Saturday, 1 November 2014

That time of year - again

The problem with blogging for a number of years is - just as it is in the real world - of repeating your rants. The same shit riles me repeatedly  - and often at the same time of year. So look back over the years and most Novembers you will find a post about Remembrance.

The centenary of the Great War this year - and the cynical might also add - the on-going military involvement of the Western powers, has given a boast to the increasingly flag-waving and misappropriation of history that now passes for Remembrance. And filling the moat at the Tower of London with individual ceramic poppies to commemorate each British and Commonwealth soldier killed in WW1 is possibly the most spectacular expression of this. 

A misappropriation of history with a multiculturalism that may suit the militarist liberalism that is Blair's legacy but which is deeply flawed: In 1914-18 there was no 'Commonwealth' - only an Empire; the same British Empire that was still to approach its zenith in the 1930s. 

I doubt  many members of the Chinese Labour Corps - not trusted to carry weapons but used for heavy manual labour - were motivated by a sense of fellowship with a community of nations defending democracy from Teutonic autocracy. 

In Ireland and India where men volunteered in droves - many did so on the basis that supporting the Mother country was a prerequisite for being granting nationhood. Their optimistic trust was to be betrayed by the British at Croke Park and Amritsar.

Even in Canada, Australia and New Zealand where their status as white settler states had secured the privilege of being Dominions rather than colonies, men volunteered in their droves to prove a point and secure nationhood. At the price of the slaughter at Vimy Ridge and Gallipoli.

It is no accident that this rewriting of History is happening at a time when the West is again trying to build a consensus - if not an actual coalition - in defence of 'civilised values'.  The Great War was many things but it was not a voluntary crusade - it was a war of conscripted masses and subject nations - whose sacrifice was nothing more than a tragic waste. 

Stick that on your memorials - and maybe then I will wear a poppy. 


Dr Llareggub said...

Every year that I can remember politicians have used Remembrance as a vehicle to prop up their objectives. So it was not so smart of the arty tosser in the Guardian who rubbished the poppy display at the Tower as nationalistic trash. For most ordinary people the meaning of Remembrance is bound up with family losses, whatever the media and politicians say. Its that simple - whatever the war was about we lost granddad in it and today the poppies and flags serve as the symbols which facilitate our remembrance of him. So the left wing students, possessed with their superficial knowledge about white colonialism, who bravely spat on a member of my family who wore a poppy to remember her dad, were not that far from the war mongering politicians who distort our memories for their own political objectives

Journeyman said...

Look through my old posts in previous Novembers - in paritcular:

My own family were fighting in Victoria's colonial wars for a couple of generations. This was at a time when joining the military was the last resort for the poorest of the poor. Not so very different today.

I have taken kids on trips to the WW1battlefield - and have been moved by the empathy and sensitivity that this experience can inspire.

But I would argue that the 'Remembrance industry' nowadays has very little to do with remembering those who died in the World Wars and much more to do with flag waving for present day conflicts. As a result the tone of Remembrance has shifted massively in my lifetime - ever since Britain's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

You don't need to be a left wing student or have a superficial understanding of white colonialism to see that Remembrance in its current form has a sinister political agenda.

Dr Llareggub said...

I do not see much to disagree with here. The Remembrance industry has become more sophisticated and continues to use the imagery for its political agenda. Likewise, there is a suspicious and sinister agenda being employed by organizations which claim to be left and progressive which are erecting their power base on awareness of the manipulation of remembrance symbols. Outside of all that is a very much battered and maligned working class who can still honour those who died without accepting the media narrative of either left or right. To put it simple: I have great respect for the soldiers who were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan without expressing anything other than hatred for the politicians who sent them there. My point about left wing students was their failure to recognize a distinction between origins of war and the individuals caught up in it and those who respect the fallen. For I am fed up with people - usually aspiring to be left - who identify soldiers with the politicians.

Sure, many join the forces because of financial hardship, but I can name so many people who have left successful careers for the armed forces.

We are about to get the same revelations about Christmas, where some Guardianista will point out that its non Christian history is now a form of commercial exploitation. So what?- the kids can still sing carols and enjoy cake.

Journeyman said...

Fair enough - your comments are always welcome. Thanks. Points taken both ways I think. I totally agree with the need to point the finger of blame in the right direction and remember the class dimension.

There's an analogy with football: A working class game taken over by big business and now in some respects the new opium of the masses. But that doesn't mean that we are obliged to ban England shirts and cheer for any country that happens to play against England - although doubtless some middle class wankers will.