War Mania

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

My dad Kassam, who looked like Jeremy Thorpe, didn’t eat much, but greedily consumed books on British politics and British wars.  He bought them on credit knowing he couldn’t  pay the bills.  In the end, the owner of the only bookshop in town, banned him from his store. This was in Kampala, capital of Uganda. Exiled ignobly from his daytime hangout, Papa turned into Coleridge’s mad Ancient mariner, pulled people into his obsessions. One story he told over and over again was of an Indian relative called Jaffer, who had volunteered to fight with the  Allies in the Great War – as did thousands of other Indians and Africans.  In fact, at the beginning the Indian army outnumbered British army. Jaffer died soon after somewhere near Neuve Chapelle-Givenchy. ‘ War made him great, made him a man. Without his guns he would have been nothing, just a dukanwallah ( small shopkeeper)’   Jaffer’s suffering widow and kids didn’t get parts in Papa’s heroic yarns. Before I was born, he himself had tried to enlist when the next world war broke out but was deemed physically  unfit. I didn’t see the glory then and don’t  now.

What I see is countrywide mania, cravings for military braggadocio and justifications for action, most of which are post-victory, well shined up lies . The illegal war on Iraq was the only example I can think of when millions of Britons, high and low, rebelled against the mission, its pretexts and methods. That was a blip in an unbroken narrative of armed valour and supremacy.  Britain is arguably more addicted than is the US to wartimes past and present. Wars, not religions, are now the opiates of our people. And the state funds the drug habit, big time. With so much of the stuff sold energetically in the marketplace, few will escape from its effects. And there are no curative clinics, clinicians or therapists to help the young. Those who work with terrorists know how hard it is to detoxify a mind that has been indoctrinated. When the minds of millions are systematically turned by the UK political and military establishments, restoration to rational, independent thought is well nigh impossible. We are the great brainwashed.    

The government has decided that World War 1 will be marked over four years. Four Years, costing over 60 million pounds. Andrew Murrison is appointed the minister of the Great War. A minister for rain would make more sense. Jeremy Paxman was absolutely right when he said recently ( when talking about his own sensitive, BBC series on this conflagration)  that ‘only a complete idiot would celebrate such a calamity’. According to soldiers who were there and experts over the decades, the conflict was devastating, needless, ruthless, and dishonourable. It badly affected  Africa, Arabia, Asia and led Europe inevitably to the next global inferno.  Why even the right wing, pro-Empire, hawkish  historian Niall Ferguson, says: ‘ It was the biggest error in modern history’. Michael Gove will be most displeased. ( He looks and acts like a Dickensian character when most displeased. Will Fergusson be summoned and bent over a table and caned?) Our resolute Secretary of State for Education is determined to turn this remembrance into a pro-war cant- fest. As Simon Jenkins observed last week: ‘It will be the British at their worst; sanctimonious, self-congratulatory, worshipping at the tomb of the unknown, awful German…[already] there are war poems, war propaganda, war nurses, war horses everywhere’.

The potent myth of sacrifice is evoked whenever men and women die in wars. Britain beautifully embalms these victims and those to come in these sentiments. It is to ensure the army remains big, popular and ready for the next big battle. Five years ago the armed forces were no longer held in awe. Their PR sorcerers went into battle and got the nation to hug soldiers again, all ‘heroes’ who give their lives so we may be free. The poppy is now a mark of loyal citizenship. Once the people are manipulated to back the military, they do not ask why we must have the Trident defence system, just one part of which has gone up 600% in costs. Thanks to MP Paul Flynn we know the final bill will run into between 15 to 20 billion. My colleague Any McSmith ran this story in the paper last week. Was there any public consternation? No. How much of the deficit would be cut if we dropped this vanity project? How does it help fight the Al-Qaeda threat? Imagine if the NHS overspent this profligately.

The next four years will push militarism down our throats, so we assent to the next armed venture in a fug of druggy pride. Resist the peddlers. Read No Man’s Land: Writings from a World at War, (ed Peter Ayrton) and seek the truth.  And know this nation is more than the sum of its wars.     

 The Independent 3/2/14