Dateline – 1105, on the morning of 11 November 2018.
So – here in London, England it’s gone eleven, and we’ve ‘Remembered’. Now we’ll go out and sell more guns and bombs to Saudi. And to anyone else who’ll listen.
Remembering is easy. Putting a stop to the carnage is harder. In fact, it’s proved so hard since 1918 that we’ve never actually stopped. We’re still at it. Families are torn apart, men, women and their children maimed and killed. But they’re not British bombs and guns, we say. You see, we stipulate that our bombs and guns are not used in life-threatening scenarios. So imagine – two Saudi air force men are loading a bomber with weapons for a raid on The Yemen. “We haven’t got enough bombs to fill her up, mate, this time,” one says to the other. “What d’you mean?” his colleague replies, “there’s a whole other pile of them over there.” “Ah, no,” says the first, ” we can’t use them. They’re British bombs.”
We justify it because – we say – so many British jobs depend on it. If it were the other way around, would we be happy to see our children’s limbs blown off in the interest of guaranteeing a job to someone in another country? And the other justification – if we don’t do it, someone else will – that’s not even worthy of a school playground.
The way we act on Armistice Day smacks to me of hypocrisy on a grand scale. It is hijacked and so professionally stage-managed by the Establishment that millions are persuaded to go along with its tragic thoughtlessness. I don’t doubt the momentary sincerity of our leaders as they lay wreaths and pray. I don’t doubt the momentary genuineness of the tears on the faces of the Chelsea Pensioners or on those of the watching public. But I do doubt their real awareness of what they’re doing, and what good, if any, their shows of profundity are worth.
The so-called ‘Great War’ was nothing noble. It was an obscene exercise in prolonged, officially choreographed barbarity. Any doubters should watch Peter Jackson’s recently released film of it – ‘They Shall Not Grow Old.’ The film is put together entirely from original contemporary film footage and the voices of allied combatants. No animal on earth behaves in the way those men – on all sides – were brutalized into doing. Brutalized by so-called ‘leaders’ – politicians and military chiefs who, by rights, should have been convicted of war crimes.
Towards the end of the film when British soldiers, many of whom were still in their teens, and their German prisoners were socializing together over cups of tea in the British trenches, there are many comments like, “What was the point?” “We just wanted an end to it, no matter who won.” “It should never have happened.”
Men on both sides, had seen their mates blown up or gunned down, the flesh ripped from their faces, their insides spilled out into the never-ending mud. And when the end finally came and the last gun fired, there was no celebration, no whooping for joy; no throwing of helmets into the air. Just a dumbfounded silence in which a shattered and demoralized ragtag army collapsed, exhausted to the ground at its feet.
When they arrived back home – almost a million less of them than went out (not including the million and a half wounded) – they were largely ignored. No-one wanted to hear about the appalling conditions and the gut-churning horrors they’d endured. Thousands of them could find no employment. Having gone through a living hell on behalf of their country, they felt no longer wanted by it.
Is this what we want to ‘remember’ on Armistice Day? Is this why we have military bandsmen in their proud, colourful dress uniforms playing their brightly shone instruments? Why poppies are everywhere? Why politicians, dressed as for an upper-class funeral, lay wreaths at memorials, expressions of profound grief on their faces? And what’s the point if, in the background to that, we’re still selling to other countries, guns, bombs, missiles far more horrific in their destructive power now than those of 100 years ago? What has it all been about – our ‘remembering’? Anything much?
The greatest thing, perhaps the only thing, we can do today to sufficiently honour the memory of those men who fought, on all sides in that conflict, is to strive, every one of us – politician, man/woman in the street, parents – to do everything in our power in our everyday lives to reduce our tendency to personal conflict – conflict with partners, conflict with work colleagues, personal conflict of all sorts. War is but a macrocosm of the strife between individuals. Without the latter, there could be none of the former. And if the monstrosity of wars like that is not enough to make us change our way of living – then perhaps nothing is. And ominously, that’s the way it seems. One hundred years on, on almost every continent, there are wars, riots, terrorist incidents, even the embryonic resurgence of the far right.
Time is running out. If we don’t get serious very soon, on a global scale and address this fault line in our makeup, it will finally run out and our race, like the dinosaurs, will be consigned to history. And by our own hand too.
NOTE: Peter Jackson’s film can be viewed, till Sunday 18 November, on BBC iPlayer, and probably, at varying dates, at cinema’s around the UK. A lot of it is not easy viewing.