Armistice Day again and I don't know where to put myself, as usual. It's a time of frustration for me because it seems to me that the war dead and injured deserve unlimited dignity and respect but I can't bring myself to believe that anyone from the Great War, or countless other wars for that matter died for "us" like David Dimbleby and numerous commentators, churchpeople etc say. Moreover I think they do the dead a disrespect by this annual lie. The Great War was fought for a lot of things but not for freedom. Imperialist and economic domination. Not freedom. If we hadn't swallowed this interpretation of history there might not have been a Second World War, the only one you could argue was a "just" war.
As long as the grey suits get away with flogging tired old militaristic values and misrepresenting them as patriotism or a defence of freedom we'll keep burying our war dead. 1968 is the only year since 1914 when British soldiers have not died in foreign wars. It's a disgrace. I remember reading that when the war with iraq was announced Tony Blair looked "hugely excited". If people are still getting excited about wars we're remembering the wrong way.
I come back to my fellow Scotsman Charles Hamilton Sorley's poem, all the more evocative, powerful and radical because he himself died in the trenches.
When You see Millions of the Mouthless Dead
When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you'll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, 'They are dead.' Then add thereto,
'Yet many a better one has died before.'
Then, scanning all the o'ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.