No Poppies

No Poppies
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In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

 

These words were written by a Canadian surgeon on the Western Front in 1915.  Since then the poppy, at least in the UK, has become a key symbol for warriors fallen in battle.

As we approached the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we saw poppies everywhere.  On the 11th hour we had two minutes of silence nationwide whilst we remembered our war dead.  We remembered those who laid down their lives for us.

Over the years, the character of this event has changed.  When I was a kid, it was all about those who died in World War 1 and 2.  In World War 2, at least, had a clear and evil enemy.  We felt it was quite right to oppose Hitler with maximum force.  Indeed we changed the entire nature of the country in our efforts to defeat him.

Today the event is dominated by current conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan.  On the TV, Bryan Adams, the Canadian rock star, is promoting a new book of photographs of our wounded warriors.   He quite rightly points out that they have suffered too.   Are still suffering in fact.  They are heroes.

There has been a sorrowful toll of our young men.  Every week we hear of another fatality.

But there is another group who we tend to forget about.  The civilians who died.  In Iraq the toll so far is around 1 million.  That's right.  1 million.

If a soldier who dies in a war is a hero, then what is a child?

I know that many felt we were doing the right thing in invading Iraq and Afghanistan.  But did we really take enough time and care to consider the consequences of what we are doing?

These days in the UK there seems to be almost universal support for our armed forces.  The displays of public solidarity that occur spontaneously in towns such as Wooten Bassett whenever war dead are returned home shows this only too well.  We are very proud of those that are prepared to give everything for us in such a way.

But there is also a significant part of the population that opposes going to war.   More than two million publicly protested that the Iraq war was “Not in my name”.

It is all too easy to call for war.  And when we do these young men and women willing go.

But we should take great care that we make such a call with good reason.

 

 

Comments

Robin the red breasted songster Added Nov 11, 2013 - 11:51am
WW2 had a clear "Causus Bellum".  Germany invaded Poland thereby obliging the UK to declare war.  Britain was slow to go to war but, once engaged, did so totally, giving over the whole economy to the war effort (and condemning itself to losing the peace as a result).
 
The USA was much smarter.  Stood on the sidelines, making money from the participants, until finally forced to join in four years later by the actions of one of the Axis powers.  And we know who did best economically post war.
 
But our recent wars have had much murkier causes.
 
The official Iraq war reason was "weapons of mass destruction".  Now known to be not true.  We were duped by Bush, Blair and Co.
 
Yes, Saddam was a bastard.  But we probably killed far more people toppling him that he would have killed himself.  And have we replaced him with anything that much better?
 
So, morally, I would argue that many of the wars we have engaged in are questionable.
 
Yet our loyal soldiers, sailors and airmen go to fight them for us anyway.
 
We should try harder not to betray their trust.
 
In one science fiction story I read, the leader of any country that declared war, was put to death afterwards, win or lose.   That would really focus the mind on whether you were doing the right thing.
 
Patrick Writes Added Nov 11, 2013 - 5:20pm
I'm with you, Robin. War should be conducted as a last resort. I think the U.S.A. should scale back it's military machine a bit. It's only because Obama is so hesitant to make any kind of decision that we stayed out of another Middle East war in Syria. (His indecision was a good thing this time.)
 
The U.S.A.'s 'pivot toward Asia' is silly in my opinion. China can keep the shipping lanes open in its own neighborhood. We will have no choice but to back off in their back yard, the same as America forced Europeans to do the same with the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. Expect Brazil to begin throwing it's weight around in South America more. We're already seeing Putin do so from Russia.
 
With the rise of the BRICS, America won't have to be the sole world policeman. Each rising star will likely be the dominant force in their geographic area. And in the long run, that's probably a good thing.
Robin the red breasted songster Added Nov 12, 2013 - 12:02pm
@the emperor:   Bin Laden not found in Iraq...
 
Cause of world's wrath hinges around perceived degeneracy of western culture, especially USA.  That and perceived selective use of pressure to further commercial issues together with perceived indifference to environmental issues.   Drone strikes don't help much either.
Robin the red breasted songster Added Nov 12, 2013 - 12:05pm
Many young men join up because it looks like a glamourous option compared with working in a call centre or a factory.
 
When under fire, they fight for their comrades.  The army is a family and they look after each other.   Politics don't usually come into a soldiers consideration. 
Robin the red breasted songster Added Nov 12, 2013 - 1:12pm
Part of the point of military training is to instill obedience. 
 
You give an order and the soldier carries it out.  Most do not question what they are being asked to do.
 
The traditional concentration camp guard excuse was "I was only following orders".
 
How culpable is a soldier if he carries out an atrocity under orders?  After all young men are selected for their fitness and aggression for many sectors of the armed forces.
 
The Parachute Regiment, in particular, is known for its aggression.  Trained to charge into the enemy and overwhelm them.
 
Is it really right, therefore, to hold them culpable for what happened in Belfast on "Bloody Sunday".   Rather are not the culpable ones, those who sent them in.   They were not trained as policemen, not trained in the art of community engagement or in calming people down.   They were trained to charge in and overwhelm the enemy.   And that is what they did with catastrophic results.
 
When they did the same at Goose Green in the Falkland Campaign (The little disagreement down south (sic)), the result was victory.
 
Should we expect our warriors to make ethical judgements?
Robin the red breasted songster Added Nov 13, 2013 - 1:38am
Christian:  We have heard your opinion of Afghanistan.  What do you think of our involvement in Iraq?  Were we right to do it?   Do we make things better?  Was it worth the cost in both military and civilian lives?   It would be interesting to hear your take.
 
I know that military intervention is not always a mistake.  I have heard from those involved in it in Sierra Leone and in Bosnia who clearly believe that in those times at least, they were on the side of the angels.  
 
Of course we don't hear so much of those situations now because they have calmed down.   I was in Sierra Leone last December and they had just had their first unsupervised elections without any significant violence.   Economic growth is in double figures.  It clearly is still a country with major problems.  I was there working on a public health project (using mobile telephony as a community communication system to help the poeple to protect themselves against disease where we concentrate the messaging in areas fo outbreak). I worked with a number of highly dedicated and caring individuals... it was balm to the spirit compared with the usal daily grind of doing battle in the corporate world!
 
There our soldiers can certainly be proud about what they have done.
Robin the red breasted songster Added Nov 13, 2013 - 10:25am
In WW2 Britain was only really involved, in Europe, in toe to toe land combat with the Germans for about 12 months.   Although naval and aerial warfare lasted for six years, it tended not to generate quite the same numbers of casualties amongst the soldiers.   In WW1 it was about four years instead.
 
In WW2 the biggest loss of life occurred on the Eastern Front with the USSR losing around 25 million people.
 
Although in Britain we think of WW2 as being a huge national sacrifice, it was a very much greater one for the USSR.
 
This summer I visited "Smalland" near Novossosysk on the Black Sea coast in Russia.  This marked the high tide line of the German invasion.   There was one small area on the shore... about one kilometre square... where Russian forces held out.   Since that time, they have not touched the area.  The remains of trenches are still there.  It is just a big gaping hole in the suburbs.  On the shore line is a massive monument, meant to look like a landing craft.  You walk up inside it to a sound track of choral music and lamentation.  In the middle is a "beating heart" to symbolise the centre of resistance.  It made me stop and think.
Robin the red breasted songster Added Nov 14, 2013 - 12:35am
 
Nathan:
For Britain at least WW2 was larger in the sense that the entire population was involved.   They were blockaded by U Boats and bombed by the Luftwaffe and V rockets.  Rationing bit hard.  Young and old were engaged in the Home Guard.   We were told to dig for victory.  
 
And it went on for much longer.   My Dad set sail for Burma and did not come home for over six years.
 
The social changes created by these wars are also an interesting issue.   WW1 sped the full enfranchisement of women.   They were a vital part of the wartime economy.  
 
And, because of WW2, we saw the emergence of the welfare state.   With the country in serious financial problems, having spent all of its capital for the war effort, and having turned over all production to war needs unable to produce export goods to pay for vital imports, things were very tough indeed.  We nearly had to send children out of school and into the fields to ensure that there was enough to eat.  During the 1948 Olympics (the austerity games) in London the British athletes used to hang around the US accomodation to try and get food to supplement their rations.
 
There was a shared feeling that we should continue to share what we had, just as in wartime.   We also felt that Britain should be a land fit for heroes.  It did not seem right that a wealthy person, perhaps someone who had not been a combatant, should be able to afford good medical treatment, whilst an ex soldier, perhaps unemployed should not.   Hence the start of the National Health Service which we still have (and mostly love) today.
Robin the red breasted songster Added Nov 18, 2013 - 12:05pm
Hi William
 
I think that here, despite how people feel about the justification for various wars, most people support our troops.  We admire their dedication and service.  Somehow a demonstration that not everyone is solely driven by greed.
 
There is a clear separation in sentiment.   No-one should assume that support for our troops in any way means support for any type of military adventure.   Neither does it imply a belief in "my country right or wrong".  The time of blind, unquestioning, patriotism has gone.
 
We are also proud to wear poppies in memory of Canadian and all other Commonwealth troops as well as for veterans from the British Isles
 
 
Robin the red breasted songster Added Nov 21, 2013 - 1:32am
A good point (is it "Mr") Emperor.    However on that basis we should probably be involved in very many more conflicts around the world.
 
I have heard it said that we have not attempted to invade North Korea precisely because they have WMD.
 
I reckon this was more about oil, the Jewish vote and, most importantly, the emotional desire to go and beat up someone, even though it was not the right someone, following 9/11.
 
WMD was merely the "task" rationale given out to justify what George Bush wanted to do.
Robin the red breasted songster Added Nov 23, 2013 - 2:12am
The Fermi paradox is all about why we don't see aliens.   Infinite number of worlds etc so why don't we see them.   However I can see how you might apply the principle in a modified form to your argument.  Infinite number of people working on WMD so...etc
 
Perhaps not only Bush's fault, a huge emotional desire on behalf of everyone involved, many on this side of the water too, to go and thump someone because of 9/11.
 
The experience of Northern Ireland shows, I think, that the only way forward is through more gentle means.   You have to calm things down, not inflame them.  Eventually the terrorist, deprived of his support base when the cause is not longer seen as just, has to come to the table.  Those wronged against have to suck up their anger and treat with those they see as the anti Christ.   But eventually peace develops as we see in Northern Ireland today.
 
One unintended product of the Iraq adventure was the breeding of innummerable new terrorists who now, in their eyes, have more justification to bomb us.
Robin the red breasted songster Added Nov 23, 2013 - 2:25am
Fermi, of course, was a giant of nuclear physics, something which I dabbled in myself in my youth at University.
 
Once, when applying for funding for more research, back in the days when "nuclear" meant "weapon" in the popular imagination, Fermi was asked how his research would benefit the defence of America.
 
It won't, he replied.  But it might, perhaps, help America to be worth defending.
 
Something we need to bear in mind.   The end does not always justify the means.   We need to be careful that e do not destroy all that is good about our way of life in the name of its defence.
 
Ultimately the best defence may be to become the most just and humane society that we can be.  That will weaken the terrorist recruiting message.
Robin the red breasted songster Added Nov 23, 2013 - 11:41am
You never can be sure.  However we cannot invade every country whose rulers we disapprove of on the basis that they might acquire WMD.
 
Ultimately we have to hope that they love their children too.
 
Of course, if you follow the logic of the gun lobby in the US, then every nation should have a nuclear weapon.  This would deter everyone else from using theirs.
 
Of course the problem with this idea is that those who have a WMD don't want anyone else to have one...
Robin the red breasted songster Added Nov 23, 2013 - 1:25pm
I didn't say that I greed with the arguments used by the gun lobby.
 
In my view its far better if no one has one.   Holds true for guns or nuclear weapons.  Trouble is, having a nuclear capability is a sort of virility symbol for world leaders.  That's why some of the most unsavoury types want one.
 
Same could be true of guns of course
Robin the red breasted songster Added Nov 23, 2013 - 3:06pm
I did not mean to turn this into yet another debate about gun ownership in the US.
 
That is an argument that has been going on elsewhere for long enough.  Opinions are not being changed.
 
You guys are wedded to your guns.   We think you are mad.   We just have to agree to differ.
Robin the red breasted songster Added Nov 23, 2013 - 3:08pm
But I would ask:  Why should the government fear the people?   In our system the people should be the government.
 
It is the trans global corporation that we should be fearing.  They have the power to ignore us all...