The day the guns fell silent

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the day the gun fell silent; the cessation of the suffering and carnage of the War to End All Wars. Why then can we still hear those guns, every single night on our television news? Decades after politicians whipped up popular sentiment for war to such a pitch that men (actually many of them really only boys) not only volunteered but happily marched off to war and despite that awful example little has changed; still cold-blooded politicians will manipulate facts to stir up feelings and send out troops not to protect our nation from harm but for their own selfish agendas. And dress it all up in patriotism, while decrying those who oppose or question as unpatriotic.

Sending young folks off to war in a distant land is not patriotism. Taking the goodwill of someone willing to serve their nation (an increasing rarity in our ever more selfish age) and using it for your own ends is not patriotism. Betraying the enormous sacrifices made before many of us were born, lives given so we would never have to know what Wilfred Owen called the ‘pity of war’, is not patriotism. The spectres of the dead should rise as they did in J’Accuse and stare down the hypocrisy of leaders like Blair, ‘honouring’ the fallen at public ceremonies while committing more of their comrades to a similar fate. After the slaughter of tens of millions in the wars of the last century, from the mud and blood of Flanders to atomic conflagration of Hiroshima, from the cold waters of the Atlantic to the killing fields of Cambodia, how can any leader worthy of that title be so easily persuaded to war?

Yes, there will always be times when we are called to arms; if someone attacks you, you have to defend yourself, we learned the hard way that isolation or appeasement are not an option. But always, always it must be the choice of last resort, not a tool for personal agendas, political ideas or corporate and economic opportunities. No, that’s not patriotism; in fact it is the opposite, it is the betrayal of the nation and its people, the corruption of past sacrifices. Thousands of years of civilisation and we still have leaders willing to bang the drum for the march to war, leaders who will never take the risks of battle or suffer those hardships themselves; it’s 2006 – learn another way.

All wars are planned by older men
In council rooms apart,
Who call for greater armament
And map the battle chart.

But out along the shattered field
Where golden dreams turn gray,
How very young the faces were
Where all the dead men lay.

Portly and solemn in their pride,
The elders cast their vote
For this or that, or something else,
That sounds the martial note.

But where their sightless eyes stare out
Beyond life’s vanished toys,
I’ve noticed nearly all the dead
Were hardly more than boys.

Grantland Rice