Armistice Day – Why I never wear a poppy

 “Individuals seeking to disrupt the 2 minute silence will be dealt with robustly #Armistice Day poppy #remember”

Besieged Libyan City Of Misurata Struggles Against Gaddafi's ForcesI really wanted to do something to disrupt this nonsense, to ‘culture jam’ this misplaced worship of the dead – remembering the victims of war by wearing a poppy while simultaneously and deliberately adding to their numbers always struck me as cruelly hypocritical. At work today they actually sounded the fire alarm at eleven and then again at two minutes past to mark the time we weren’t supposed to speak. I just about managed to stop myself from jumping up on my desk and lecturing a captive and silent audience on the way war is always manufactured and the fact that casualties of modern war are almost always innocent civilians – like the 100,000 Libyans killed this year at a cost to the UK taxpayer of a cool £2 billion, that’s just twenty grand per corpse, what a bargain! I’m sure I would have been frog-marched straight out of a job and back to the dole queue but perhaps it would have been worth it.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, over one million innocent men, women and children have been murdered by western forces in the last decade. Yes, murdered! Anyone claiming that civilian casualties of war should be falluja_child_victim.us_attackconsidered ‘collateral damage’ clearly doesn’t understand the laws of war, the Geneva conventions and the Nuremberg principles.

When I was at the Democracy Village last year on Parliament Square, I had some issues with various banners that were created but in the interests of harmony, I never spoke up. The banner which I most objected to was one that read ‘We respect the soldiers. We do not support the war.’ Well, I make no apologies about this, but I don’t respect the soldiers. Even in times of conscription, men and women of conscience could effectively object. These days soldiers have volunteered to become unquestioning murderers. The fact that they may not be aware that most of the victims of modern warfare are innocent civilians in no way absolves them from their responsibility, from their crime. When the stakes are so high, ignorance is no defense.

Iraqi ChildI have to agree with William Blake’s sentiment – ‘Damn the king. The soldiers are all slaves’. Today, it’s ‘damn the political leaders who take us into war’, although the Queen herself is hardly innocent in all this, it is ‘Her Majesty’s Armed Forces’ after all. Thank goodness that in 2011, statements like these are not considered criminal treachery, for in Blake’s time, such utterances had him tried for sedition.

I have a modicum of sympathy for those who believe a life in the military was their only way out of poverty – we all have to eat after all – that they remain a loyal servant to Betty-the war-criminal after they become aware of the barbaric methods of the armed forces, the total disregard for lives of civilians and animals in far-away places, the use of lethal, horrific and inhumane weapons, and the knowledge that they are committing war crimes by obeying illegal orders – all this is unforgivable. Without pilots willing to drop bombs, sailors willing to fire cruise missiles, soldiers willing to pick up a gun and fight there would be no war.

I too lost relatives, in the First and Second World Wars, some slain while wearing a uniform, others bombed to death while they slept in their beds. If this needless destruction of life was just a distant memory I might be more in tune with the rest of the country at this time.

Iraqi Child VictimWhat I can’t abide is this sanctimonious remembrance of those who knowingly gave up their lives and for whom we can do nothing other than commemorate whilst simultaneously turning a blind eye to the innocent civilians who desperately want to live but who will surely be killed. That the murder of today’s victims of war is at the hands of our own armed forces is a truth too unsettling for most to even think of, possibly because deep down we all know we should be doing more to prevent it.

I’m reminded of the film Life and Nothing But directed by Bertrand Tavernier, about the hunt for years after the First World War to fit the thousands of ‘missing persons’ to real corpses. The surreal becomes the macabre when delegates from one village petition the authorities to extend the local government boundaries to ‘take in’ a farm from a neighbouring village – the ‘problem’ you see was that their village had no dead to worship; seventeen young men were called up and seventeen came back without even a lost limb to show for their heroism. Two men from the farm had been killed in the war and as the neighbouring village had plenty of dead to celebrate, it was thought that they would not miss a mangy two. If the village could claim the two dead as their own, the morale of all the villagers would soar – statues and memorials could be erected and everyone could join in the glorification and worship!

The writer and radical journalist Paul Foot wrote of the film ‘the whole atmosphere stinks with the obsession and glorification of death in what, with the possible exception of the Holocaust, was the most futile and disgusting slaughter of human beings in all human history’. He went on to observe that ‘the only point which matters about the First World War and its sequels is that they must not be allowed to happen again. Honouring and worshipping those who died in them, praising them for their patriotic sacrifice and wearing poppies as symbols of their blood on the ground where they fell serves only to glamourise the atrocity and pave the way to the next one.’

Armistice-Day-ceremonyThis grotesque self-deception that wearing a poppy facilitates is not something those authentic souls amongst us should ever subject ourselves to. Provoke us with the difficult and uncomfortable truth rather than sooth us with false hope, praise for patriotic sacrifice, tales of past bravado, and jingoistic nationalism. Let us not be manipulated into believing that we should, in any way, approve or admire those who made this sacrifice, especially when this manipulation is at the hands of the wealthy elites – those for whom war is still a profitable business.

War is a racket. It’s manufactured and as a brand, it soars above Nike and Coca Cola. As a product, it’s humanity’s best seller.

I’d be more likely to wear a poppy if it was every day of the year that we actually remembered and cared about all of those killed in war rather than remember just the killers for two minutes on the 11th November.

So this year, as in past years, I won’t be wearing a poppy.

Harry Patch

When war criminal Tony Blair met Harry Patch

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

In my view, this is one of the most moving anti-war songs ever written, here with the wonderfully warm and yet bitterly angry voice of Liam Clancy…

 

The Cat Who was Shot for Treason

Written by Heathcote Williams

British soldier ‘shakes hands’ with a kitten on a snowy bank, Neulette, 1917
British soldier ‘shakes hands’ with a kitten on a snowy bank, Neulette, 1917

A cat was shot for treason
In World War One.
It had acted as an intermediary
Between Allied and Axis lines:
English and German soldiers
Could send messages
To each other
By tying scraps of paper
To the cat’s collar.
The cat then ran across No Man’s Land,
From one trench to the other.

When the War Office found out,
Allied superior officers
Ordered that the cat, nicknamed Felix,
Should be shot for its being a go-between,
And thus enabling fraternization
Between the warring troops
On the Western Front.

For, after a Christmas truce
When enmity miraculously faded
And one German dug-out sang ‘Heilige Nacht’
As its English opposite number joined in
With ‘Silent Night’;
And when deadly enemies
Shyly scrambled out
Into the open air
Clutching presents
Of rum and schnapps, and lebkochen
And Huntley and Palmer’s digestive biscuits;
And when they swapped them with broad smiles,
And when impromptu football matches
Broke out up and down the battle lines…
These popular displays of comradeship;
These congenial armistices;
These undeclared cease-fires
Were outlawed by the government
Who declared that all such happenings
Were high treason,
And subject to the same condign punishment
As cowardice, namely the firing squad.

Felix the cat, however,
(Called Nestor by the Germans)
Was a law unto itself.
It would wait patiently
Whilst cheery little scrawls
In English and in German
Were being attached to its collar
By trembling fingers, raw with cold:
“Hello Fritz.”
“Gutentag Tommy.”
“Fröhliche Weihnachten, Tommy.”
“Happy Christmas, Fritz.”

Back and forth the cat skipped across the snow,
Across the hard, unforgiving soil
Of No Man’s Land; first appearing at Mons
And later at Passchendaele.

Then Felix – just like the animals
In the Middle Ages who, notoriously,
Were tried for being suspected
Of being in league with the devil –
Was judged by the top military brass
To constitute a threat
Through its enabling treasonous acts,
Through its being an accessory
To the undermining of the serial hate-crime
That was World War One;
A war crime that left fifteen million dead
Including a peace cat,
Who’s barely ever mentioned
But whose bloodstained paw-prints
Are a lone, feline testament
To war’s absurdity.

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