The worst thing we can do is quickly return to the behavior that caused the crisis in the first place. Yet, that’s what Britain and America do today. And so do many individuals.
What happened in London was terrible. Your heart goes out to the victims. But it was only a hint of the terror attacks radical Islam wants to commit. And it was nothing compared to the suffering Bible prophecy says is coming upon America and Britain. The way to prevent this from happening again, to prevent a larger terror attack from happening, is to ask: Why did this happen? How did this happen? What do we need to change so this does not happen again?
You won’t find our leaders asking these questions. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ask—and answer—these vital questions. “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Peter 4:7).