Monday, 12 November 2012

Rejecting Remembrance Day

Cranmer got there first, but I thought that I had to pass comment on this.

The Acting President of the University of London Union, a chap called Daniel Cooper, was invited to lay a wreath at the University's Remembrance Service, in his capacity as Union President.

He refused, and published an open letter listing his reasons why. The full text can be found on Cranmer's blog.

Time to put on the fisking gloves...

Ordinary people in the UK formed many of the first war veterans’ organisations. For example, the Labour-aligned “National Association of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers” was set up in 1917, campaigning for better war pensions and jobs – excluding officers from membership. The left-Liberal organized “National Federation of Discharged and Demobilized Sailors and Soldiers” campaigned under the slogan “justice not charity”. In response, a charity for ex-servicemen was launched in 1921, in opposition to these organisations, and the sale of poppies marked the build-up to Remembrance Day.

So? The political Left don't have a monopoly on compassion, you know?

It is named after Sir Douglas Haig, the British senior officer responsible for the massacre at the battles of the Somme and the Passchendaele.

Again, so what? Field Marshal Haig was indeed in command during the Battle of the Somme and Passchendaele, and it is fair to say he shares a proportion of the blame. However, there are a couple of points to make:
  1. He wasn't solely responsible. I'd hazard a guess that at least part of the responsibility falls on the German commander as well, not to mention the geopolitical motivations of political leaders of both the Triple Entente and the Central Powers. Just a thought, of course.
  2. It's all very well criticising Haig in hindsight, nearly 100 years after the event. In fact, when the British Legion was established, Haig was regarded as a bit of a hero. The painting of him as a heartless incompetent has been a fairly recent development.
The British Legion continued to veer further to the political right, with figures like Lord Derby taking a lead on its work.

Again, so what? Being on the political Right doesn't make you evil. The Legion's primary motivation has been, and continues to be, the care of former servicemen.

Today the colossal loss of life, misery and suffering is commemorated in a way that doesn’t fit with the reality of what took place in WW1.

You are completely misunderstanding the point. The reason we have 2 minutes' silence on the 11th of November is because that's when the war ended. We don't commemorate the war - we commemorate it's ending. There's a big difference.

Before 1914 there had been no major war for a century.

The defence presents Exhibit A: the Crimean War. Less than a century before. This is historically regarded as the first major conflict between industrialised powers; however, the Russians were still less advanced, which is why they lost. However, the suffering of the soldiers in the Crimea was very much in the public's mind - hence the institution of the Victoria Cross, and the efforts of people such as Mary Secole and Florence Nightingale.

This was the first example in history of “total war”, a break from the hitherto dominant model of state craft and diplomacy.

This was not the first example of 'total war'. Previous conflicts had been fought along similar lines, including the War of Independence, the Crusades, the 100 Years War, the Napoleonic Wars and others. Are you somehow implying that these conflicts were somehow more civilised? Complete rubbish. The only difference is one of scale - the Great War was bigger, and between industrialised powers of approximately equal technological status.

It plunged the world into a chasm of barbarism, industrialised killing and ruin beyond imagination.

Again, you are implying that the world was actually a nice place to live before all these nasty empires with their evil technology came along. I suppose it was, as long as you ignore the crushing poverty and dynastic oppression of medieval monarchies. Oh, wait...

The imperial age was not a pleasant one, to be sure, but it can't really be argued that it was significantly worse than what had gone before. Humans have made a hobby of murdering each other since the dawn of time. As I've said, the only difference is one of scale. And, in the case of the Allies, their reasons for opposing the Central Powers was they did not want to see a single police state i.e. a potential unification between the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, dominate Europe.

The poet Siegred Sasson...

That would be Siegfried Sassoon. I studied him in GCSE English Literature as well, but I can remember how to spell his name.

The war wasn’t an act of liberation, or self defence from despotism, as our leaders today preach. The British Empire feared the growing industrial and military power of imperial Germany. The war that exploded in 1914 was a war to re-divide the world. It was a scramble for colonial possessions, markets and resources amongst the major nations.

You are either accidentally or wilfully ignorant of the causes of the Great War, and are falling into the trap of the modern narrative of the war, which is a far cry from what actually happened. For a start, as I have already mentioned, it was not so much the German Empire which the British had a problem with, but the fact that they had formed a key strategic alliance with the other major power in Central Europe, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And it wasn't just us that was concerned - we were in a Triple Entente with France and Russia, in an attempt to contain an absolute monarchy and police state which looked set to dominate Europe. Admittedly, the Russian Empire operated on a similar basis, but both Britain and France were democracies. Even taking into account our imperial dominions, our system of government was still much fairer than either the Germans' or the Austro-Hungarians.

The primary claim by governments at the time, and today, is that the war would be laying claim to our freedoms, and preserving our democratic traditions. But at the same time as the war, most in the UK were not politically enfranchised or even held basic democratic rights, particularly women and working class people.

Actually, there had been significant steps forward in terms of suffrage during the 19th Century. Approximately 60% of men had the vote just before World War One. And again, although this was far from perfect, it was far better than the autocratic, absolutist model favoured by the Central Powers. Indeed, the Suffragettes movement was well underway at this point - the only reason they didn't get the vote earlier was because of the war.

As for the working classes, all male heads of household had the vote, regardless of their income, assets or social standing. Of course, there were more people per household in the working classes, so they were less franchised, but they at least had something. In Gemany, Austria or Hungary, they would have had nothing.

A wave of revolutions followed across Europe, some were limited, and others developed into full blown changes in the status quo, for example in Russia the working class took power.

The Russian Revolution happened in 1917, during the war, not after it. And it wasn't the 'working class' that took power - it was a small group of educated hardline revolutionaries, which had Tsar Nicholas and the rest of the royal family murdered, and then set about establishing one of the most brutal and oppressive regimes in human history. The Soviet Union killed more people than Nazi Germany. It's not what I'd call improvement to the governmental system of the Russian Empire.

This legacy is not documented.

Yes, it is. It's just that the facts don't fit with your ideology.

The Prime Minister David Cameron wants the lessons of the war to remain with us but the dominant narrative on show is one-sided and distorted. It mourns the dead and regrets their loss. But at the same time it exalts their “necessary sacrifice”. The war was terrible, the argument goes, but the price was worth paying.

You seem to be implying that Remembrance Day is solely to commemorate the First World War. As I have stated before, this is not true. Remembrance Day was instituted to commemorate the end of the First World War, but in its modern context, we use it to honour the deaths of everyone who has given their lives in defence of what freedom we have, whenever that sacrifice was made. Certainly, in the context of World War Two, when we were facing a scale of State-sponsored murder the likes of which mankind had never seen before, it was worth paying.

Cameron deems Friday’s remembrance should be a “to capture our national spirit” and display “national pride”, this is the same sentiment as the purported challenge to accepted national values trumpeted by war politicians in the lead up to 1914 . Today the military and monarchy stand tall at the front of the day of remembrance.

Personally, I am proud of the role that Britain has played throughout the ages in the cause of freedom. This is the nation that brought common law, democracy, industrialisation (which has caused a massive increase in life expectancy and quality of life) and good governance to billions of people across the globe. This is the nation that abolished slavery, that confronted political hegemony, that defied fascism. Our military and monarchy are symbols of our nation and everything we represent. Truly, ours is the greatest nation upon the face of the earth.

Mourning the butchery of thousands of ordinary people through an act of remembrance side by side with the inheritors of an economic system which created the war is not something I wish to take part in. It is an insult to those sent to die, victims of the self interested advancement of the British Empire.

Ah, now we come to it. It is not the act of remembrance you oppose, it is the participation of people with different political principles to you. Well, then, I suggest you grow the fuck up, you child. And as for the 'economic system which created the war', economic systems don't create wars. I don't see anything in capitalism about advocating the murder of other people, only free trade with them. People create wars. And in terms of your implied alternative economic model, that's totally perfect, isn't it? Soviet Russia, Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Uganda, North Korea, Nazi Germany (yes, the Nazis were National Socialists)... your implied alternative has killed more people than capitalism and laissez-faire imperialism put together.

We should instead remember the internationalists and socialists. We should remember the figures like Karl Kraus, one of many poets and satirists, who denounced the war. We should remember the soldiers that downed tools to build relationships with each other.

Of course we should remember those who opposed the war - they did so rightly, and if only the cause of democracy had been further advanced in both the Central and Entente Powers, the war would probably not have happened. However, it took the war to further that cause. It is the sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers that allow us to have a tolerant, liberal society today. It is their deaths that, indeed, allow you to form and express such ridiculous opinions. And yet, despite this sacrifice being the primary reason for your freedom, you choose to reject an act of remembrance of that, simply because you disagree with the political motivations of their leaders at the time, and the people who also participate in this act.

You are a petty, obnoxious, ignorant, prejudiced imbecile, to put such petty divisions before an act of such solemn meaning. Grow up.