We are fast-approaching the centenary of World War One. Rightly, there has been a lot of comment about how best to commemorate it. Sadly, however, there has been an almost equal amount of revisionism and public figures attempting to use the ocassion for political gain.
Michael Gove ridiculously claimed earlier in the year that ‘left-wing academics’ were responsible for painting World War One as a tragic waste of human life, which it was, rather than a national triumph, which it wasn’t. He then went on to imply that anyone who held a view contrary to the national triumph position was guilty of being unpatriotic.
This is of course the oldest trick in the book in dealing with opponents of military action: accuse them of being unpatriotic or not supporting our troops. It was used against my grandfather, who was a conscientious objector on religious grounds during World War Two. He had to deal with the same demonization as every other opponent and had white feathers handed to him in the street and all the rest. Of course, my grandfather wasn’t unpatriotic, he was passionate about speaking ‘Queen’s English’ and had a love for the countryside and towns of Britain that would have rivaled Rupert Brook. Like so many pacifists, he was a man who loved his country but hated war.
War is never something to be celebrated
And this brings me to my real point, war is never something to be celebrated. World War One saw the deaths of almost 10 million people and the wounding of a further 20 million, and nearly 8 million people remain unaccounted for. When this is coupled with a disastrous treaty in Versailles that created the conditions for World War Two any sane person must ask the question: how can anyone consider this a triumph?
For too long people on the anti-war left like myself have been attacked as being unpatriotic or not supporting our soldiers, but it is simply nonsense. I have tremendous respect for anyone who goes through the rigorous training and possesses the self-discipline that the army requires, and who has the courage to put their life on the line to defend a country and cause they believe in, and would never call their dedication into question. Supporting the armed forces and supporting a war are completely different things, and we need to make this distinction very clear. So as we approach this centenary, Mr Gove would do well to remember that the sacrifice of so many individuals is something to be mourned, but the waste of 10 million lives in colonialism’s dying breath is nothing to be celebrated.