Sunday, 13 November 2011

Remembering the glory of war

This blog will be contentious especially as it is written on Remembrance Sunday. What does the poppy signify? Well it is a memorial of war made famous by the poem In Flanders' Fields. The response to this poem was another poem called "We shall keep the faith". Ypres, and battles in general, are places for heroes where valour is shown and where the dead are honoured.

Unfortunately history is littered with dishonourable acts of war, some of them caused by disobeying orders, some by obeying them, and some accepted by authorities until they were discovered - and that just accounts for the stories of war that we know about.

It seems to me that an act of heroism may, in other circumstances, be seen as an act of recklessness. If you go over the top and get killed it may be that a posthumous medal is awarded but it may also be the result of a bad decision or a miscommunication. Lord Tennyson knew that the Charge of The Light Brigade was a foolish error but he highlights the valour of those soldiers. I would highlight the foolishness.

You may remember the heroics shown in the film Zulu. The characters played by Michael Caine and Stanley Baker both won VCs along with nine others, the highest number awarded in one battle. However do you remember the heroics of the Zulus or are they just the unsophisticated enemy that need to be killed? The film does show the bravery of the Zulus and it could be argued that they were much braver than the British forces, but I don't think that the Zulus are the first soldiers that are thought of today.

In the Boer War, those brave soldiers fighting guerrilla warfare were Boers. If the British didn't invent concentration camps in the same war then they certainly enhanced their popularity. More recently, if it were not for the widespread availablity of cameras then we may never have learnt about the torture going on in Abu Ghraib.

A few years ago I was speaking with some French people who had no idea about the meaning of the poppy. Would you know the French flower of remembrance? The answer is the bleuet or, as we know it, the cornflower. The blue flower was also the colour of their uniforms. When it comes to remembering all of the war dead then the forces from that particular country come first, and if that is the case then remembrance highlights division.

War is not honourable. According to Tony Benn it is a failure of diplomacy. I have absolutely no problem in supporting soldiers who work in extremely dangerous circumstances. My problem is that we forget the political failures and glorify war.

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