Peace: The only way to truly honour the fallen
Once gain the right-wing media is in ferment. No it’s not rising use of food-banks, homelessness or the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Europe that has them beside themselves with rage. Apparently all of these things play ‘second fiddle’ to any opportunity to portray the leader of the opposition as a traitor.
It doesn’t matter whether their headlines and faux twitter outrage are based on reality. When it comes to the ‘fourth estate’ they don’t trouble themselves with the truth when a good smear will do. In this case it is out of context comments regarding the commemoration of the first world war that has them frothing at the mouth.
Taking words out of context to discredit and smear is a tried and tested strategy. It would be laughable if some people didn’t lap it up. Remember how far their lies about the now infamous Bin Laden ‘quotes’ went? Even after they were widely discredited, Cameron still chose to dredge them up again in his party conference speech.
Curiously it was another Tory, Winston Churchill, who coined the phrase “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” I’m not sure he meant that as advice for conducting political strategy, but maybe he did.
Before we go any further, it may help to look at what Jeremy Corbyn actually said about commemorating the 1914-18 conflict. Here is the quote, which he actually made in 2013, in context:
“Kier Hardie was a great opponent of the First World War and apparently next year the government is proposing to spend shedloads of money commemorating the First World War. I’m not sure what there is to commemorate about the First World War other than the mass slaughter of millions of young men and women, mainly men, on the Western Front and all the other places.
“And it was a war of the declining empires and anyone who’s read or even dipped into Hobsbawm’s great work of the early part of the 20th century, written post World War, presaged the whole First World War as a war between monopolies fighting between markets.
“The reason I say this is next year the government are planning this celebration and I think that’s an opportunity for us. It’s an opportunity to discuss war and discuss peace and to put up an alternative point of view.”
No historian, or for that matter any A-Level history student, would question the basic reality of Corbyn’s analysis. That millions were slaughtered in the interests of imperialist powers who largely escaped the carnage is beyond doubt.
Of course it doesn’t suit the ancestors of such powerful men to have these things discussed in public. Much better to keep quite about all the unpleasantness, wrap ourselves in the flag and talk of heroism and sacrifice. After all there are still imperialist wars to fight and talk of mass death on the battle-field isn’t much help to the recruiting sergeants.
Politically, their agenda is clear enough. It involves painting the Labour leader as mad bad and dangerous to know. Ironically the chattering classes have chosen his preference for peace over war as the stick with which to beat him. According to them, his wanting to use the anniversary of the ‘Great War’ to talk about how we can prevent such horrors from being repeated is heresy.
I have written before about how the press seek to shape public opinion by making certain arguments off-limits. This is yet another example. Let me be clear, I believe it is perfectly reasonable to disagree with Corbyn’s position, but is it right to call him a traitor? Should the print media be allowed to deliberately distort and misrepresent? Is wanting peace insane?
The only antidote to all this is to relentlessly challenge what is being written and question the motives of those behind such attacks. The press have an important role in society, but they are part of it and must be held to account like politicians and the rest of us.
Of course it hasn’t taken long for certain M.P.’s to jump on the bandwagon. Some have suggested that the commemoration events are about honouring the dead and remembering their sacrifice. Fair enough. But tell me, what is the point of remembering unless we use the pain of remembrance to strengthen our resolve to never again sacrifice so many for so little?
It’s not enough to don the poppy every year, stand in silence or cry. Important though these rituals are they don’t truly honour the fallen. Only peace can do that.
Far from disrespecting the men and women who died in muddy trenches all over Europe, Corbyn’s position is the only one that truly does them justice. In championing peace he is a friend of the soldier, precisely because he would never again send them ill equipped into an unjust war.
Surely the history of World War I tells us that our threshold for war needs to be much higher than it is today. Sadly it’s a lesson lost on many right-wing commentators.
I have been privileged to meet a number of veterans in my life. These people mostly served in the war on fascism between 1939-45. If there’s one characteristic I think they all share, it’s that none of them glory in war. Many of them find it hard to talk of their experiences and all of them are united in the sincere desire that no generation should ever go through what they did again.
They didn’t return home from battle demanding that statues be erected in their honour. After all this is the least a grateful society could do. Instead they came home demanding a land fit for heroes. The end of both world wars sparked mass social movements across Europe. These awakenings sought to hold those in power to account. If we are not going to fight for the kind of peaceful society they thought would be the result of their sacrifices, then what were all of those sacrifices for?
There is nothing honourable in young men and women being sent to their deaths in the name of empire. There is no glory in murder on an industrial scale. These are my beliefs. This is also what Corbyn was articulating in his speech. If you don’t think those sentiments are perfectly in tune with those same soldiers who perished in 1914-18, then please heed the words of one who witnessed first hand that bloody hell.
DULCE ET DECORUM EST PRO PATRIA MORI
(It is sweet and right to die for your country)
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.
Written between 8 October 1917 and March, 1918
In their name, never again.