Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Let's Keep Iraq out of Remembrance Day

I was watching the Remembrance Day commemorations on television today with my father, who served in the army, when I heard something that neither of us much liked. The presenter Alistair Stewart said that while Remembrance Day was originally about remembering those who died in The Great War, and then World War Two, it's now about remembering other conflicts in which British forces were involved, including Iraq.

If that is indeed the case, then it's wrong.

Remembrance Day should only be about the two World Wars.

In neither the First, nor the Second World War, was Britain the aggressor. In Iraq, it was (alongside the US). While in the Second World War, Britain's role in helping to defeat Nazi aggression, was an honourable one, in Iraq it was not. A largely defenceless country, which posed Britain no threat, was attacked on the basis of a colossal lie. The Iraq war, together with the earlier, equally unlawful- and equally deceitful aggression against Yugoslavia in 1999, was a dark moment in Britain's history. It was a shameful episode, and those who planned and orchestrated it should, if there was any justice in this world, be behind bars. The Nuremburg judgement after all, held that the greatest of all crimes was to launch a war of aggression.

So let's wear our poppies today and remember those brave soldiers who gave their lives in two world wars. But let's make sure that any attempts to 'normalise' the Iraq war and put it on a par with World War Two are resisted.


Anonymous said...

Hang on a minute there. Even accepting your analysis of the Iraq war, is it not conceivable that the people who died in wars we think were wrong (illegal, etc) deserve to be remembered as much as those who died in wars we believe to be justified?

Furthermore should we not take a more nuanced view of this (no, I'm not going to outline reasons to doubt the Iraq war was illegal and immoral - bear with me)? It's not clear to me that even if we wanted the distinction between just and unjust wars to affect whether we honour the unfortunate victims, that we could put the first two world wars on one side and the Iraq war on the other.

You argue that WWII was "honourable" (I broadly agree - at least to the extent any war deserves such an accolade), but was the Great War equally so? George Monbiot doubts it (, and whether we agree with him or not we should surely at least admit that while such matters are seldom clear-cut, the loss suffered by a family when one of their sons or daughters is far more so.

One could even go further (though I'm not sure I would), and argue that those who fell in unjust wars deserve honouring even more than those whose deaths accomplished something 'honourable'.

Neil Clark said...

Hi Sam,

many thanks for your comment.

I'm not saying that people who died in other wars shouldn't be remembered, but that we should keep Remembrance Day to the two world wars.

I'm really worried that there is a move to 'normalise' the Iraq war- and that bringing it in under the Remembrance Day banner is an attempt to do this. I think this is dangerous too for the future of Remembrance Day- people support it because we're honouring soldiers who died in two conflicts in which most people think Britain was, morally, on the 'right side', but regarding Iraq, there is no such consensus.

re World War One I certainly wouldn't say that British involvement in the war was as honourable as WW2, or as justifiable. That said, Britain did not act as the aggressor in WW1, as it did in Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response Neil. I too feel a certain discomfort with bracketing Iraq with the two world wars, but I don't share your feeling that the inclusion of veterans from other wars should be seen (mainly) as part of a move to normalise the Iraq war.

We shouldn't forget that Iraq is only the latest of a series of wars Britain has been engaged in, and British people have died in. Excluding the families of one war from a day of national recognition of people's sacrifice because we disagree with the grounds for that war would perhaps add to their suffering.

In the end depends on who we think such ceremonies are mainly for. I feel we should think of them as being for the benefit of the families of those who have died, rather than for a political cause - such as retrospectively justifying a war - even if they may unfortunately benefit those who would wish to rewrite history in this way. Those people should be fought, but I think perhaps politicising Remembrance Day is not the best way of doing so.

KNaylor said...

Yes, the best thing would not be to politicise Remembrance Day nor to try and extend every single conclict into one seamless continnuum with WW2.

Remembrance Day is an occasion connected with civic nationalism and the sacrifice of lives to defend democracy with regards WW2.

That hasn't stopped New Labour's John Hutton trying to exploit the Good War mythology to Afghanistan. Clearly, it isn't the same as Iraq.

Yet Hutton's claim that British soldiers are defending British cities from the terrorism that would occur if they weren't there is drivel.

The Taliban are not to be conflated with Al Qaida which is a privatised global network that was able to gain a foothold in Afghanistan but whose origins and development are complex.

In fact, Al Qaida can only continue to exist as a threat to us because British foreign policy continues to be based on such double standards that alienate enough political Islamists to turn to violence.

This is not just some rationalisation for terrorsist violence that comes from left wing ideological "anti-imperialists".

It's borne out by the most sophisticated thinkers and writers on Islamism and terrorism from Jason Burke, to Malise Ruthven and John Gray.

The occupation of Afghanistan is for a mixture of geostrategic and woolly liberal humanitarian objectives that contradict one another.

It was based on the flawed iea that conventional military force can win some 'war on terror' whereas that can only be done by understanding why large numbers of alienated Muslims lothe 'The West' so much.

The money and lives wasted in Afghanistan ( and Iraq ) is futile and nothing should get round that.

Britain should withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq, invest the money in intelligence and enegy independence, and find alternatives to the repuslive and craven relationship with the main source of Islamist terrorism-Saudi Arabia

Anonymous said...

I completely agree.

I have been trying to work out a way to explain this to people without being offensive, or sounding as if I were anti-veterans - which you succeeded in doing marvelously.

Anonymous said...

off topic, but FYI:

The father of Obamas new chief of staff has had his wiki page deleted:

'This page has been deleted. The deletion log for the page is provided below for reference'

He formerly belonged to the terrorist group Irgun


Deucaon said...

For me, "Remembrance Day" (Armistice Day) is only for those who died during WW1 as it was originally intended. For others, it is about those who died in WW1 and WW2. For others, it is about those who died in the fight against aggression during the Cold War as well as against the aggressors of WW1 and WW2. For others, it is about every war their country partook in.

Remembrance Day means different things to different people but the outlining message is that war is tragic, people who died in them should be remembered and humanity should try to avoid wars in the future if at all possible.

Also, I would disagree that WW1 wasn't as "honourable" or as "justifiable" as WW2 since I view Austria's aggression against Serbia in the same light as Germany's aggression against Czechoslovakia.

Anonymous said...

Of late I have wondered at the term 'Remembrance Day'. Less and less now alive experienced WW2 and WW1
So they cannot remember it. No more than they remember the wars of the roses.
Saying 'My dad or uncle' experienced it and suffered is hardly the same.

Tim F said...

I always had arguments with my mother (a pacifist) about wearing a poppy. She said it glorified war; I said it honoured sacrifice. Remembrance should be about the soldiers, not the wars. The pain felt by bereaved families is surely as intense if they die in an unjust cause as in a just one.

And as stupid and corrupt as the Iraq adventure may be, countless acts or bravery and sacrifice are being carried out in its course.

RobW said...

Neil I actually agree with you to some degree. I think the Iraq war was a disgrace and involvement in the Balkans a fraud.

What I really don't like is the recent uptake in millitary parades and what not. To celebrate our heroes.

It makes me feel very unconfortable as I have nothing against those in the armed services. But I feel these parades, etc, are attempting to lend some credibility to the Iraq war. Which was deeply immoral.

Roland Hulme said...

Yes, let's trample on those brave men and women who selflessly gave their lives for the service of their country, even if the decision to send them to that conflict was wrong.

Disrespectful rubbish, Neil. You should be ashamed of yourself. Rememberence day isn't about scoring cheap points at the expense of men and women who gave their lives believing it was protecting the ungrateful likes of you.

Let's remember the proud soldiers who died in:

Northern Ireland
The Falkland Island
Iraq & Afghanistan

They didn't have the option of sitting at a computer screen blogging smugly, like you and I do. They were expected to do a job and feeding their families and avoiding the consequences of disobeying orders came before any doubts they might have had about their mission.

If they'd have refused to go to Iraq, for example, they'd have been slung in jail or thrown out of the army with a dishonerable discharge (and some did both.)

It's easy to sit there and expect them to do just that, but making judgements on these people is easy, Neil, when you don't face any consequences yourself.

I think this was a VERY poorly thought out post and an absolutely disgusting insult to our military.

You don't have to support the mission to support our soldiers.

David Lindsay said...

What they fought and died for is not, in fact, being fought and died for Afghanistan.

No one even pretends that it is being fought and died for in Iraq.

And it is what we fought, and some of our people died fighting, against in Yugoslavia, where we lined up with those who wore (and wear) black shirts in deference to their SS fathers and grandfathers, and who were led in Bosnia by a Wahhabi rabble-rouser and erstwhile SS recruitment sergeant, one of the very few people to whom the term "Islamofascist" is literally applicable.

Furthermore, although I ferociously defend the place of Christianity in our national life, I do have misgivings about the role of the churches in Armistice Day events.

The Second World War was one thing, but the First was quite another, and the very considerable number of conscientious objectors (leaving aside whether they were right or wrong) was disproportionately motivated by Christianity of an unusual seriousness.

The strong participation of the Free Churches, and perhaps above all of the Methodists, seems particularly odd, considering that no mention is ever, ever made of those who held fast to the Nonconformist pacifist tradition of Lloyd George himself during what was then the very recent Boer War, but who nevertheless did sterling, invaluable work as medical orderlies and other things.

Does anyone know of a monument to, for example, the Friends [Quaker] Ambulance Brigade, or the Friends' War Victims' Relief Committee? There really ought to be one, unveiled by the Queen.

The Second World War was one thing.

But the First was quite another.

Neil Clark said...

thanks to all who have commented.
i think we're mostly in broad agreement, except Roland.

who's talking about trampling on 'brave men and women who selflessly gave their lives for the service of their country' Roland? I'm not.

All I'm saying is that we should beware attempts to 'normalise' the Iraq war, which was wrong and unlawful, and be careful that Remembrance Day is not used for that purpose.

As to not supporting our troops, I can only concur with what Mark Steele once wrote- I support our troops so much that I want them home, out of harms way and back playing ping-pong in the barracks at Aldershot, not risking life and limb taking part in neo-con wars of aggression. If the neocons want wars against Iraq, Iran and goodness knows who else, let them fight them themselves.

Anonymous said...

We should take every opportunity to remember all the men and women who died in combat, regardless of which war it may been.

We have Veteran's day, Memorial Days, and Remembrance Days not just to remember those who died, but also to remind us of the human cost of possible future wars. And the more we are reminded of the cost, then, I certainly hope, the less likely we are to fight those future wars.

Roland Hulme said...

Now what Vladimir wrote is brillaint and I 100% agree with him. In a shorter, more concise way, he's explained what I couldn't. The VITAL reason why Rememberance Sunday should honor all the fallen soldiers, not just the ones Neil Clark deems politically suitable.