While it’s fitting to remember those who gave their lives fighting in the First World War, Mike Oliver questions the motives of the politicians cheer-leading the 100th anniversary memorial ceremonies.
For the next four years there will be a series of memorial ceremonies to remember the key events of the First World War. Add to that the usual memorials that occur every year and others slipped in, like the 70th anniversary of the D-day landings, and we are approaching ceremony saturation point.
The mass media are also getting involved with dramas, documentaries, books and articles focussing on these events.
While it’s right that we should remember and honour those who sacrificed themselves in past conflict, there are now very few surviving veterans of the First World War. Many of these ceremonies are in danger of becoming little more than photo opportunities for the great and good to parade themselves often with chests full of medals that they neither earned nor deserved. Even so I have no real issue with remembering those who fought for us in the past and really deserve to be remembered.
But I do have trouble when we are told that these events are necessary to prevent them ever happening again. After all, the First World War was supposed to be the war to end all wars! None of these memorial events have ever prevented our war-mongering leaders from sending our troops into conflict after conflict even when our own interests and security are not being threatened.
Nor do our leaders seem willing to sacrifice their own in these conflicts. It has always been the sons, and to a lesser extent, daughters of the poor and working class who are sacrificed to pursue these unnecessary conflicts. Our leaders are very good at justifying their plans for their latest interventions but rarely to the point where they are willing to send their own children or other family members to fight.
These memorial events are then used by governments to help to justify and legitimise state-sponsored violence and deflect our attention away from the appalling human costs on both the troops and civilian populations. The unpalatable fact is that war creates more disabled people than anything else except poverty.
Our leaders don’t like public events that focus on death and destruction. Witness the recent decision to move the homecoming of soldiers killed on the battlefield from Wootton Bassett because of the media coverage that these homecomings always received. Giving Wootton Bassett royal status subsequently was merely a way to disguise an unpalatable truth.
Governments are also very selective in choosing the events that they want us to remember. D-day was fine but I don’t recall us celebrating the carpet bombing of German cities. And I’ll wager that while there will be major celebrations next year to remember VE day, the anniversary of the dropping of atom bombs on Japanese cities will hardly be mentioned in 2016 and no memorial events will be planned.
Their staged ceremonies also disguise the fact that most disabled ex-servicemen suffer from neglect and poverty with many becoming homeless and even committing suicide. The physical and mental toll on our armed forces is never even acknowledged, let alone properly dealt with. A few well adjusted ex-soldiers making the Paralympic team cannot disguise this shameful neglect as George Osborne found out when he attended the Paralympic Games in 2012.
It will, of course, be very difficult to criticise this ceremonial overload over the next four years without being made to feel guilty that we are being disloyal to those who sacrificed their lives, bodies and minds for us. But that should not stop us from asking whose interests these ceremonies really benefit.