Friday, 24 April 2015

War - what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

The Australian Women's Weekly published this photo of enlisted men forming the head of horse in a tribute to the estimated 8 million horses, mules and donkeys that were used  by and died for various armies in WW1. 

This old photo is extremely poignant but the modern commentary on it is an example of the cloying, faux patriotic sentiment that typifies the mainstream approach to WW1.

Those eight million horses, mules and donkeys did not 'serve' - they were not 'faithful to the end' - they were requisitioned, transported in awful conditions and FORCED to haul guns and wagons and to carry soldiers and supplies. And they often died in the most horrible manner it is possible to imagine or were eaten by starving people.

WW1 was an imperial war; a monstrous battle between competing imperial powers - British, French, German, Ottoman and Russian - with the emerging super power, the USA, first making money out of it, then weighing in at the end to stake its claims in Europe and the Middle East.

It was a war that was largely about oil - it was no accident that the imperial powers were rapidly moving away from coal and horse power and into oil to fuel their enormous war machines.

WW1 had NOTHING to do with our 'freedom', or fighting for a ''good cause against a 'bad one' or 'protecting our way of life'.

It was a monstrous, cruel waste of human and animal lives.

It was a monstrous, cruel waste - not just of the young soldiers who died in their millions and those whose lives were blighted by being horribly injured in their bodies and minds - but of the millions of civilian casualties as well.

And it was a monstrous, cruel waste, not just the millions of hapless, press-ganged beasts of burden which suffered indescribable horrors, but of the countless millions of domestic and wild creatures that were destroyed in the turning of whole countries into battlefields.

The men who ordered young soldiers and animals into certain death, who ordered the colossal bombardments which - if they didn't blow people and animals to pieces, or drown them in stinking mud - drove them insane, and those other men who made vast fortunes out of those horrors, did not care one jot about the losses they inflicted in their pursuit of power.

If we remember anything, if we have any real feeling for the millions of humans and animals which lost their lives and suffered terribly - we must use this 100 year centenary to vow - NEVER AGAIN!

But, that vow only has meaning if we take a stand against those corporations and governments which are still wasting untold millions of human and animal lives in pursuit of profit and the power that those profits can buy.

This is why I do not wear a red poppy or attend a dawn service. 

I am old enough to remember real people who had fought in the Great War.  I remember as a child, a man who shook and jerked as if he had cerebral palsy and another with terrible gas burns to his face. I spent hours poring over the piles of sepia photos of fresh faced young men who marched off from that small North Canterbury town to die in Galliopoli or Europe. I heard stories about them and their families, their sweethearts and the friends who stayed behind or who fought and survived. These were not distant or appropriated memories; the old woman who owned those photos knew those young men. She watched them march off and saw them stumble back.  They were her immediate relatives, neighbours and friends. 

As I grew older I began to question why we go to war and the way that those who did not fight justify it. I began to see the Anzac services and the war memorials that were centrepieces of all the small towns I knew as a child, as a prop for a set of attitudes that colludes with the sending of new generations off to fight wars in other people's countries. 

I understood my old friend's feelings - I knew that she had to justify it because how how could she have lived with it if she accepted it for what it was - millions of  lives pointlessly sacrificed on the altar of imperial ambition.

All those Australians and New Zealanders who turn Gallipoli into a tacky tourist destination, the young people who have suddenly discovered ANZAC day and attend dawn services, the kids whose parents deck them out in great-great Grandad's service medals -  need to know that war is a horror; the dead are not glorious, they are simply dead and we dishonour them if we glorify war and ignore the motives of those in whose interests wars are waged.