A drawing down of blinds
What is left unsaid on November 11, when the slaughter of World War One finally ended exactly 90 years ago, needs to be shouted from the rooftops: the 750,000 British soldiers who were killed – and those from other countries who died – were victims of a war not of their making and fought not in their interest and that the reason for their deaths is still present today.
This shocking waste of life needs to be remembered and honoured – but not in the sickening and hypocritical way that politicians from the major parties and the establishment do. They still can’t even look after their fallen or wounded troops, who, instead, often have to rely on charity and the proceeds of poppy sales in civilian life.
We need a memorial that spells out the truth, which explains that those who died and the hundreds of thousands who were maimed, were cannon fodder for others. Propaganda would have it that it was the “war to end all wars” and fought for British democracy against the tyranny of the Hun.
In reality, it was an imperialist war fought over the division and redivision of colonial spoils, with the challenge of Germany to Britain’s empire and passing industrial might the principal cause of the first global conflict. The war was followed shortly afterwards by recession and slump, leading directly to a resumption of hostilities in 1939.
The connections with 2008 are more and more self-apparent. At the heart of the 1914-18 war was an essential contradiction of the capitalist system. Capitalism has to expand on a continuous basis, to discover and conquer new markets, to drive out competitors and secure sources of raw materials. If it cannot, it plunges into crisis and international tensions inevitably build up.
Today, globalised capitalism is heading for a slump greater than the 1930s because it is an irrational system that from time to time is compelled to destroy a large portion of what it created. As British political leaders scrabble around to promise better tax cuts than the next party, their actions look more and more irrelevant. General Motors, one of the world’s biggest carmakers, is bankrupt. The fall-out from the financial crash is building into a tsunami.
As the same capitalist fundamentals that produced two world wars in the last century are still present, we must be on our guard against new calls to arms to fight for Queen and country. Wilfred Owen, the war poet, was killed a week before the ceasefire (right up until the last minute, until the 11a.m armistice, generals were sending troops over the top to die) and his words are more honest than those who claim to speak for the fallen:
Anthem for Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
11 November 2008