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Dec. 11th, 2005 11:42 am
poliphilo: (Default)
Certain clever-cloggses, including the poet laureate, are saying we ought to have a state funeral- on a par with the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill- for the last surviving veteran of the Great War.

At present there are 11 surviving veterans- all of them well over 100. So, lets start the count-down:

Eleven green bottles
Hanging on the wall,
Eleven green bottles
Hanging on the wall,
And if one green bottle
Should accidentally fall.....

No, no, stop it! Let's not.....

Quite apart from the ghoulishness, these men don't belong to us. If they belong to anybody it's to their families and friends. That bit of their lives when they were soldiers is long, long ago and since then they'll have done all sorts of other things- more important things- like having babies and grand-babies and grand-grand-babies. There's more dignity in riding to the local crem with your loved ones driving after than in being shouldered down the abbey aisle with Prince Charles and Tony Blair in attendance, shedding their manly tears. Besides, this willingness to turn Grandad Jack into the universal soldier and stick him at the centre of a nationalist-crybaby-wankfest belongs to the same "Your Country Needs You" state of mind, subordinating the individual to the corporate, which got us into the Great War in the first place.

For shame.

So, shove off, Andrew Motion- go write one of your "poems".

Wages

Nov. 1st, 2005 11:25 am
poliphilo: (Default)
At the end of September the army gave Joe two weeks wages and told him to live on them for a month.

I guess we should have jumped up and down about it but, well, I'm not sure we even considered it. I hate authority, but I'm cowed by it. I guess, that's why I hate it.

And if Joe hadn't been living with us he'd have probably ended up on the streets. Perhaps that was the intention- that he'd get himself in such a fix that he'd go running to his Sergeant Major asking to be taken back.

The Prodigal returns.

But that's history now. He's toughed out the lean times, and now they've paid him what they owe. It makes it possible for him to take a grip on his life. And the first thing he's done is sign up for a course in gym work.

There was an article in the paper a day or two back about how morale in Joe's old regiment is shot to pieces. They got sent to Iraq to fight a war that many of them considered illegal and wound up doing dirty police work in and around Basra, dealing with a populace that mainly didn't want them there. No wonder they're not feeling too good about themselves.

I'm not invoking hellfire, but I'd like to see those who were responsible for getting us into this war punished. Bush and his gang. Blair and his gang. We know they lied; so why are they still there? Like I said, I don't want them to burn, I just want them driven from office- with mockery.
poliphilo: (Default)
I would like to pretend otherwise, but this business with Joe and the army eats away at me. I spend most of every morning feeling nauseous.

A soldier is a serf. The Queen owns him. Or, rather, Mr Blair owns him. The military is the one profession (I can't think of any others) where the working stiff doesn't have the right to say "I quit" and just walk out the door.

It makes me mad.

Of course I understand that if soldiers had the rights that every other citizen has then discipline would collapse and if discipline collapsed we wouldn't have an army and if we didn't have an army Mr Blair wouldn't be able to fight his foreign wars and- gosh- what a terrible thing that would be...

Yeah, I know- I'm a girlyman.

BTW you can read Joe in his own write at [livejournal.com profile] realpigdog
poliphilo: (Default)
I’ve been looking at art of the First World War. Nothing changes. The artists tried to show things as they really were and officialdom tried to stop them.

C.W.R Nevinson put a little picture of dead Tommies into an exhibition in 1918. http://www.art-ww1.com/trame/090text.html. He was told to remove it. Instead he covered it over with brown paper and wrote "censored" across it. The War Office issued him with a reprimand. Not only was it forbidden to show pictures of dead bodies, it was also forbidden to draw attention to the rules that forbade it.

Nerves were very raw. When Frank Brangwyn was commissioned to paint murals in Westminster Palace in the mid 20s one of his offerings was this boys own image of tanks going into action. http://www.art-ww1.com/trame/022text.html. It was rejected as too morbid.

William Orpen painted this picture as a comment on The Peace of Versailles. http://www.art-ww1.com/trame/097text2.html. The nation refused to buy it, so he painted out the ghostly soldiers. http://www.art-ww1.com/trame/097text2.html. Actually I think the second version is an improvement, but it's nice to know that with the process of time and the thinning of the paint the two spooks are now beginning to show through.
poliphilo: (Default)
The Queen turns up

And all the pajandrums of church and state in their silly get-ups.

And of course the military all chingling with medals.

And the word glorious gets used a lot. As in "our glorious dead".

That's what upsets me.

We are still telling ourselves that death in war is glorious.

Here are the images from Falluja. And death in war is glorious.

And images of the coffins of Black Watch soldiers coming home, having been killed by suicide bombers. And death in war is glorious.

Wilfred Owen tried to spike our guns. It's one of the most famous poems in the language. It even gets taught in schools.

"The old Lie, dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori."

(Note that Lie has a capital "L")

But it doesn't get read at the Cenotaph. Not in this august company.

The Queen is wearing a black hat. Tony Blair is wearing a black coat. The military band plays Elgar. And death in war is glorious.
poliphilo: (Default)
So now the BBC is giving us a history of the War on Terror. It begins in 1945- with a guy called Strauss who was the guru of the neo-cons and a guy called Qutub who decided that the Islamic nations needed to be rescued from the corruption of Truman's America.

Strauss and Qutub were ideological twins- puritans, at war with the liberal individualism. Strauss reckoned that a nation could only save its soul if it rallied to church and flag- and it could only be trusted to do that if it had an ENEMY.

The Soviet Empire was a dandy enemy. When it collapsed (having proved itself a lot less dandy than the neo-cons argued) a new Enemy had to be found. And there was Bin Laden just raring to step into Brezhnev's shoes.

The story of the past half century is the story of a struggle between liberalism and puritanism. Everything else- however epic- has been a distraction- a sleight of hand designed to take our gaze away from what was really going on.
poliphilo: (Default)
Gulf War Syndrome exists but the U.S. and U.K. governments won't admit it.

A. Because they'd have to admit to fooling around with lots of bugs and chemicals and radioactive shit of the kind they say they're too civilized to fool around with.

B. Because they'd have to pay compensation.

Soldiers are there for politicians to use and throw away. There are few things more disgusting than the sight of a politician praising the nobility and self-sacrifice of our "wonderful men and women in uniform."

All politicians are as bad. The price of high office is that you sign away your humanity. It's a Faustian pact. "I get to be famous and powerful and the downside is that I will have to kill people (at a distance of course) and lie, lie, lie? O.K. I'm up for that. Better me than that other fellow!"
poliphilo: (Default)
We're being manipulated. There are people out there- on both sides- who want to play at Saracens and Crusaders. They want to engage the rest of us in their game.

Saracens and Crusaders will be the new Cold War. These people- on both sides- want to live in a morally simple world. They love the comfort of having a Big Enemy to oppose.

I have tried to understand the conflict in the Middle East. Frankly it makes my head hurt. I could save myself the head-hurtiness by nominating either Sharon or Arafat as the Big Bad.

I watch the footage from Beslan. Anger. Grief. What sort of people shoot children in the back? Maybe the same sort of people who drop bombs on children from a great height. In short, any sort of people if the conditioning is right. I must resist the manipulation....

I have Muslim friends and neighbours. Yesterday Fiza (who is 11) was helping me water the garden. And the woman from two doors down came and borrowed the electric hedge-trimmer.

I think of my Muslim neighbours as Victorians. Hanging out with them is a bit like hanging out with one's great-great-grandparents. They're very straight and a little bit stuffy. I have to watch my language and keep off the subject of religion and, worst of all, bite my tongue when it comes to women's rights. It bothers me that Fiza isn't allowed to play out on her own any more.

Am I patronizing them? Sure I am. I think my liberalism is better than their ethical rigidity. Of course I do; it's mine and I fought for it.

And how do they see me? Do they pity my infidelity, my lack of religion? I hope so. It would be horrid if the patronage only flowed one way.

And... Well, that's it really. Here's the TV beaming jihadis into the living room and here's me living on a street where about half the people are of Pakistani origin. There are tensions and I'd like them to be fruitful tensions.

Work in Progress......

Turing

Sep. 2nd, 2004 05:33 pm
poliphilo: (Default)
There's a man sitting on a bench in a Manchester park, just accross the canal from the gay village. The first time I saw him I reckoned there was something not quite right about him. When I got closer I saw he was made of bronze. The effect is creepy.

So it should be. This is the monument to Alan Turing, the father of computing and (by virtue of his work on Axis codes at Bletchley Park) one of the heroes of the Second World War.

Turing was gay. The police harassed him. He avoided prison by agreeing to submit to oestrogen injections. The establishment turned its back on him. He committed suicide aged 42.

He committed suicide in rather a novel way (he was, after all, a genius.) He injected cyanide into an apple, then ate it.

The bronze man is holding an apple in his hand.

A few posts back I said we can't do public sculpture any more. That wasn't entirely true. The Turing monument is a great piece of public sculpture. Mike wanted to see it so I took him there this afternoon. We sat on the bench across from Turing and and he looked at us and we looked at him. The face is bland. It doesn't accuse. It doesn't ask for pity.

Turing's wartime work was hushed up for the longest time (national security don'tcha know) but he did as much to defeat Hitler as Churchill, Montgomery, the Battle of Britain pilots or anyone else you care to mention. He was a very great scientist. He was hounded to death.

90 Years On

Aug. 4th, 2004 07:23 pm
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This is the 90th anniversary of Britain's entry into the First World War. It's amazing, but there are still living veterans. Four of them were at the Cenotaph this morning. We heard their voices on the radio. One said he'd forgotten most of it, but people kept asking questions which brought things back. Another just simply said he'd forgotten. They were all over 100 of course.

Soon there will be no-one who remembers anything.

I was at the death-bed of a veteran who died in the 1970s. I'm afraid I can't remember his name. Like most old soldiers he didn't really want to talk about all that. One thing he did tell me was this. He'd been a dispatch rider and he had a memory of lying flat along the horse's back, riding hell for leather, while the machine gun bullets cut through the air above him. Zip. Zip. Zip.

In the late 1960s The BBC ran a documentary series called The Great War. That's how I got my education. It was the first time that much of the now all-too-familiar footage had been widely shown; the boys going over the top and one of them falling (probably faked) the big explosions, the swollen bodies in captured trenches. It affected me deeply. It made me angry and proud. And it inoculated me forever against militarism.

It is one of the things I have always been profoundly grateful for, that I never had to wear a uniform.

Duty

Jun. 9th, 2004 09:39 am
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Two things  came together yesterday.

I was researching Albert Ball VC for the very jolly community[livejournal.com profile] wings_n_wires (which honours the planes and pilots of WWI.)  Ball was a sweet and madly brave young man  who, when he wasn't downing German planes, cultivated vegetables in a little garden he'd made on base. Writing home, he would say things like , "Oh, won't it be nice when all this beastly killing is over, and we can just enjoy ourselves and not hurt anyone. I hate this game, but it is the only thing one must do just now...When I am happy I dig in the garden and sing."

Later I was watching a documentary film about the first intifada. Young Israeli servicemen were voicing exactly the same sentiments as Ball:- it's mad that we're guarding these settlers whose ideology we hate, but it's what we have to do and we wouldn't have it any other way. They were filmed singing a song about how when their tour was over they'd go and dance and smoke joints on a beach in Goa.

War is this tribal thing. People get locked into it. They hate what they're doing, acknowledge its pointlessness, but believe it's their duty to carry on. Duty becomes a value that over-rides every other moral consideration.

Perhaps genetic scientists will one day be able to switch off this "Duty" gene. Would there be worldwide moral collapse if they did ?

 

poliphilo: (Default)
The War on Terror. I hate that phrase. It's a no-brainer. Terror isn't an entity that can be fought; it's a strategy. A War on Terror is like a war on cavalry charges.

But worse than that, the phrase simplifies the extremely complicated mess we're in. I don't pretend to understand the mess, but then I don't think our leaders do either. Bush, Cheyney, Rumsfeld, Blair, Sharon, Arafat, Bin Laden- they all live in these closed off little enclaves of wishful thinking. They have simple minds. They want the world to conform to their simplicity. Bush wants the whole world to be Texas and Bin Laden wants it to be Afghanistan under the Taliban and Blair wants it to be Islington. Well, dudes, it just ain't gonna happen that way. The quality of these men shocks me. They aren't fit to rule. But who in the history of human affairs has ever been fit to rule? Scum rises to the top. When I try to think of a great leader- anytime, anywhere- who was also a great human being I all but draw a blank. I've got one name for you- Abraham Lincoln. And a second- Pericles. And a possible third- Elizabeth I. Otherwise- bleeagh!

War on Terror. No. It's a lot of little wars. The issues are local. Iraq has NOTHING to do with El Quaeda. But I can't help noticing that on the one hand you have a bunch of white guys with enormous weapons and on the other a bunch of brown guys with much smaller weapons. Two words spring to mind: racist and colonial.

I hate religious fundamentalism. But killing and killing and killing is not the way to douse it. What the U.S. did in Fallujah was a massacre, a war crime. If the occupying forces in Iraq ever held the moral high ground (which I doubt) they have lost it now.

Blair and Bush stand shoulder to shoulder and talk that sub-Churchillian rhetoric about good and evil and courage and perseverance and all that dulce et decorum shite and I cannot express just how disgusting I find it.

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