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The great 'deception' that killed millions

Perhaps it is fitting on the day that the slaughter of World War One finally ended, the Treasury is said to be preparing for “economic Armageddon”.

Vince Cable’s admission refers to the consequences for Britain of a disorderly (it can’t be orderly) break-up of the euro as a currency and the resultant depression that will sweep not just Europe but the global economy.

But there’s no hiding the connection with the world wars of the 20th century that cost tens of millions their lives. They were essentially the product of inter-imperialist conflict over trade, empire and markets.

Let no-one claim otherwise, although the political establishment tries might and main to do so every November when the official line is that millions went off to fight “for their country” in 1914.

Wearing a poppy becomes almost compulsory in official circles. Everyone on TV wears one. Those called in for an interview are asked to wear one, whether they want to or not. Of course, it is not wrong to honour the dead but we have to cut through the hypocrisy.

What is never up for discussion is that within months, soldiers on both sides realised that they had been trapped, even duped into a conflict from which they could not escape. A war which was not of their making exacted an intolerable price.

With the first global conflict unresolved, another one arose out of the break-down of the capitalist economy in Europe and the United States. And less than 70 years after its conclusion, with the mass murder of Japanese civilians, the storm clouds are gathering again.

The European Union, which was designed in part to prevent a repeat of 20th century wars by bringing nations together, is in disarray. Governments in two member states were brought down this week by the economic crisis.

In Greece, the unelected former vice-president of the European Central Bank is to become prime minister of a national government. In Italy, the financial markets are demanding a government of technocrats. In both countries, early general elections were ruled out by the financial markets because they would take too long! Democratic procedures are now considered dispensable.

Now the talk is of a core of richer countries like Germany and France ganging up to exclude the poorer economies within the EU as well as Britain. So the seeds for conflict of all kinds are being sown. A system driven by the need to access and grow markets has no other direction to travel.

So perhaps the best way to mark armistice day is with the letter that the great war poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote to his commanding officer in July 1917, declining to return to duty after recovering from his wounds:

I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it. I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that the war upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them and that had this been done the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops and I can no longer be a party to prolonging these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.

On behalf of those who are suffering now, I make this protest against the deception which is being practised upon them; also I believe it may help to destroy the callous complacency with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share and which they have not enough imagination to realise.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
11 November 2011

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