The Judge RANTS!
I've Not Forgotten
I've not worn one for years.
A poppy, I mean. It must be at least a decade since I last walked around the place wearing - somewhat self-consciously at that - one of those paper and plastic constructions which allegedly showed me as being 'respectful' of the dead of the two cataclysmic wars of the last century. Though only 'respectful' of 'our' war dead, of course; there were, as we have been repeatedly reassured down the years, absolutely no Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Dutch, Indians or Africans harmed in the making of these conflicts. Nor any Russians, Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians or Ukrainians. And most definitely no French.
And yet, for all the fuss each year, I have never been called out for not wearing one. Not even in the streets of the town by obstreperous men with faces even their mothers would have preferred to have had covered up with a polythene bag, well-oiled by German booze who would never have survived the first day of basic training for serving their Queen and Country®. And in the same way, I don't go up to people sneering at them for their herd-like peonic behaviour in wearing one. It's a personal choice, live and let live. Except on television, of course, where it seems to be mandatory for presenters, guests and interviewees to sport one any time from about 20 October onwards.
Some people do go over the top, though. I'm thinking of those who put them on the fronts of their cars (in the same way that, latterly, they have put those horrid plastic red noses over the fronts of their cars for the wretched annual spectacle of Comic Relief, another 'national occasion' whereby the wealthy and well-connected try to shake us down for money to make up for the shortfall resulting from their offshoring and efficientising of their own finances). Others - seemingly totally devoid of any sense of class or decorum - think that the bigger the poppy, the better; one senior Tory politician in this very colony has one which would be big enough to hide his face were he to have the decency to spare us the sight of that.
But such behaviour constitutes mere personal foible or idiosyncracy and can at least be defended on the grounds of general harmlessness.
Behind the biggest displays of all, however, there is something more egregious, something more sinister lurking.
I mean, of course, the annual deep-respect-and-concern-fest which takes place in Whitehall in London on the Sunday itself. This is where the ruling Úlites of this wretchedly misgoverned island gather with faces as long as High Wycombe and clothed in ill-fitting apparel, and - to the accompaniment of marching bands and the dwindling number of survivors - unctuously lay wreaths at the foot of that obelisk which is supposed to represent the lost and wasted lives of the wars started by previous generations of that same ruling class.
It's an awful lot of bother and an awful lot of rah-rah rot. And for what purpose, because we know as plain as the nose on your radiator grille that the current crop of chancers and inbreds will be as keen to send the working-class boys of these lands off to kill, be killed or maimed in the name of some artfully-confected 'principle' as their predecessors were?
In a word: propaganda.
For the event is invariably described as a 'state occasion', and so - much in the manner of other such frivolities like royal weddings - it exists to create an image, a set of impressions which help to keep middle-class consumers in a state of near-orgasmic self-satisfaction and to maintain a strong supply of nourishing bunting for the Sun-scanning proles. That is why you will see Lizzie Dripping herself attending (although not, it seems, this year; instead it will be her ludicrous crank-coddling son, covered in medals he couldn't possibly have earned), conveniently forgetting how easy her family had it during the last Fight Against The Hun (no, not 1966!).
(If you have believed all the propaganda about the terrible sacrifices the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha-Von Battenburgs had to make at that time, may I direct you once again to this?).
The ceremonials and oompah around the Cenotaph exist, therefore, to give the impression that the land's rulers actually give a flying Fokker at the moon about a lot of prole boys who are conveniently dead and who perished in the name of maintaining that same State which they now represent and uphold. This, as any fule kno, is bollocks.
Consider the contemporary context, for example. Ask yourself why so many of those who have been in The Forces™ come out and come home to find that there is nothing there for them, that - if they have had the misfortune to be maimed in body, mind or both in the course of their service - that very same Queen and that very same Country consider them no longer to be of any concern or consequence, and are left to sleep on the streets, to have to commit petty crimes to survive (which is why so many of them end up in clink), to find it damn-nigh impossible to get the specialist medical treatment they need, and to have to rely on charity for sustenance. And all because, "There isn't enneh munneh! There's isn't a magic munneh tree, y'kneau?", all the while shovelling billions into the insatiable maw of bent banks and handing a couple of billion more to the Fascist wing of Presbyterianism in occupied Ireland.
Charities such as, yes, the 'Royal British Legion'. Now, their very name puts me off, containing two of the most humbug-laden words in the modern lexicon. But, for all the good that they may do, could I - irrespective of the branding - bring myself to support in any way an organisation which is seemingly happy to accept 'support' from two of the country's largest arms dealers, Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems? I find myself saying 'no, I couldn't'. I'm not saying that the RBL shouldn't look for commercial patronage, but to be content with receiving what is literally blood money is beyond any pale I am willing to traverse.
But back to the wreath-fest tomorrow morning. How much, roughly, does staging it all cost? I mean, I assume that the marching military is being paid for stepping out, even if they don't get double-bubble for weekend work. And all that security to make sure that no one takes a pop at old Big Ears or some passing dukelet must surely amount to a fair old sum?
I haven't seen any signs of corporate 'support' around the event, no tastefully understated sign on a gun carriage advertising Tesco the tax dodgers, nothing on the lines of, "This minute's silence is sponsored by O², because you can't a signal from us in Whitehall anyway". So I assume that we're forking out for it all. This seems to me to be a particularly inappropriate use of public money, especially bearing in mind what I said earlier about the total lack of official support for ex-service personnel once they have outlived their usefulness to the State and its own corporate sponsors. The money could - should - be better spent.
I am not, note, saying that there should not be remembrance of what happened. To the contrary; if we do not remember the bitter lessons of history and do not keep on reminding ourselves of them, then - just like with the current upswing of overt fascism in much of the over-developed world - we are doomed to repeat the experience. Besides which - to deal in specifics for a moment - two of my father's brothers were prisoners of war of the Japanese Empire (one of them never really recovered from the experience), and another relative at the opposite end of the age scale is currently stationed in an eastern European republic as part of the efforts to scare off the demnayshun Russkies. So I know at fairly close quarters what happens when you forget those lessons, and why we should endeavour to remember for that reason if for no other.
My point is that it is, for the reasons I've given, a dangerous thing to make a national fetish out of. Remembering is, at heart, a deeply personal thing; mass remembrance, the turning of it into an occasion for a self-aggrandising and fake-self-abasing parade of the very architects of conflict (when was the last time any war was started by the population in general rather than by their alleged 'leaders'?), turns the whole concept into a tacky and insincere spectacle intended only to encourage - or even impose by peer pressure - a spurious uniformity on the populace at large.
Let remembrance take place, by all means; but let it only happen - as it still does - in cities, towns and villages up and down the Sacred Realm (by appointment to Prince Rupert of Decline), where the people can gather and quietly commemorate their own folk, men they knew or were related to. A commemoration shorn of the quasi-imperial rah-rah and the calculating cynicism. A commemoration which actually means something real to those who stand, heads bowed, and remember. That would be a sincere remembrance, a dignified remembrance, a true remembrance; one which would do proper honour to those who Did Their Duty As They Saw It.
Footnote: As ever, the ever-estimable Philip Challinor (whose name I have spelled correctly at the first attempt this time), has provided us with one of his annual verses of commemoration.