War, huh, good God, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing, reckons GARY STEEL.
But why is that? My generation – the baby boomers – by and large rejected pointless wars, like the conflict in Vietnam, which led many promising youths to slaughter for no reason, and left a legacy of thousands of “survivors” whose subsequent lives were so damaged that they were beyond repair.
It seemed obvious to me even as a teenager studying history at school (which is pretty much a history of conflict between tribes/countries) that most of the time, war wasn’t about protecting communities, but about political issues with little ethical base, and that the authorities were always quite happy to send a generation of young men to battle, because they were expedient. It was simply population attrition, and gave the rich and powerful a fun time on the world stage.
I’ve no doubt that there are exceptions to this rule, and World War II is often cited as one of these. But even in that case, it’s important to remember that Hitler was a popular figure amongst important members of the elite in the British Empire. Those individuals, had they acted on information when they should have, may have been able to prevent the Holocaust, and prevent large-scale combat. [Cue for military stategists and self-appointed war experts to shoot me down in a hail of metaphorical bullets. Suggestion: don’t bother, because I won’t be listening].
Throughout history, humans have fought, whether they’re neighbours, or tribes living on either side of a river, or entire countries. Our inclination to fight is deserving of analysis. But fighting takes a more sinister bent when governments send thousands of their young into combat for spurious reasons.
This sacrifice has been going on not just for the past 100 years, but probably since the dawn of civilisation as we know it. What I find hard to fathom is this recent trend for people to remember the fallen of specific wars only, and mentally thank them for their sacrifice, as though their deaths prevented us from some catastrophe, when in fact that’s a fiction.
We should, instead, be remembering all those brave conscientious objectors who stood up against the brutality of war, and usually paid the price of their objections with their lives. And we should be remembering war by making sure that in the future, we hold governments to account for support of needlessly aggressive regimes, and hold them to account for sending our young to the killing fields.
If young people want to mourn those who died in a ridiculous and botched combat 100 years ago, that’s fine by me, but don’t glorify war in the process. Instead, ask the important questions, like ‘why do we always have to fight?’ and ‘if we’re sent to battle, do we really know what we’re fighting for?’
By glorifying something that happened in the deep past, we’re forgetting that war almost always has grey areas, and we only have to look at the conflicts occurring now in countries like Syria, or the threat of North Korea, to get that beyond the carnage, there are political manoeuvrings that make it all anything but simple to understand.