With the D-Day memorial marked again this year, a few thoughts on that war and how we memorialise it:
- It's right and just that we as a nation continue to honour the men who fought in these battles, and with the maximum fanfare. You don't need to be Robert Harris or Philip Dick to imagine what a world in which Nazism was allowed to triumph or even simply to survive would look like, and it's thanks to all those Allied troops that were willing to get shot to bits that we haven't had to experience it ourselves. Very good work lads, and thank you all for risking your hides on our behalf. We hope to see those of you that didn't get killed next year for more of the same.
- "The Greatest Generation" is certainly one way of
putting it. "The Shit-Out-Of-Luck Generation" is another.
- And here's the inevitable But - But I will admit that I find our choice of emphasis a bit weird. For all the weepy nostalgia, it's crucially important to remember that World War II was principally a vast human catastrophe, a hideous thing full of hate and needless destruction and carnage and casual cruelty on a global scale that killed unfortunately-placed civilians in even greater numbers than actual soldiers.
The bravery of the men who brought this slaughter to an end, praiseworthy as it certainly is, is a pretty small part of such a bloody disaster, and it's a bit odd that it's come to stand for the whole thing.
I could elaborate on the awful plight of people caught between Berlin and Moscow, or in the path of the Imperial Army, but won't. However, I think it's vital to us as a species to prioritise the fact that even our noblest war ever, the most justifiable and defensible piece of industrial mass-murder in human history, involved the good guys killing fuck out of bajillions of innocent people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I'm right up for valorising the Unknown Soldier and I'm as keen as anyone on emphasising the Noble Causeness of it all but taken in the round, the war on Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan was essentially necessary, rather than specifically moral. To me, all the wavy-flag trumpet solos look suspiciously like a way of bigging up a lot of regretable but unavoidable horrifying murder in terms of a righteous crusade, and little more.
What I'm saying here is that, even when circumstances force us to ingenious forms of mass slaughter, all those dead civvies are still a horror and an atrocity, and this shit has to be apologised and atoned for. Building massive military machines and sending them rampaging across entire continents is a hideous thing to do, even if we have no choice at all to do otherwise. As far as I can see, it's right and correct to laud a just cause and a courageous struggle, but the only moral decision at the end of such an enterprise is to do a hell of a lot of begging for forgiveness for all the godawful things you had to do to win.
Few, if any, of our memorials seem to spend much time or energy on that issue and in my opinion, that huge blind spot has had disastrous consequences in the long run.
- Because it's worth noting that it's precisely this kind of misty-eyed, reflexively-saluting nostalgia about the heroism of the Greatest Ever Generation Of All Time Ever that's been at the root of every damnfool, murderous military adventure ever since. Without a constant drumbeat of jingo horseshit about the awesomeness of defeating the real Hitler, it's difficult to imagine the ensuing battles against e.g. all those Vietnamese Hitlers or the Iraqi one, with their attendant vast bodycounts.
- So it's this kind of flag-waving rah-rah that's left us with, for example, the utterly bizarre sight of people blaming some schlub who got himself captured by the Taliban for the deaths of soldiers sent to look for him rather than seeing it as more the fault of all the dumbasses that sent a hundred thousand troops to sit in the arse end of nowhere, Afghanistan, to do little more than hold their dicks for ten years... And nor is it much seen as also the fault of the people who allowed such a daft situation to arise, by which I mean, us.
- One of the more bizarre things you'll see every time a major war anniversary rolls around is a series of public figures lining up to complain that the current generation of fighting-age men wouldn't be willing to charge a machine gun for freedom. "Kids these days", they inevitably announce in full-on This Is The Voice Of The Mysterons mode, "Don't have the courage or the spirit of self-sacrifice to do what their forefathers did".
To which I reply, Good. I'm glad that this generation is averse to getting their brains blown out for Britain, not least because if they weren't, the UK would've been involved in even more insane wars since the end of World War II than the ludicrously large number of them that we actually have been.
And it's interesting to note how many people repeat this noble self-sacrifice stuff about our own fallen heroes, seemingly without spotting that the entire fucking problem presented by World War II was that German and Japanese kids were only too happy to get cut in half by a mortar shell for the glory of the Fatherland.
It seems to me that a world in which fewer people are willing to get bayonetted to death for God and country is likely to be a nicer place to live in than one with more.
But then, for a man who owns a ridiculous, Mark-Off-Peep-Show number of books and films about wars, I have always been a bit of a pinko pacifistic type.