This Sunday, the Windsor family (descendants of those who had a family tiff and started World War I) will be in London in all their state funded finery, “honouring” those sent to die in their name, as will many of the political class of past and present, themselves responsible for the deaths of countless thousands.
The “war to end all wars” began a hundred years ago. Britain finally brought troops out of Afghanistan last week and have just sent some more into Iraq. Those returning from “The Great War” were promised “homes fit for heroes”, our service personnel today return to a country where around 10% of our prison population and those sleeping rough are former soldiers. So…what have we remembered?
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – this is not about whether someone choses to wear a poppy, that’s simply not my business. This is about whether we allow this time of year to become a commercialised, charitable carnival of mass amnesia or whether we insist that the horrors of war are actually remembered.
Turn on QVC and you might see the presenters making their usual small talk and selling their familiar disposal tat…only with POPPIES on everything. Get the purple scarf quickly folks, before you’ve forever dishonoured everyone who’s died for your right to buy it. Head over to BNP splinter group, Britain First’s merchandising arm and you can get yourself a beautiful poppy pinbadge, in honour of all those who attempt to exploit militarism to punt racial hatred. Hitler would be so proud…no wait. What side was he on again?
If you think it’s a tad unfair to bring up Britain First, given that they attempt to make political capital out of warm weather and dog memes, what has “official” arm of Poppydom been up to? Last year, the Royal British Legion were encouraging us to buy T-Shirts for weans, emblazoned with the words “Future Soldier” – as if to prove that Remembrance is being cynically exploited by militarists to build support for whatever present conflict the British Government will inevitably be engaged in, now and forever more. What could be more respectful than hoping we’ll send more kids to die again sometime soon?
This year, the Legion’s charity single featuring everyone favourite drip, Joss Stone, is “The Green Fields of France” by Eric Bogle. In order to demonstrate their desire to always remember, the Legion’s version fails to include this verse:
Ah young Willie McBride, I can’t help wonder why,
Do those that lie here know why did they die?
And did they believe when they answered the cause,
Did they really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain,
The killing and dying, were all done in vain.
For Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.
Those who died in vain are not seen fit to be remembered in the sanitised version of
warfare pop offered up by the Legion, that’ll not get you very high up the itunes chart after all.
There are some who defend this crass commercialism on the grounds that the Legion are a charity, as if that makes anything any better. It’s not just the Royal British Legion/Poppy Scotland, we’ve got Help for Heroes, the Military Wives Choir, Armed Forces Day – all part of the Big Guns Society. Forget about Governments being responsible for the consequences of their actions, the military are society’s problem now, so please remember to give generously this week and then it’s cats next week and orphans the week after. I don’t see this poppybank culture any differently than I see foodbanks; this is something which should not need to exist and the normalisation of it benefits only those who have engineered it. We have an armed forces minister, a Foreign Office, a Home Office, a massive array of people whose official role is to keep us safe and look after those it sends to the wars it creates – they have conspired to fail us, to make us less safe and to neglect their obligation to those who have suffered as a result of their political choices.
The current “war to end all wars” against ISIS is a perfect example of our failure to remember – forgotten is the illegal invasion of Iraq, forgotten is the role we played in funding ISIS against Asad, forgotten is the fact our bezzies Saudi Arabia are on the other side, forgotten are the kiddy on conflicts with Iran & Russia, who’re now good guys again, or something. It’s not the players that matter, it’s the never ending war-game.
The UK was 6th top of the military spending charts last year and we spend around two and a half times as much in percentage terms as Japan, a country which perhaps actually remembers the consequences of war, rather than maintaining a nuclear arsenal in order to conduct future mass genocide. In 2013, it was revealed that there were £12.3bn worth of arms deals approved by the UK Government to countries we officially class as being repressive. The British state has a real, material interest in making sure the war never ends and little interest in any of the pawns, including the ex-military personnel now being used as cheap prison labour.
At home, the perpetual war under successive Governments has been responsible for the slow erosion of human rights; detention without trial, new snooping powers, constant xenophobia and racism. Britain is heading towards nationalist isolationism and we may leave the EU solely and explicitly to allow our Government to renege on basic standards around working hours, wages, the environment, protecting freedom of speech, thought, religion and movement.
What was that other big war about? – and why was the EU set up after it? Why did we create the welfare state in its wake – and why is it therefore so important to protect it? Let’s not remember any of that, Soldiers! Soldiers! Soldiers!
The glorification of militarism and the nationalist fervour which has attached itself to this fanfare of forgetfulness stands in stark contrast to our actual responsibility to remember the lessons learned from our last century at war. The public-private partnership of poppymania is the culmination of our Big Society. We’re all in this together, except the powerful who no longer have to even pretend to care, so long as they throw a few pennies at us.
Standing in silence while your society is made to forget itself, its own history, its own struggles, its own resistance, all in the name of remembrance, is what will allow this to keep happening again. And again, and again, and again, and again.
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