“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968

Monday, 4 August 2014

A strange celebration.

The centenary of the dreadful mass slaughter that was the First World War seems a strange thing to be "celebrating". I reckon that I'm as qualified as anyone to be writing about this. My father served right through the war and unlike many old soldiers who never liked to talk about it, would harp on about the Somme and Passchendaele at the first opportunity: how I longed to come from a normal family where Arsenal and Spurs were the favoured topic of conversation. But to be fair to my dad he never had any illusions about patriotism and recognised the cause of war as the crass stupidity of Europe's ruling elites. There is nothing wrong with schoolkids remembering the hardship suffered by their ancestors, but let's have an honest recognition of the utter futility of it all as well. The millions who perished did not "make the ultimate sacrifice for their country". Of course there must have been acts of great bravery but no one "laid down their life". Terrified and far from home, they were killed, Killed by other young men just as clueless as themselves - and for nothing.

1 comment:

Dr Llareggub said...

I could not watch the politicians having their 'celebrations' over the Great War. As you indicate - a terrible waste of lives. Whilst memories of war (and revolution) are used by the powerful to enhance their status, for the little people it can be remembered with dignity and resentment. I have collected much from this era. In our Welsh village we remembered the deaths of many including a lad called Percy Brownhill, who was marched off to his death. Percy had Downes Syndrome (they used to call them Mongols) and like many others with Downes he was callously used to stop a couple of bullets. They won't be having a 'celebration' for the lads with Downes now will they.

However, I disagree with the left's attitude towards patriotism. Patriotism is a virtue which is wrongly denounced by the left who equate it with nationalism. Like many virtues it can be distorted by crude imitations, such as jingoism, or the nationalism of the Nazis and Soviet Communists. Recall Bakunin's distinction between love of the motherland and love of the state. The objective of dictators - of left and right - is to replace patriotism with affection for the state. Left vanguardists abhor patriotism - unless it can be employed to support the party. There were patriots in various resistance movements against Nazi and Soviet invaders, who displayed virtues. The expression 'Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel', does not negate patriotism anymore than 'Honesty is the last refuge of the lawyer' negates honesty. It merely shows that virtues can be perverted.

As a Welshman I have a love of Wales, its beauty, the people, its music (some of which I dislike). I regard that as being patriotic but I do not wish for a Welsh state, and used to argue this against the Free Wales Army who were basically a bunch of deluded Maoid fanatics and fascists who hated the Sais.

Perhaps the hostility towards patriotism among the left is a form of oikophobia, which as Orwell noted can become arrested in left wing intellectuals, who seek other sources for their patrotic feelings. Enough.