Taking the politics out of war

12 11 2011

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month has just passed. That is the moment in 1918 when the German surrender was received and over four years of slaughter finally came to an end. It became known as Armistice Day.

The day became a remembrance day for the thousands of men who went to war and never came back. A day to remember why all the young men had disappeared and also the needless horror of it all.

The Battle of the Somme, where it became routine for tens of thousands of men to die in a single day.

However, the day has changed in its meaning over the years. After World War II the date became a remembrance day for all those you went to fight for their nation and died. It became the central way for society to acknowledge the cost of war.

Today, far from the terrible wars in Europe, the western world is enjoying one of its most peaceful times in recent history. The last veteran from World War I died earlier this year and the veterans from the second world war are fast disappearing, along with those who lived through that horrific episode of history.

These wars are fading from personal memory into history books. The next generation are not going to have the opportunity as I did to have their granddad give them a first hand account of that moment in history.

Nevertheless Armistice Day is still given huge publicity in todays world but not in the way it used to be. We all rightly remember the history behind the date and some of us observe the traditional two minutes silence for the dead. However, something fundamental about the day has changed though. It is no longer just about remembering a terrible slaughter, today patriotism has entered the mix and a useful tool it has become.

Without our tangible connections to the great wars of the twentieth century we now remember the deaths from our more recent military escapades. Celebrities pose on billboards to show their support for the troops. To appear on British television without a poppy is seen as snub to all those who perished. The world football governing body tried to stop the English national team from wearing an embroidered poppy on their shirt as they said this was a political statement, to howls of indignation from David Cameron.

Actress Helen Mirren lends her support to the British Legion charity.

But here is the distinction, we all want to believe that those who died in war, died for a reason, that their sacrifice meant something to our modern way of life. In effect, the belief that all war is necessary, but it’s not. A soldier who died on the beaches of Normandy had a part to play in the downfall of a vicious dictatorship. Can the same be said of the millions who were cut down by machine gun fire in Flanders fields so that ‘Field Marshall Haig could move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin’ as it is put in the excellent Blackadder Goes Forth comedy.

Are we remembering that these men are sent to their deaths in either Belgium or Afghanistan by ignorant politicians and generals more interested in national prestige than the lives of their own young men. Or are we showing solidarity with the difficult job todays troops have in our modern wars.

The meaning of the poppy is becoming politicised and for the politicians this is a triumph. For to question the war is to question those who serve their country on the battlefield. A large part of this problem is that the armed forces today do not feel valued because nobody cares about Afghanistan, the war is of no consequence to us at home. Only our politicians and generals who do not want to be ones to admit defeat in a stupid and unwinnable war, believe this is a fight worth having.

So we need a day like Armistice Day, where the military gets acknowledgment from society for their actions. Then we move on to thinking about Christmas and the shockingly low salaries our “heroes” is again overlooked. The unemployed veterans who after leaving the military can’t find work in our depressed economies is ignored and those who commit suicide after their return from the front, never to be included as a casualty of war, is barely recognised.