A sinister seasonal mash-up will hit Glasgow tomorrow as Halloween horror combines with posturing Poppymania. In a very literal sense, our streets are set to be given over to one of the four component parts of the British Armed Forces, with a ceremony seeing the Royal Marines granted the city’s highest honour, the “freedom of Glasgow”.
This follows a decision made by Glasgow’s Labour council in May 2013 to honour the Marine Corps, currently celebrating their 350th anniversary, and “the dedication and sacrifices it continues to make to protect the interests of the United Kingdom.”
Hundreds of commandos will descend on George Square on Saturday morning and then, to celebrate their new status, they will stage an armed march through the city’s streets with “swords drawn and bayonets fixed”. As is now customary on such occasions, George Square itself will be turned into a glorified military recruitment fair, with a family fun day featuring the chance the climb aboard landing craft, “a weapons stance” and an “Arctic warfare display”.
The accolade is just the latest in an extensive recent history of attempts to normalise the position of the military in our society, through Armed Forces Day, the Military Wives Choir, the ubiquitous Help For Heroes “charity” and Gordon Brown’s 2009 invention “Armed Forces Day”. All of these efforts are ostensibly “apolitical” but reinforce the positioning of the British Armed Forces as a sacrosanct institution that’s beyond any criticism. If you do dare to raise any faults with the above, it inevitably means that you’re disrespecting the war dead/hate Our Brave Boys and/or support the Taliban. And there’s a reason I’m not writing this IN GERMAN right now, amirite?!!
The inevitable consequences of this state-sanctioned whip up of jingoistic fervour are acutely illustrated by a glance over Britain First‘s Facebook page, where memes about veterans, war heroes, poppies and the army actually outnumber the ones disseminating populist immigrant bashing and Islamophobia by about two to one. We also saw the fallout of this pervasive narrative in George Square the day after the referendum, when rampaging union flag waving bigots felt emboldened and enabled enough by the No vote – an affirmation of the British state and all it represents – to storm George Square. “They’re just a minority”, cried No voters, yet the working class youths charging about town that night were merely taking the racism and jingoism of the UK state to its logical conclusions.
Saturday will see that racism and jingoism return to its most respectable form, all civic ceremony, dress uniform and marching about with unsheathed swords. But in awarding the Freedom of the City to the “entire” Royal Marines, that the fuck are we actually celebrating? Does this include “Marine A”, jailed for murdering an Afghan prisoner of war, and latter-day poster boy for Britain First? How about the Marine commando pictured, ISIS-style, holding up the heads of two decapitated communist insurgents in 1952 Malaya? But really, I’ve no interest in castigating individual members of the armed forces, guilty as the above examples may be of horrendous war crimes. People join up for a whole number of social and economic reasons and are generally treated like shit, risking death, bullying and miserable conditions for less than the minimum wage. The crux of the matter is the historic role of the British military which we’re supposed to be celebrating, and the Marine Corps being covered in glory tomorrow.
As an institution, the Royal Marines have spent 350 years buttressing the interests of the British ruling class across the globe, from the Hebrides to Helmand. In 1883, hundreds of Marines – backed up by warships – landed on the isles of Skye and Tiree, occupying them for weeks to forcibly pacify crofters’ rebellions. Since the Second World War, they’ve seen active service virtually every year, from East Africa to Brunei, Iraq to Ireland, propping up ruthless British rule and the economic interests of some of the most successful exploiters this planet’s ever seen. There’s not even a façade of remembrance about tomorrow’s carnival of reaction in Glasgow, which serves purely to honour the “proud history” of the Marines and to show the council’s “highest respect” for their legacy of propping up colonial rule over four centuries.
In presenting the Freedom of the City (an accolade which does, admittedly, have a lengthy tradition of being awarded to aristocratic men with stupid names and even more ridiculous titles, notable exceptions being Nelson Mandela and Harry McShane in the early 80s) to the Marines, Glasgow City Council are reinforcing a pervasive British nationalism in which deference to the military is a rigidly imposed norm. That the motion was unanimously agreed by all members of the council last May says a lot about how this much this has already become the case. Few are prepared to speak out about the normalisation of militarism in our society, and that’s before Jim Murphy’s even had the chance to make criticising the army a “hate crime”. Depressing doesn’t quite cut it.
The Marines will have their council-sponsored jamboree in town tomorrow, and when Poppyfest 2014 gets underway next Sunday, we’ll do it all over again. It’s ok though, it has nothing to do with politics.
Selective Remembrance and the Problem with Poppymania
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