Thursday, 3 November 2011

Response to Laurie Penny's article

Yesterday I saw a tweet with the comment depreciating an article by Laurie Penny and Remembrance Day stating how disrespectful and inaccurate it was. Of course, despite my brain telling me how much I would hate it, I read it and boy was I cross. Any way on my third read I have managed to come up with a review and can see what she's driving at in a few places but I also agree that her attacks on "the Establishment" is a little misplaced and her facts a little shaky.

Anyway the actual article is here. 

One of her driving thrusts is that Politicians wearing Poppies is hypocritical because they have authorised the deaths of British Service people in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and also have;
"Authorised the decimation of jobs, welfare and public education to defend Britain's military spending and Nuclear arsenal."

I agree with the sentiment of not cancelling Trident. I was most disappointed by that but it was one of the things that we Libdems had to suck up as part of the Coalition. As for the preservation of the Military budget then she is way off the mark. When a Government CUTS military budgets it is the soldiers on the ground who suffer.

The other side. German Soldiers at the Marne

As any student of military campaigns knows the British army has often suffered from this, be it in the War of Independence, the Crimea, Zulu War, World War One and even in World War Two British Infantrymen have found themselves without vital kit and have either had to make do or succumb to the enemy. Even recently the British soldier has been known as the "Borrowers" by US military personnel as they have never got enough kit, we have rifles that don't fire or go off when you're on sentry duty, radios that are picked up on Mobile phones, a lack of ammunition, aircraft that are as old as I am and burst into flames... This is not a high tech over spent military, we've officially got more Generals than serviceable tanks, more Admirals than warships and now it has been reported in the Metro that we don't have any warships guarding Britain's home waters for the first time in centuries! We are also not a Miltary orientated state, unlike the Kaiser's Germany or even Pre World War One Britain. Her beloved protests have not been met by the Army, nor a single bullet fired by the state. If we were like the afor mentioned states then things would have turned out differently in the riots and protests of the last year. Pre 1914 a gunboat openned up on striking workers in Liverpool and the cavalry were deployed against protestors in Ireland before the Black and Tans moved in.

As for politicians being hypocritical for wearing poppies. I can see her point however the argument is again flawed. Governments of all ilks have to make the important decision and War is always furthest from their minds. (usually.) When war was declared in 1914 it was not Asquith's intention to fight, nor was it when Chamberlain offered his ultimatum to Hitler over Poland, he wanted war to be averted. Other politicians such as Eden and Blair struck first in the Middle East and those were unjust wars. Should that mean that they shouldn't wear poppies and remember the fallen as a consequence of their actions? Also the death toll in both World Wars, the big ones commemorated by remembrance day, touched every family. My Grandmother lost three relatives on the same day in the Somme. How can you say, Clegg, Cameron or Miliband or even Blair cannot wear a Poppy to remember the deaths of their family? The sacrifices they're forebears made for this country and the cause of democracy. Its not hypocritical it is the very reason to wear a Poppy.

If we are going to talk of hypocrisy of poppy wearers we should look at the senior officers who commanded men in the field, the ones who plan the campaigns, or is it the junior officers and NCO's who actually physically send their men to die? After all British Commanders on the field ignored the reports of the German army preparing to use gas at Ypres, they had German defector's testimony and gas mask equipment shown to them but they ignored the warnings. When my Grandfather was in Italy they warned a Grenadier Guard officer not to march his men down a road because of the minefield. He ignored them and most of them were killed. Soldiers are killed. How is Asquith, who lost his son in World War One, more responsible than these men? Also, and lets be fair about this, the enemy, be they German, Korean, Japanese, Iraqi, Islamic extremist terrorists, Argentine etc, are all trying to kill British soldiers and occasionally they succeed.

I do agree that the war in Iraq was an illegal war. Yes it overthrew a vile genocidal dictator but the British public were lied to by Government and the West has profited from the peace. This should not mar the process of Remembrance though it is something separate. The same is true for those who burnt Poppies in protest of perceived "British Militarism."
Remembrance is a deeply personal thing, a moment to think about sacrifice and loss, the day is a day for the fallen and their families to mourn and commemorate, whatever cause they fell for or the government's motivation for sending them. Protests should be directed in other formats on another day. This is their day, an apolitical day.

A mythology has grown up about both wars and media doesn't help. The struggle seem to be glorified with the Second which by the way Laurie was quite avoidable for the West especially in June 1940. Does that mean that the blood of all those Britons who died after the "Appeal to reason" from Germany is on Churchill's hand's?  No Churchill did what had to be done. The same with Cameron and Libya.
Ms Penny asserts that the soldiers are being to sent to fight for a cause that they don't understand, all I can say is this is not the 19th Century when there were all manner of Political reasons, or even World War One when "Belgian Neutrality" and "German Militarism" were facades for complicated foreign policy. We sent troops into the Balkans to stop genocide, to Afghanistan to overthrow a terror state, Libya to stop oppression and encourage democracy. If anything I can't think of a cause more worthy than democracy and freedom of others (or yourselves.).

I do agree with her sentiment about the commercial side of Remembrance day and with the Crystal encrusted poppies, and the pomp and ceremony that can over hype the whole day, the glorification of War in some places. Although, if you ignore the Media side of it and look to the parish churches and to families you will see the true face of Remembrance, people talking over their losses, of the friends and family who didn't make it and there is the true message.

Finally, there comes the notion of sacrifice. Yes, there are two kinds of sacrifice; Volunteers who willingly give their lives and the ones who were sacrificed by Generals. Unfortunately, Ms Penny again misses the tragic point. In war, they are often both the same thing. Tough decisions have to be made and people lost. Yes, there are many great mistakes, failures and defeats as well as piric victories too. War is awful.
Yes it is OK to hate the Armament producers as she does but the simple fact is they only exist because there is a need for them, and business is good (in a time when austerity has struck everyone else) because War is so prolific. The simple facts are;
1: They pay their taxes and provide massive employment.
2: Until the Human race can evolve a higher sense of purpose and overcome its petty differences War will always exist thus so will Arms producers.

So in answer to the question of what my response is, I think Remembrance is a deeply personal thing, you cannot generalise as Ms Penny has done and say no one group should not be allowed to commemorate and that save the protests and flag waving for another day. Remembrance day is not about celebrating War, or politicising War, its about the lost and the fallen and remembering them no matter what side they fell for.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post, Chris. Agree with almost all of it.

    I remember protesting in the run up to Blair's Folly (aka Gulf War Two: This Time It's Personal), and during the opening few months, and being accused of being unpatriotic and not supporting the troops. My reply was to say that one of the reasons I'm against the war is I AM supporting the troops - I don't want them putting their lives (and personal honour - I've never been one of the lefties who disparage the men and women of the armed forces) at risk for an illegal and unjust war.