There are not many things I dislike about living in London. Of course, the weather could be better sometimes; transport could definitely be improved upon; and an increase in the living wage would help most ordinary Londoners. But the one day of the year I have come to absolutely loathe and despise in over a decade of living in this great city is Remembrance Sunday.
When I first moved here, I was barely conscious of it. I knew it existed; but it seemed to be a much smaller affair, remembered only by a handful of Chelsea pensioners and those members of government who saw it as their duty to attend, much like visiting an elderly relative for whom one had still some semblance of affection. The build-up to it seems to have increased as well; so it is entirely possible to see poppies being sold from early October. Various TV programmes (Lorraine being one of the worst offenders) seem to be a non-stop advertisement for the military or “OBB” (Our Brave Boys). And to me, and others, the wearing of the poppy has become a fashion statement and not reflective of its true symbolism.
In his excellent article last year entitled “Do those who flaunt the poppy on their lapels know that they mock the war dead?” Robert Fisk contends that the wearing of the poppy has travelled far from its origins, and now has become a symbol of appearing to be patriotic to work colleagues. He also speaks about his father, who had served in the “war to end all wars”, who refused, towards the end of his life, to wear the poppy, as he felt it mocked what he and his comrades had been through in the trenches.
I believe that as a so-called civilised society that we should be dismantling the military, and as expediently as we possibly can. We should not be eulogising its exploits, especially when they are of a colonising nature. We have to look at how the military is currently being used e.g. in Iraq and Afghanistan, and really question why “our boys and girls” are there. The answer will probably be pretty simple: control over energy resources. Is that really why we send good men and women to be killed? So that our governments do not do the negotiating we are paying them (as taxpayers) to do, but instead take the “easy” route (easy to them, because it is unlikely to be their sons and daughters being sent off as cannon fodder) of military action? There are very few instances in which military action is justifiable; and it must always be a last resort, backed by a legal mandate.
A friend of mine on Facebook was appalled by a post he saw on Peter Tatchell’s page, which depicted a Malayan held at gunpoint by a British soldier in some of the anti-colonial wars from 1945 onwards. In truth, it is a shocking picture; but I think a necessary one at this time of year to remember this side of the military as well. As an Irish citizen and as the descendant of a family who was involved in hiding the dissident Roger Casement from the Black and Tans, there are instances in which OBB are not the heroes the media would depict them as being. In more recent times, we only have to look at the cases in Londonderry, Abu Ghraib and Baha Mousa to know that soldiers do not always act with the greatest of humanity or in an honourable way. To whitewash them all with a heroic glow is erroneous and insulting to the victims they have brutalised.
I have come across a few soldiers in my time; and from my experience, they are sober about the realities of war, and the least enthusiastic people about the prospects of waging war that I have met. Of course they are; they have been in the thick of it, and have experienced what it is first hand, and that the pomp and circumstance of military propaganda mean nothing when one is locked in armed combat. An ex-boyfriend of mine was a soldier in the Irish Army, which is traditionally a peace-keeping army. He had, however, served in border control between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, and had been to places like Rwanda and Ethiopia. He was from an area of Dublin that used to be known as “Cowboy Country” back in the 1990s due to fairly high crime rates, and was from a working class Dublin family. I remember him saying to me that the best day of his life and the worst day of his life was when he entered the army. It was the best day, because at 16 years old he felt he was becoming a man; it was the worst day because at 16 years old he had no idea what he was letting himself in for. Although the Irish Army is not normally involved in the heavy duty combat that let’s say, the British Army is, he had seen enough by the end of his tenure to understand the glamour of the uniform did not match the reality of being a trained killer.
So on this Remembrance Sunday, I will be remembering: Peace must always be the objective. War must always be a last and uncommon resort, rather than a first and usual one. We must discourage young men and women, from backgrounds with limited opportunity, that enlisting is an easy option; their lives are worth more to society alive than dead. While it is wonderful that some soldiers turned their injuries into Paralympic gold this summer, this is a choice that no young man or woman should ever be faced with. If I had children, I would actively forbid them from going into the army; I do not see it as a glorious career, which has a 50:50 chance of their remains coming back in a box. It is not uncommon nowadays for “wars” to be fabricated on the basis of control of oil pipelines: we have to ask ourselves – what price oil? And if that oil costs even one life, civilian or military, that is too high a price to pay, and we, in our privilege, must ask: how can we live differently, and force that question on our politicians. I look forward to a day where we have little need for a military, and that all we remember at this time of year is to give peace a chance.
Some interesting links: