I’m part of a brand new blogger’s collective: solidarity, brothers. And sisters. We promote each other’s work. I’d put this par at the end, but you’ll see why I haven’t today. Make a mental note:
Check out Angie Mizzell, I wish I had years ago: she’s been on the radio with a wonderful approach to ‘me’ time which includes locking oneself in the toilet; and look at New York State from a serene riverside perspective with The Quotidian Hudson. Finally, fashioning a bed out of red oak without power tools is Yaakov at Artisan’s Call.
So often, we think what we are told.
Every year on or around November fifth we are bade remember the date, 406 years ago, when a dodgy Catholic geezer was found in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament with a shedload of gunpowder.
Guy Fawkes, fall Guy. Everything about this Catholic plot to rid the country of King James reeks of the pen of the propagandist. The fake name he chose: John Johnson; a supposed tunnel from a nearby house to Parliament, the location of which was never found.
He was caught leaving a cellar stuffed with gunpowder; interrogated until he told tall tales, forced to add a shaky signature to a confession. And subsequently he has hanged, drawn and quartered.
The following year, behold a new custom: the King and Parliament would annually commission a sermon to commemorate the thwarting of such a fiendish and traitorous plot.
And the folklore! We glibly trot out the rhymes accorded to us by a talented set of 17th century spin doctors to remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot.
And we burn effigies of a man, knowing that our people have done this for centuries, all because a monarch more than 300 years ago knew his marketing strategies.
We think what we are told. They say jump. We ask how high.
It is as well to be wary of how politicians use conflict. George Orwell illustrated how war can turn undiscerning heads.
The propaganda of the authorities in 1984 is not subtle. In one scene its hero, Winston, listens to the announcement of a huge military victory.
Orwell writes: “Bad news coming, thought Winston. And sure enough, following on a gory description of the annihilation of a Eurasian army, with stupendous figures of killed and prisoners, came the announcement that, as from next week, the chocolate ration would be reduced from thirty grammes to twenty. ”
There are many reasons to trumpet a conflict.
Retrospect has shown us that the four years of slaughter from 1914-1918 were for little more than a string of grudges and misplaced loyalties.
But as Britain prepared to face a Great War, it had only a small professional army and no conscription, and the government used generalised concepts to grasp the mind of every young man and send them rushing to enlist.
One of the most painfully ironic is a poster of a beautiful woman, her fetching daughter and little son gazing out of a darkened window watching soldiers disappear from view. The caption: “The women of Britain say ‘Go!!'”
The nation embraced concepts of war more to do with jingoism than heroism.
But our war poets told it how it was.
Why did that war, the one which failed to end all wars, give us men so heartily sick that they told the unvarnished truth?
Unlike Tennyson and his Charge of the LIght Brigade, these men stood in the trenches. They watched the men climb up towards possible death. They lived the nightmare.
Wilfred Owen was tutoring in the Pyrenees when war was declared on August 4, 1914.But after he enlisted he was trained and sent to France along with all the others.
He defended a dugout against enemy fire for 50 hours. He was propelled into the air by a shell and landed among the remains of a dear friend. No wonder he was shaky at parade: they packed him off with shell-shock to an Edinburgh Hospital, where he met Siegfried Sasson, and later Robert Graves, Arnold Bennett and H.G. Wells.
It should have been a great beginning.
But now it reminds me of those Arctic summers, where flowers flourish and reproduce hastily because there is so little time, just bright, clarifying light for days which seem endless.
But the dark always comes.
And it did for Owen, just one weary week before the end of the war. He took a shot to the head as he led an attack by a canal. On Armistice Day, as everyone else celebrated, his family were given the news of his death.
His words strip sentiment from war and leave its bones gleaming.
Of a gas victim he saw: “If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.”
Translated: “Sweet and fitting it is, to die for one’s country.”
Today, as we remember: let’s not do it because we should, or because of noble concepts, or because someone has told us to.
Let’s remember because it’s a bloody pointless finality, war.