The dieties that I adore
Are social peace and plenty.
I’m better pleased tae mak one more,
Than be the death o’ twenty.
I write this in the wake of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy in World War II; the beginning of Operation Overlord, which saw the allies sweep across Europe, chasing back the axis powers and which eventually led to the suicide of Adolf Hitler and capitulation of Nazi menace. And frankly, I am sickened at what I have been hearing and seeing.
Do not get me wrong. I do not for one moment doubt the bravery of those who paid their part in a war which had to be fought. I also fully recognise, respect and honour the sacrifice made by millions. Not only did they buy me the right to sit on my arse and rant at my computer, I have no doubt that had the Nazis won, I would have been one of millions who would not even have been conceived, let alone born.
No, my problem is the way the commemoration of D-Day and other war commemorations are being glorified in the UK. BBC Radio 2 ran a week of programmes about the D-Day landings, and all I was hearing was little more than a glorification of war; so much so that I ended up turning the radio off and will not be back to that station until all this guff stops.
And it does not stop there. The UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, has announced that the 100th anniversary of the First World War will be marked with “celebrations”. How anyone can celebrate one of the most insane wars in history, which achieved nothing except killing millions while a handful of financiers got very rich and some countries were able to expand their empires into lands they had no right to, is beyond me. But then, how anyone can glorify any war is beyond me.
Was there ever any war, any victory, which should be celebrated or glorified? Are there really any winners in war? Or is it more likely that there are only losers; millions of them. Obviously I speak as a pacifist, who hates war of any kind. Yet I am pragmatic enough to realise that there will be times when armed conflict shall arise, and there are times it neither can nor should be avoided. Gandhi said it best; “Nonviolence is superior to violence, but violence is superior to cowardice.” When push comes to shove, and the only choice is capitulate or stand and fight, the latter is the only honourable and correct course.
So it was with World War II. Hitler and the Nazis had to be stopped, without a doubt, and that regime would never have listened to pacifist, no matter how brave they be. Therefore the use of force was the only option open to those deterimed to see the world free of that brutal ideaology. But such conflicts, where basic human rights are threatened are very few and far between, no matter what the politicians and militarists would have you believe. Contrary to what they told you, Saddam Hussein’s forces were not poised to march down Whitehall.
Some would say we celebrate the tenacious British spirit, or the freedoms won, but do we really do that? Or do we merely gloat over twice being victories over Germany? And what freedoms? At the end of the First World War, then Prime Minister David Lloyd George promised “homes fit for heroes”, and never delivered on that, just as no government has delivered upon that promise ever since. Indeed, only a few months after the armistice, the government sent tanks and troops into George Square in Glasgow, to forcibly put down rent protests. And these were English soldiers. The Scottish forces were kept at gunpoint in Maryhill barracks because the government feared them starting a Scottish communist revolution. Please note I do not mean any disparagement to the English here. I have no doubt that the English forces involved felt burning shame at being forced to hold guns on men they had only a few months previously fought alongside in the trenches. My argument is not with any poor English squaddie, but rather I shall forever condemn David Lloyd George and his government who sent the troops in, and who put those soldiers in an impossible situation in the first place.
As to the Second World War, yes, freedom was one and the western world at least made safe for democracy. But that freedom was bought at a terrible human price which is nothing to either glorify nor celebrate. It is now thought that between conflict, civilian casualties, atrocities, murders, accidents, injuries, suicides, disease and famine, approximately 72 million people died in World War II. That is nothing to celebrate; even one death is nothing to celebrate. Frankly, none is one too many.
I also intensely dislike what happens when we commemorate any war in the UK. Inevitably it becomes a parade of people wrapping themselves in the Union Flag and banging on with tub-thumping jingoism about how “Britain” (or even merely England) won the war, and usually coupled with rampant militarism and sanctimonious speeches about “gallant sacrifice”. What is so great about veterans who nowadays live in poverty, choose between heating and eating in winter, and in cases have even had to sell their medals to make ends meet? What is glorious about homeless veterans? Where are their “homes fit for heroes”?
Ask 90 year old Bernard Jordan about freedom. The care home he lives in ordered him that he could not go to the D-Day Commemorations in Normandy. Bernard, a veteran of the Normandy landings, was having none of that. He sneaked out of his care home and made his way to the coast. Brittany Ferries, having listened to his story, very kindly gave him free passage across the English Channel, and having attended the commemorations, they gave him free passage back again.
Ask Bernard, or any other veteran, where the glory is in war. They will tell you there is none, and there never was any. Harry Patch, the last veteran of the First World War, stated that war was nothing more than “state-sponsored murder” and also said “give your leaders a gun each and let them fight it out among themselves”. They would not of course, because leaders don’t get involved and don’t get their hands dirty. Instead they are all to ready to sell the idea of glory and celebration of war to promote militarism and thereby ensure future cannon fodder for arguments they have allowed to get out of control.
In the end, if you want to know the truth about war, you can do no better than listen to the words of veterans, who have been there, seen things we never want to see, heard things we never want to hear, experienced things we never want to experience, and do and have done a job that the vast majority of us would not do, even if we could do it, which most of us could not.
Consider the words of the group Veterans for Peace UK, before you even think of “celebrating” or glorifying any war;
When we remember sodiers, but not their victims;
when we glorify the pointless deaths of millions;
when we portray slaughter as noble;
when we aggrandize patriotism;
when we celebrate militarism;
we are not honouring the dead of war,
we are enticing the living to join them.