Louvain, Belguim, 1914
Today marks 100 years since World War 1 began. In November we will mark 100 years since it ended, which is set to be a much bigger affair. I have refrained from logging into my social media accounts for the day to avoid the inevitable posts from friends and family marking the occasion. My reason for this is that I disagree, in general, with how these events are marked. I see a lot of parallels of today with pre-World War 1 Europe. There is growing militarization and a growing support for armed conflicts. Eleven years ago over a million people marched in London against the war in Iraq and today war is increasingly glorified across that same country. Being in Ireland, we receive a lot of British advertisements on TV including their army recruitment adverts. They have become more subtle and insidious in their nature. It's now difficult to tell whether or not you watching an advert for the army, or an advert for a computer game. They are targeting a market of teenagers who play war games and present real armed conflicts as being the same. They mislead and tell people they will train you and shape you as an individual, but armies don't want individuals. They want people who follow orders, people they can train to more effectively kill the enemy. That's the bottom line. They don't care about your future prospects once you leave the army. You are of more use to them dead. When you are dead they can label you a hero and lay wreaths to glorify you in order to further romanticize and wash over the grim realities of war. To my mind, there's nothing heroic about returning home in a box. Nothing at all. It makes that person a victim.
Today we will see the further romanticization of war. Politicians who send young men and women to their deaths will stand up and cry crocodile tears over the war dead and people in military uniform will further the propaganda and brainwashing that comes with such days. It's designed to garner further support for the military and further push them in the echelons of being super-heroes. Labeling the war dead as heroes obscures the reality of war. I'm not saying that heroism didn't happen, it definitely did and that needs to be recognized but we also need to recognize the horrors that soldiers committed. The massacres, the rapes and the murder of civilians. It needs to be recognized that once you train a person to kill, it removes the last taboo of humankind. Once this has been removed, it changes a person so that others horrors don't seem as hard to commit. We learned that in Ireland with the Black and Tans. Men came back from the war hardened and unable to fit back into society, they were brutal and cruel so they sent them to Ireland and let them loose. Of course, I'm not saying that that is what happened to all. Absolutely not, but it contributed to a culture in which war becomes normal and something to revel in and those who go to fight are turned into heroic figures. Governments and armies should be the last people to lead commemorations of the war dead. It was them, afterall, that sent them to their deaths. Most didn't want to go, they were conscripted and dragged to a war that was not their own. It was a war of greedy governments bound by misguided treaties of alliances from the 19th century. Millions died because of governments and eager military regimes and these millions have become their selling piece, their opportunity to recruit more people who naively believe they are doing their duty and march to their deaths, all for the interests of the rich who don't want to get their hands dirty. Few modern conflicts are actually about defense, few about doing the right thing and helping people. Most are about money and greed disguised as honor, duty and patriotism.
So today, when the hypocrites let loose the propaganda machine to indoctrinate the next generation of 'heroes', just remember that the war dead are mostly victims. Letting governments and armies lead these commemorations is the equivalent of letting fascists lead Holocaust commemorations. It is people who need to remember those who have died and remember the reality of war that isn't heroic, noble or glorious but cruel, horrific and most of all un-necessary. War remembrance needs to be taken away from those who continue war and only then will the wheels of change begin to move. As long as this fundamentally loathsome romanticization continues those wheels will be stuck - unable to move.