Was it for THIS that the clay grew tall?
The UK Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012 announced that plans were afoot from 2014 to 2018 for four years of commemorations which he stated ;
“Our ambition is a truly national commemoration worthy of this historic centenary, A commemoration that captures our national spirit in every corner of the country, from our schools and workplaces, to our town halls and local communities. A commemoration that, like the diamond jubilee celebrations this year, says something about who we are as a people. Remembrance must be the hallmark of our commemorations.”
Fine words right at the end there about remembrance, but only after Mr Cameron talked about nationalism and then likened the commemorations to the diamond jubilee celebrations. War, any war, is no ‘jubilee’, it is nothing to celebrate and it is certainly nothing to be proud of.
I have the greatest of fears for these commemorations. I foresee that it will indeed be a repeat of 100 years ago; with a repeat of all the union-flag-waving, tub-thumping, jingoistic, anti-German bigotry which was all too prevalant then. And just who is this going to attract exactly? I have the greatest of fear the most ignorant in society. Raving empire loyalists, anti-Roman Catholic sectarian bigots, skinhead bootboys; all the people who trump on about how great it is to be “British”, while knowing little to nothing about the First World War, caring even less but purely using it as an excuse to further push their agenda of hate against anyone not British enough in their eyes. That’s who.
When David Cameron about the commemoration which “says something about who we are as a people” one immediately suspects an propagandist agenda claiming how the war was all the fault of Germany’s attempts at empire-building, whilst conveniently ignoring the fact that the British Empire covered one quarter of the globe at the time. I have even heard one historian backing the commemorations openly state in an interview on BBC Radio 2 that the First World War was Germany’s doing, “and that should not be forgotten”. We therefore see that there may be such just an agenda. And if we re-open old wounds one hundred years after the event, with bigotry towards a modern and democratic Germany and her people, none of whom today were in the First World War – as were none of ours, perhaps causing a diplomatic incident, just exactly does that say about us as a country and a people?
Shame on you Mr Cameron.
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?
(Wilfred Owen, Futility)
Of course, not that it will be about us as a ‘people’. We are not anyway; the UK is made up of many peoples, which David Cameron would do well to remember. And the forces in the First World War were made up of many peoples from the UK – English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish – and the wider British Empire, as well of course as the other countries in the Entente Powers (the allies), such as France, Russia, Italy, Japan (yes, they were both on our side in WWI), Belgium, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Serbia, Montenegro, and of course, the United States of America. No, I fear it is going to be “Cry Harry for England and Saint George.”; England this, England that and England the next thing, just as it were 100 years ago.
I give a sardonic smile at this. As one who has studied the First World War in detail, listening to David Cameron’s rhetoric, I am reminded of the words of E A Mackintosh in his poem Recruiting;
“Leave the drunken harlots to sing about the Hun; Leave the fat old men to say now WE’VE got them on the run.”
And that is about the size of it. David Cameron and those who support these commemorations are showing an appalling lack of knowledge about the First World War, as well as a shocking lack of taste and decency, and a pitiful lack of intelligence. They are showing the same mentality of those who did all the flag waving and told ridiculous untrue rumours of German brutality, safe in their homes, pubs and clubs, while young men on the front were being butchered.
One can also call me cynical but it is neither lost on me that these commemorations will start in the run-up to the Referendum on Scottish Independence on 20 September 2014. David Cameron has on more than one occasion accused Yes Scotland and Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland, of choosing 2014 for the vote as the year marks the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, in order to heighten Scots patriotism. That has been strenuously denied but I highly suspect that David Cameron is planning this “commemoration that captures our national spirit” to gain a rising tide of British jingoism and thereby swing a No vote in the independence referendum.
Without a doubt the First World War should be remembered. It was a massive piece of collective insanity which decimated an entire decimation, which saw towns become villages, some villages disappear altogether, due to loss of menfolk, which killed millions and destroyed the lives of millions more who were left alone and heartbroken.
By all means tell the story of World War I, but let it be educational and tell it with truth.
Tell how Britain and Germany were locked in an arms race from 1900 onwards and how the military top brass were just itching to try out their new “toys”.
Tell of how King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Tsar Nicholas II were so closely related that together they could have been mistaken for triplets.
Tell about arms manufacturers like Vickers and Krupps who likewise welcomed war, for the simple reason that the longer it went on, the fatter their profits became.
Tell of incompetent old generals who stayed well out of the way of trouble and attempted to fight a 20th century war based on 19th century battle methods.
Tell the truth about life in the trenches; of how if a bullet or shell did not get you, disease, rats, or drowning in mud (as happened at Paschendale) may well do.
Tell of entire divisions being wiped out because they were ordered to go over the top into machine gun or shell fire, armed only with rifles.
Tell of young men, no more than boys, put against a wall and shot for cowardice and desertion, who were in fact suffering “shell shock” – now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a recognised psychological disorder.
Tell of the 252,000 ANZAC and French troops massacred at Gallipoli when due to the incompetence of Winston Churchill, they landed right below Turkish gun emplacements.
Tell of those maimed for life, blinded, gassed, sent insane by the slaughter. Tell of those who committed suicide, purely because they could take no more. Tell of men having to shoot their comrades, to end their suffering.
Tell of the women who were slowly poisoned as they handled dangerous chemicals by hand and with no respirators in munitions factories.
Tell of the 215 conscripts who died in the Gretna railway disaster when a troop train hit a goods train, and how many burned to death in the flaming carriages, as the doors had been deadbolted to prevent anyone deserting.
Tell of the Germans who starved to death in the “Turnip Winter” of 1916-1917, so-called because there was little more than turnips to eat.
Tell the words of those who were really there at the time. Particularly the words of Harry Patch, the last veteran of the First World War who died in 2009, and who spoke candidly of the carnage he witnessed, and how he spoke out against all war, saying “Too many died. War isn’t worth one life.”, and “If two governments can’t agree, give them a rifle each and let them fight it out.”
Tell of how it was meant to be “The war to end all wars”.
Tell of how the government promised “Homes fit for heroes.” and how no government then or since has ever delivered on that promise.
Stretch the commemorations to five years, to take in the signing of the armistice in 1919, and tell how Britain and France ignored the advice of US President Woodrow Wilson, and the English economist John Maynard Keynes, not to visit punitive reparations upon Germany. Tell how that was exactly what they did do, how they broke the Deutschmark, which led to ill feeling and made another war inevitable, just as Wilson and Keynes had predicted would happen.
Tell how in the end the First World War achieved absolutely nothing, except to make a lot of already very rich people even richer still, at the cost of millions of lives of young men.
If after all that David Cameron still thinks that war is a ‘jubilee’ to celebrate, then perhaps he should sit up and take notice of the words of Wilfred Owen;
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
(Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum est)
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori; It is a sweet and beautiful thing to die for one’s country.