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The Sound Of Silence

remembrance-day-poppy-facebook-4Well it’s that time of year again, the time when the gutter rats crawl out of the sewer, and over the corpses of dead men, to climb onto a pedestal and tower over us all.

They profess their love of country. They profess their love of freedom.

But these are the people who consider themselves British first, and so are most likely to have voted No. Their idea of freedom is to force their politics on the rest of us.

To all of it is pinned one of the most partisan symbols of our time; the poppy. Over all of it, like the smoke from a crematorium, hangs the sound of silence.

We are told this is about remembering those who fought and died for this country during the First and Second World Wars and maybe it once was. But now it has morphed into something different.

It has become a perverse occasion, characterised by intolerance, crass commercialism and the glorification of war.

No area of our lives seems to be free of this .There are stories about workers being told they have to wear the poppy during their shifts, lest it reflect badly on their employers. Threats of disciplinary action are not uncommon. This extends to the national broadcaster too, in their “neutrality”. Some high profile presenters have been lambasted for not wearing it on their jackets, and others have been put under the most horrendous internal pressure.

Ironic, from the organisation that protected child abusers in its ranks, isn’t it?

Go even further, and woe betide any politician who is caught without one. Nothing – not expenses fiddling ,not lying in the House, not being caught bed hopping or with a hand in the cookie jar – would be more damaging to a career.

Football has had this “custom” forced upon it, like everywhere else. I watched TV footage yesterday morning as every player in the EPL stood in silence, whether they fully understood it, whether they sympathised with it, whether they cared about it, or not.

Some, like James McClean, who chose not to wear the poppy on their jerseys, have been forced to defend that action, as though freedom itself had been suspended for a day.

It’s a league where the majority of players are from foreign lands, some of them, like McClean, from those countries which know well what British imperialism looks like from the ground.

Many, therefore, understand what the extension of what was once a day commemorating two particular wars to “the commemoration of all wars involving British personnel” actually means.

There was a time when Remembrance Day was what it purported to be. It received little media coverage, and was handled with taste. The two conflicts it was originally intended to commemorate – the date itself marks the end of hostilities on the Western Front during World War I – were very different kinds of conflicts with very different root causes, but there were few who had a realistic objection to honouring those killed in them.

The First World War was the last convulsion of an imperial political system which had Europe in its grip. It was a war not so much between countries but between privileged elites fighting one another over the chessboard of Europe with their youth as the pawns. The courage of the soldiers who died was no less because of that, and they called it the War to End Wars in the hope that there would be no more like it. That proved to be in vain, but it was worth fighting for.

World War 2 was a struggle against evil, pure and simple, and if there was ever a war I would have signed up to go and fight it was that one. What Hitler and his minions were doing demanded an armed response. I am no pacifist. There are times when going to the guns is not only justified but necessary, and there has never been a stronger moral cause for this nation to have devoted itself to. Anyone who cannot bring his or herself to pay their respects to the men who fought and died to crush Nazi Germany is a moron.

I revere what those men did. I really do. Their efforts freed the whole of the civilised world from a dark, dark age and their courage and determination, their sacrifice, it will never be forgotten and nor should it be. Every school child should know what they did and why, and they should be brought up with the utmost regard for it.

The wars that have followed, especially those in my lifetime, well they have been about other priorities, and whereas for some of those conflicts it is hard to justify them on the basis of our national self-interest, for others they don’t even have that narrow excuse to fall back on. At least one of them was illegal, and those who died in it were lives wasted on the altar of lies.

There are those who will argue that the soldiers who fought in those campaigns are due the same respect as those who fought in the wars where more than just our national pride was at stake. They, after all, were sent to those conflicts by politicians who had the authority to make that decision, and whilst I feel some sympathy for that view I don’t agree with it entirely.

I feel tremendous sympathy for those men, I really do, and I am furious with the political class that sent them to fight and then abandoned them afterwards. But any tribute I wanted to pay to them would be inexorably tied to the causes they fought for … and I want no association with that at all.

The judgements at the Nuremberg Trials make it clear that the argument of “just following orders” offers no legal, far less moral, absolution for actions taken in contravention of the law.

If the 2004 invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent occupation of that country, was, as many of us have argued, an illegal act then everyone involved in it – from the politicians who ordered it to the men who served on the ground enforcing it – was engaged in the commission of a crime.

I am not suggesting that we indict every man and woman who served in uniform during that time. Wars have been declared with no legal foundation all throughout history, after all, and we do not hold the men who fight them responsible for that. Indeed, provided they observe the Geneva Convention, they are immune from the more serious charges under the Nuremberg verdicts.

Yet, what many – including the soldiers themselves – might not be aware of is a clause in the “contract” each individual signs when they join the military, which offers them a perfectly legal avenue to refuse to fight on the basis of “conscientious objection”, provided the authority to prosecute that conflict is in some dispute, or the orders given contravene the law.

In the case of Iraq, there was a legal finding – that of the UK’s attorney general – for that invasion to take place, but it is shaky, and many of us dispute its legality. Yet it is there. No such guidelines existed over the deployment to Afghanistan or for British involvement in Syria. The legal basis under which British soldiers were turned loose in Ireland is also dicey at best, falling perhaps under Military Aid to the Civil Power as it was called then, but with a broad scope that belies that, and makes it legally questionable at best.

One soldier who had served a tour in Afghanistan, and refused to go back for a second time based on the things he saw happen there, was Joe Glenton. Now a journalist and author, he has written extensively on a soldier’s rights to refuse illegal deployments and orders. He spent five months in prison for his decision not to return to the Afghan war, but has no regrets.

He wrote that not many soldiers are aware of the “clause”, but reminds readers that the contract signed by all serving soldiers binds the government, as well as them, to operate within the law. It is, after all, a “volunteer army” and one can “un-volunteer” if one so desires.

The point is, not every war fought by the British Army has been worthy of “remembrance”, and a guy who joins the military as a “career choice” and goes to shoot at Iraqis in a war with a dodgy legal foundation is not the same as someone who volunteers or is drafted during wartime, when the nation itself is under threat.

I have respect for those who’ve pulled on a uniform to “defend their country”, and I have admiration – more than that – for the courage it takes to go in to a conflict zone, but I do not venerate the military or those who serve in it in the way we are all expected to do now.

Remembrance Day was once about recalling the sacrifices of those who died fighting for our freedom and security. It was not intended to commemorate the courage of our political class in sending young kids off to die in the best interests of Exxon, Halliburton, Shell and Mobile.

When you use Remembrance Day to pay tribute to the soldiers who died in those wars – however brave those soldiers have been – you are legitimising the conflicts themselves, and to Hell with doing that because you also give credibility to the stiff suits who sent those boys off to die on a blatantly illegitimate basis.

When you start down that road you might as well lay out another aircraft hanger full of coffins for the next generation.

Here in the UK, we’ve recently introduced Armed Forces Day as an adjunct to Remembrance Day, and if there was ever an “occasion” which is all about revering the spectacle of war this is it. They can dress it up however they like, but the “celebrations” themselves are crass and unbecoming and the justifications for it are shabby and dishonest.

No-one really believes that the politicians who introduced this to our national life give a damn about our soldiers.

If they did, they’d pay them better, treat them better upon their return from the conflicts they can’t wait to send them to, and they would only send them to those places in the first place as a very last resort.

Jim Murphy, who’s running as Labour’s next leader in Scotland, has been playing on the war fever which grips parts of this country for the last couple of years. It was his idea to offer a “military members rate” for the Labour Party, and he wanted to pass a law protecting soldiers from “discrimination” in the same way as minorities, giving them special category status in the same manner as that held by police officers when victims of assault.

You would be forgiven for thinking he, and other politicians, really did care but he was one of the principle cheerleaders for Labour’s invasion of Iraq and he has been highly critical of the Commons decision not to start dropping bombs on Syria.

In short, this guy has no problems sending other people’s children to fight, and if need be to die, for his own personal views.

He, and others in the House who have talked up soldiers rights whilst being willing to put them in harm’s way in pursuit of their own goals, are amoral hypocrites of the worst sort, and Armed Forces Day is purely and simply an occasion intended for them, not the servicemen and women who actually have to do the fighting.

By honouring in such a way past generations of those who’ve died, and paying phony respect to those who serve in uniform today, they are making it that much easier to sell the military career to the next batch of kids … kids who will be very, very busy indeed if these people have their way.

Those kids are going to learn, first hand, the names of faraway places; al-Qaim, Kobane and Isfahan.

I do admire those who serve in the military. If this country is ever threatened, they will be all that stands between us and the enemy. Anyone who doesn’t respect that is an ingrate. I don’t really care what the reasons are for the vast majority of them who sign up. When it came to Iraq and Afghanistan many of them believed in the mission, and when they are out in the field they don’t fight for Queen and Country or any of that other bollocks; they fight to get home safely, and for the guys next to them and I don’t mind paying my respects to those who believed in what they were doing, however misguided or wrong (in my opinion) that is.

Indeed, my respect for those who don the military uniforms is enough that I would never ask them to fight in a conflict I wouldn’t take up arms in myself, and I would have had no part in the so-called “war on terror”, as I want no part in these politically motivated displays of jingoism which are done for the purposes of army recruitment.

We can’t escape them, though, especially here in Scotland where football is such a big part of many people’s lives.

One club – the one playing out of Ibrox – has thrown itself headlong into the promotion of the military experience. For many in the ranks of their support, there is nothing noble or high minded about their wearing of the poppy or their remembrance of those who died, and there is nothing patriotic in their emotive outpourings on behalf of those who presently serve.

In fact, their embrace of these things is rooted in a breath-taking cynicism and efforts at cheap point scoring that I’d describe as crass if they weren’t far more sinister than that.

They, and some of the fans from other clubs, wait for this event every year, like it is Christmas. They look forward to it, which is bizarre and disturbing when one considers what it’s supposed to be about. Their eagerness can be observed weeks, nee months, before the event.

But make no mistake about it. Their motives are not pure.

They are not keen to pay respect to anyone. They look forward to it because it allows them to clamber on to their pedestals and sneer at others.

It allows them to feel morally superior, for the only time in their lives, and they get away with it only because there are a small number of people in the Celtic support who can’t hold their tongue for sixty goddamned seconds.

I’m going to deal with that briefly before I go on.

I am a Celtic supporter, and these wannabee rebels are moronic in a way that would shame the Village Idiot. I don’t care what their “personal politics” are; their lack of respect extends far beyond a dislike of the British army into a casual ignorance of the world around them, and other people in it.

They have no compunction about casting shame on to their fellow fans, including many who serve in uniform. Whatever they think of those people, or that particular army outfit, whatever their regard for the flag that is pinned on it, Remembrance Day need not be about that.

If they took two seconds to think it over they might not give those who wait patiently for such a display of idiocy what they crave for a whole year.

It not an act of protest to disrupt a minute’s silent reflection for people who’ve died, whatever you think of the politics behind it. It is an act of ignorance.

They are nobody’s heroes, except those who want to paint the whole of the Celtic support in the worst possible, the most backward, light.

Their protest would mean more if they wore the white poppy, and shut their mouths for a minute, to pay respect to everyone who has died, in all wars, across the ages.

This is what many millions of people do across the world, me included, for I honour Remembrance Day myself, in my own way, every single year, with a prayer for an end to war itself.

Those people don’t belong in a football stadium. They belong in a zoo. Their “protest” was to no-one’s benefit, not even their own, and whatever cause they thought they were doing it for was not advanced one iota, unless the objective was to embarrass themselves and others.

All that said, the glee with which this is being reported by some in the press, and the manner in which it is being exploited – the actions of a handful of people, by the way, a handful – by those who were waiting for it with baited breath, is equally embarrassing and reeks of point-scoring of the most reprehensible sort.

Their pedestal is made of the corpses of those soldiers they pretend to revere, and I will not accept fake piety or talk of morality from them.

What’s more, some of the people who are flooding the message boards with their hatred for “terrorist loving Celtic fans” routinely extoll the virtues of the sectarian murderers of the Loyalist paramilitaries and that bears remembering.

Some of them, those perhaps loudest in their applause at the annual Armed Forces Day celebrations at their stadium, were captured, on camera, in George Square in September, making the Nazi salute, which is the ultimate expression of contempt for those whose memory they claim to cherish.

They appear not to understand that one is incompatible with the other, that the Britain those truly heroic men fought, and died, for is not the one that exists in their fevered imaginations; indeed, those men would have despised them, and with good cause, as many of those around them do, as every right thinking person in this country should.

The Ibrox club, and their fans, do have a relationship with the armed forces that goes back a long way. It is not a modern phenomenon, but it was always a background thing, something dignified and respectful because it was done in a dignified and respectful way.

It must make some in the army’s ranks feel uncomfortable that this club has elbowed itself into position as the “team of the troops”, especially as this modern incarnation, this celebration of war, is a mutation of something that started out with noble roots and intentions.

Nowadays, many use it as an excuse to celebrate about empire, the flag, symbols of Britishness and for one-upping other people, rather than viewing it as a day of reflection and respect.

I know the difference between those who care and those who don’t.

For the politicians it’s expressed in how eager they are to send those boys off to die, and the flimsy pretexts they create so they can play at being generals without themselves having to put one toe on a clear field of fire. My contempt for them is total.

For those whose formative years were spent “up to their knees in fenian blood”, their own focus is not on the courage of those who died but on tarring the entire supporter of another football club as somehow sub-human because a couple of them are too ignorant to stay quiet.

Their obvious delight in that narrows what they value to nothing more than a game, and that pisses on the memory of the dead every bit as much as those who sang the songs.

My condemnation isn’t confined to the Ibrox support either, by the way. As I said earlier, that club, at least, does have some history in lending a sympathetic ear to the veterans. For those supporters of other clubs who are wallowing in this moment like pigs in their own shit, I can only ponder on where their sudden interest, and reverence for, the armed forces has sprung from all of a sudden, because I’ve seen scant evidence of it in years past.

Some people disgraced themselves this weekend. That does not give others license to defame an entire support. They’ll do it anyway, because they care more about that than paying respect.

It takes genuine low-life to exploit the dead in this way.

If these people really care that much, I suggest they sign up and go and stand shoulder to shoulder with those they claim to be defending here.

No? I thought not.

It is the act of immoral cowards, motivated by hate. That is as disgraceful as the small number of yahoos who embarrassed themselves in the away end at Pittodrie.

What makes all this worse, of course, is that when hate is your defining emotion on a day like Remembrance Day you are feeding the beast itself, the one that resides in us all, the one that keeps the poppy fields blooming and the war machine rolling, the one which chews up men and spits them out in little gobs, the one that’s always hungry.

There’s nothing glorious in any of this. I wish the silence lasted longer, because in its aftermath, I can hear the drumbeat of all the coming future conflicts.

Glorification of war is something you find very little of in the ranks of the military itself, something our political class never bothers to acknowledge.

Ask any soldier about it and they’ll tell you how they learned the most important lesson of all, the very minute they were first exposed to combat, the lesson the politicians never seem to grasp because so few of them ever put on a uniform or manned a post. It’s the lesson the jingoistic, Brit-Nats who live for days like today can’t seem to get through their heads.

No-one ever wins a war.

This stupid, annual, PR one is no exception.

It long since stopped being about remembering the dead. It’s now about dividing the living.

Shame on all who would use the memory of the fallen for such diabolical ends.

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5 comments to “The Sound Of Silence”
  1. Brutally truthful, Sir, and it needed said because of that. I remember distinctly the embarrassment of having to buy my own footwear (my gross pay then was £11.4s) because the army did not provide me with the footwear I needed to operate in the terrain of the country to which I was sent. I also continue to be embarrassed beyond words at the one-armed “salutes” of fellow football supporters who would shit themselves at the voice of an angry dhobi-wallah (laundry man). By all means let us honour those who have their all but let us do so with dignity. It is the least we can do.

  2. Exposing the sad reality of how our ruling elite dupe the public, create wars to further their own wealth/power, and attach no value to human lives. These people are true psychopaths, in the clinical sense of the word. They should be locked away from society. Brilliantly written, as always.

  3. When I was young I knew many who had been to war and many more who had suffered at home through bombing, shortages and the loss of family and friends. The war had not been their choice and nor had it been in a far off land. Remembrance had been for those we’d lost and those left behind. Now it is a celebration, a political statement, a PR stunt for the government! Everything that was decent, honest and respectful has been hijacked. The ‘celebration’ of the BEGINNING of WW1 is a case in point. Not only is that concept inappropriate but at no point did the BBC ( for it WAS they ) mention what the reason for WW1 really was or discuss that it was a colossal waste of life for no good reason. It has now dissolved into imperialist triumphalism used as propaganda. My respects to those who were affected by these wars is being swamped by distaste at the ‘dept for propaganda’

  4. Have only just stumbled onto your site and wish I could have seen this sooner. As a Rangers supporting ex-soldier who served in uniform for over 25 years I applaud every word written here.

    Thank you.

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