Saturday November 11, 2006
Today is Armistice Day, the anniversary of the signing of the armistice between Britain and Germany that brought an end to the hostilities of the first world war. Tomorrow, on Remembrance Sunday, the Queen will as usual lay her wreath upon the cenotaph, and whilst the words spoken will be uplifting and ennobling – mourning, sacrifice, remembrance, peace – these words will be accompanied by the sounds of ceremonial gunfire and the sounding of bugles.
There are two things that I find unsettling about such celebrations. Firstly, the language of noble sacrifice, necessity and heroism obscures the terrible reality of war and the unseemly lust for violence that war fosters. I can do no better than point to Jonathan Glover’s Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, a careful dissection of the ennobling myths of warfare through the investigation of documentary accounts of combat that present a very different picture. But the other thing I find unsettling is that as the canons fire and the gathered mourners hang their heads in silence, they will be thinking almost entirely of the soldiers who have died in the field of battle. When with solemn words the great and the good talk about sacrifice, little mention will be made of those civilians whose lives are torn apart by the waging of war. Little mention will be made of the estimated one in thirty Iraqis, many of them civilians, who – at least according to the research carried out by Johns Hopkins University – have died in the bloody chaos that has been unleashed across the country since the invasion. Little mention will be made of the children dismembered by cluster bombs, the so called “collateral damage” of warfare.
It is perhaps right to soberly remind ourselves of the magnitude of the horrors that stem from our human capacity of violence, so that we might better contain them; but I cannot help thinking that to do so to the sound of military bands and the firing of canon is not the best way.
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