JOHN WIGHT, writing in the Morning Star, on the hawkish edge to official ceremony
Picture: Otto Dix, “War Cripples,” 1920
The ritual of paying tribute to fallen soldiers is a tradition that stretches back to ancient times.
From antiquity to the present day the exaltation of those who have died fighting in war, whether for their tribe, city-state, nation or empire, has played a crucial role in uniting said state or nation around a common narrative of shared purpose and values.
In this country we have the annual tribute of Remembrance Day, observed each year on the closest Sunday to November 11, the anniversary of Armistice Day which brought the first world war to an end in 1918.
Young and old, rich and poor, the message embraced on this day is that regardless of our differences we are all joined by a common nationality, heritage and history and that those who died fighting in the nation’s wars did so in the interests of all of us and as such are worthy of our admiration, gratitude and honour.
However there is an insidious side to this annual ritual. One that has taken on the mantle of a national shibboleth.
It is that at bottom the trumpets, monuments and fanfare are not designed to mourn the dead but instead to glorify the nature of their deaths and, by extension, extol the virtues of militarism and the nation’s martial might.
This is even more relevant when we consider Britain’s recent participation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – wars in which tens of thousands of civilians have been killed or maimed, and for whom there is no monument or ritual of remembrance.
And we must not forget the myriad other colonial wars this country has waged in the history of an empire that should be a source of shame rather than celebration.
Moreover politicians, the royal family and various other members of the nation’s ruling class laying wreaths at the cenotaph to commemorate the deaths and slaughter of the untold thousands of working-class men, used as cannon fodder to maintain the class privileges which they and theirs enjoy, is truly an act of sickening hypocrisy.
No amount of national propaganda can conceal the truth that lies behind this hypocrisy – namely that Britain’s role in the world as a colonial power is an ignoble and eminently dishonourable one and that the apotheosis of militarism which this annual ritual engenders acts as a recruiting sergeant to encourage succeeding generations of young working-class men, starved of opportunity and prospects at home, to join up and likewise be slaughtered on the altar of national prestige and degeneracy.
Even when it comes to the one war in Britain’s recent history that was morally justified in being waged – the second world war against fascism – there are truths attached that dare not speak their name.
The first of these is that, were it not for the savage peace terms forced on Germany in the wake of the first world war, Hitler’s rise on the back of the destitution endured by millions of Germans would probably never have taken place.
The second is were it not for the subsequent years of appeasement driven by the sympathy and latent support for the nazis on the part of a significant section of the ruling class in this country Hitler would probably have been stopped at a far earlier stage in his ambitions.
It also bears remembering that Hitler was a great admirer of the British empire. His objective was to forge a German equivalent in eastern Europe.
The hundreds of working-class young men who have gone to their deaths in Britain’s recent wars and military adventures have done so in the interests of a political Establishment that has demonstrated little desire to offer them anything at home apart from poverty, alienation and perennial despair.
The mantra that these men died for our freedom is fallacious. The only people that have denied or attempted to deny people in Britain their rights and liberty is the British ruling class.
Remembrance Day reminds us that we are a nation and a society suffering from an addiction to war.
Breaking this addiction requires that we first undergo a sea change in our attitude to war and how we view those who have died in past wars. The liberal bandying around of words such as “sacrifice” and “heroism” at this time of year – usually by well fed, privileged politicians and commentators who’ve probably never experienced as much as a punch in the face much less combat – reveals an atrocious lack of understanding of the terror these young men experience in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.
The notion that an 18-year-old from an underprivileged background signs up with the resolve to sacrifice his life for his country is a lie.
They sign up looking to escape the drab and dim prospects offered them at home, seduced by the illusion of excitement and adventure abroad.
At 18 or 19 you think you are invincible, imbued with a sense of your own immortality, and as such malleable and open to the propaganda that feeds the militarism that has run as a continuing thread throughout Britain’s history.
No amount of training could ever prepare these young men for the horrors of war, for the sight of their mates being blown apart beside them, the sight of women and children slaughtered.
No amount of bugles and parades could ever compensate those who return maimed or psychologically damaged as a consequence, whereupon they are left to the mercy of charity.
The real enemies of our young men sent to kill and be killed overseas are those who send them – those who stand by the cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday with poppies the size of tennis balls pinned to their chests.