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Marching into the smoke

by on November 11, 2014

Today is of course Armistice Day, a time to reflect – however briefly – on those who have lost their lives in conflicts around the globe. When I was younger, it could all get a bit jingoistic, I remember, with the flags and the troops and the television coverage and the patriotic songs. As a buddhist and a confirmed pacifist, I found it all a bit confusing and the only time it made sense was when I looked at the faces of some of the people who had actually been involved in the fighting, and their expressions told a very different story indeed. Whilst my father came out of World War Two with his life, I couldn’t say he escaped unwounded – in fact some of his wartime injuries caused him to become completely paralysed from the shoulders down in his later life. As I type this, one of the few photos that I have of my father -in his war time battledress, which still lies in a bag below my bed- looks over my shoulder.

Remembrance day can be challenging for those of us who are disinclined to believe that fighting and killing are ever sensible ways to solve problems. Even Churchill said ‘Jaw-jaw is better than war-war’, and after Gallipoli he knew what he was talking about… At least in the early part of the last century, things were a little more basic, were they not? In many ways more comprehensible. Lots of me in different uniform were being told to go and kill that lot over there who talk funny and eat stupid food, often cooked with garlic, for heaven’s sake! Now, with the war on Terror it’s all a bit more blurred, isn’t it? We & the USA fought the Taliban – who ten years before were the USA’s best buddies as they fought the Red Menace of the USSR. Then came Al Queida, who were such good friends to the West before the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Regime. Now it’s another small group who are suddenly the demons (and in fairness they seem to be every bit as close to my working definition of evil as a group can get) and I’m left wondering where it will all end? I was in Manchester City Centre the day the IRA exploded their largest bomb on mainland Britain. I occasionally remember not the noise of the explosion, but the silence afterwards. That conflict was ended by ‘jaw-jaw’, so why do our leaders think that a bomb can solve these new conflicts? Most of us don’t believe that, do we?

Someone once said that the worst lesson from history is that no one ever learnt any lessons from history, and I do wonder if we are doomed to repeat the cycles of history for ever. The rise and fall of the Roman Empire was followed by darkness, ignorance, and the start of the religious wars. The fall of the British Empire, less than a hundred years ago, seems to be bringing on darkness and ignorance (I hear that an extremist group in Egypt has said that schools and learning are unnecessary as all knowledge belongs to, and is held by, the Creator) and religious wars – well, just look in any newspaper with a section on overseas news…

The bleak picture has only one ray of hope really, and it’s the same ray of hope that has always existed. However awful we humans are collectively -and let’s face it, we are a pretty horrid lot and from some angles this world would be well rid of us- in small groups we are actually rather decent. Small groups even of very different individuals can all get along together very happily. I myself can even be friendly with some who have convictions (possibly previous I would expect, in context) of a Conservative Party nature, so that just proves it. But in larger groups? We aren’t very good at being nice as a species, and I fear that there will be no end to the line of men marching into the smoke of war, never to return home. Wherever that home may be.

I hadn’t intended to get all philosophical and gloomy, really. I’d really only come here to write a blog telling the few who listen to my odd ramblings about a new anthology from Accent Press about World War 1 and other conflicts. Collected pieces, mostly from my local writing group, Swansea And District Writers Circle, reflecting on such troubles. It is worth a look.

Oh, and since I do write rather a lot about music, I rather wish that every Armistice Day program would also play these two songs. But I don’t suppose that they will, although I suspect that my father would have liked it if they had: they reflect the reality rather than the myth of warfare.


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  1. I apologise profusely that I was a Conservative voter but as I am a great believer in people getting along with each other as much as possible maybe I can be forgiven.
    I remember someone telling me years ago that I should watch out for war every time there were a lot of people unemployed as it was the perfect way for the authorities to thin the population. I can’t help but wonder if we’re heading that way again. So many right wing Governments getting in now can’t be good for the world or the common man.
    It worried me that so much sponsorship of the day was by the people who make the weapons and that a song sung by Joss Stone to mark the day had anti war sentiments removed from it. Japan and Germany are two countries becoming very militaristic at the moment too.
    I don’t want the youth of another generation going off to be killed. I said in a recent post they should be armed with Jack in the boxes and try to scare the enemy into submission rather than see the armament manufacturers become even richer.
    That was a good post Will. Thanks.

  2. Thanks, David. The sad fact is that when we had politicians who had been involved in conflict, we had fewer wars: they knew exactly what they were sending young men and women out to do, and didn’t like the idea. Now that our politicians have grown up with no experience of the reality other than that formed by computer gaming, I fear that conflicts will grow as they simply do not understand what they’re asking of those in the services.

    I am terribly saddened to hear about the alterations to the songs. Those words were there for good reason.

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