Thursday, 4 November 2010

Of war and poppies

Yesterday, the Independent printed this letter from a group of soldiers;
Remember the futility of war

The Poppy Appeal is once again subverting Armistice Day. A day that should be about peace and remembrance is turned into a month-long drum roll of support for current wars. This year's campaign has been launched with showbiz hype. The true horror and futility of war is forgotten and ignored.

The public are being urged to wear a poppy in support of "Our Heroes". There is nothing heroic about being blown up in a vehicle. There is nothing heroic about being shot in an ambush and there is nothing heroic about fighting in an unnecessary conflict.

Remembrance should be marked with the sentiment "Never again".

Ben Griffin Northern Ireland, Macedonia, Afghanistan, Iraq; Ben Hayden Northern Ireland, Macedonia, Afghanistan, Iraq; Terry Wood Northern Ireland, Falklands; Ken Lukowiak Northern Ireland, Falklands; Neil Polley Falklands; Steve Pratt Dhofar, Northern Ireland.
This sums up, quite succinctly, the argument I made last year in a far more verbose fashion. As I put it then, "there is nothing more political than using dead soldiers as totems to deflect criticism of an illegal and unjust war." And this is exactly what is happening.

To take one example at random, the Gloucester Citizen reports that Rugby player Freddy Burns "knows first-hand the anxiety of having a family member away at war and that's why he's calling on people to back the Poppy Appeal." Fair enough. After all, the Royal British Legion's campaign exists to provide support for serving and ex-soldiers and their families, which is noble enough.

In the next breath, Burns says "I'm massively proud of my brother, it's not something you say that often, but I am hugely proud of the job they do." And we should "show the right level of respect to the boys out there doing their jobs."

This is so ingrained in our consciousness now that nobody even questions it. But the phrase "Support Our Troops" is not as innocent as it appears, and it does not have the same connotations as the kind of support offered by the Legion or other charities for soldiers and their families. No, Support Our TroopsTM is a weapon of the uber-patriot, an accusation to silence dissent.

Of course, I'm not implying that Burns means it that way. He almost certainly doesn't. But he's using a phrase born for that very purpose. After all, we didn't need an Armed Forces Day until opposition to the war in Afghanistan became widespread. The propaganda implications are clear.

Hence why, last August, I made this point;
Events such as Red Fridays, with supporters wearing red to show their "support" for soldiers, are surrounded with verbose nonsense about "the 'silent' majority" who "thank God" for the "sacrifices" of these young men and women "who are putting their lives on the line everyday for us so we can go to school, work, and enjoy our home without fear or reprisal." The reality is that our freedoms and lives are not at stake in Afghanistan, that those of the Afghans are under continual threat every second that we persist in the country, and that whilst the "silent majority" "thank God," their "unsung heroes" are being slaughtered as fodder in an unjust war. And should they survive, the cheers of those who "still love this country and support our troops" is a preamble to homelessness, depression, and even suicide.
If, in the wake of the recent tax debacle at HMRC, the government had started saying "support our civil servants," and told us that "you may disagree with what's happening, but you have to support those doing it," I wouldn't need to point out that it was a deliberate distraction. Anybody with half a brain could see it. But if that pattern persisted for well over a century, and culminated in an annual Civil Servants Day, it might be more difficult to dissect.

Yes, serving soldiers are just doing a job. As are civil servants, cashiers in supermarkets, and any other worker in any other job. But usually, the bosses throw as much shit their way as possible. The difference is, unlike soldiers, they can't be proclaimed as heroes even when they are just fulfulling the job description, and  held up to deflect criticism. Soldiers can.

Harry Patch, the last Tommy, who died last year, said that "war isn’t worth one life," and was the "calculated and condoned slaughter of human beings." That, not propagandised "Support" or obsessive scrutinty over who does and doesn't wear a poppy, should be the point of Armistice Day.