In ancient times, war was what aggressive leaders did to increase and maintain power. Since the world got civilised, war is what weak men do when they have more power than they know what to do with.
There is a moving audio recording (made in 1966) of the World War I memories of veteran Frank Austen. He recounts how, after the unofficial 1916 Christmas day truce, there was no move by the soldiers who’d exchanged gifts and got drunk together, to recommence shooting. A fresh battalion of guards were sent by army command, to re-start the killing. According to Frank Austen, soldiers on both sides, did not know why they were fighting.
Add to that the way veterans can so instantly be forgotten after wars and you have a grubby Golgotha. (Check out blog 162 in the archives Remembrance Day v Political Amnesia)
The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson is an iconic poem from 1854 which deals with – in Tennyson’s view – the ‘glorious’ deaths of cavalrymen in the Crimean war after a military blunder turned the soldiers into cannon fodder. Two chilling lines in the second stanza go like this -
Theirs not to reason why
Theirs but to do and die
proving that little changed in the 60 years leading up to World War I.
We know Iraq-Apocalypse-Now was Bush and Blair’s holy crusade/oil grab//testosterone fest but who knew why we were fighting in Afghanistan? Was it just that Russia had a go and it was our turn?
If you or I disagree we might have a row, we may even fall out permanently and cease to have contact. Drunk blokes have a punch up.
The contemporary elite don’t do that. Far too grubby. If they fall out they throw Joe Ordinary into the fray. Kaiser Wilhelm II (credited with starting WWI) was cousin to King Edward VII and held a senior position in the British military. It took 38 million casualties to sort out that elite pissing contest!
In the modern world, when the pampered rulers disagree they don’t go punch each other. They rally or conscript the lower orders and send them off to kill each other. We call that WAR.
What is war good for? According to Edwin Starr “absolutely nothing” (Edwin Starr 1970 https://youtu.be/-dKAX7Jp8wo
But that statement requires qualification. Obviously war is no good for innocent civilians nor is it good for the young men and women who fight and die or are injured. But war is not bad for those at the top of the pile.
War creates fear. Fear allows for those who start the wars to exert more control over ordinary people. The more control you have the more you can work on instilling fear. And round we go.
War is expensive and where HUGE sums of money change hands there is always profit to be made. If you raze a country to the ground in the modern world, you get to hand out contracts for the re-build.
War is very distracting. If you go to war – especially if you do it with minimum inconvenience to yourself – i.e. in someone else’s country – you can divert the populous from corruption, criminal incompetence, the state of the economy, the state of public services etc. Just hitch your wagon to that old plough horse Patriotism. Dare anyone criticise you just mow them down with the iron shod hooves of xenophobia and jingoism.
And war creates anxiety (great for the suppliers of anti-depressants) And anxiety stops people thinking straight and helps keep control in the hands of the bullies.
War is clearly good for creepy right wing men with bad hair. Just look at the rise and rise of (in this country) Farage and Boris Johnson. In the US – I almost cannot bear to type the name – Trump.
War is good for breeding terrorism which gives the warmongers even more excuse to control the populous and spend more money on – war.
The only thing war is not good for is us. You and me. War is bad for humanity.
There is a Latin phrase that Frank Austen may have been familiar with in 1914 as it was used to cajole young men to take up arms - ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ (it is sweet and right to die for your country)
In his famous war poem ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, written towards the end of WWI, shortly before he was killed in action, Wilfred Owen uses the phrase in an excoriating last stanza
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.
Interesting facts –
In a weakened, traumatised and highly mobilised global population – the Flu pandemic immediately following WW1 killed more people than the war itself.
As we approach the centenary of The Battle of the Somme (start date July 1st 1916) it is worth noting that more British soldiers were killed in that battle than the combined numbers in the Crimean, Boer and Korean wars (57,000+)
*NB. In the next Tuesday blog I promise I'll put up an EU Referendum post that may help those who've been appalled by the gutter level debate so far.
Thank you for reading