The hundredth anniversary of the battle of the Somme still provokes a strong emotive response from the British public, this includes myself. The sadness and the futility echo with us, the knowledge that streets of wives, mothers and children all lost their husbands, sons and fathers in a single day.
We know now that the young men who walked across the fields did not do so for their own freedom: It was for the empire of others. Most men were short from bad diet, the German soldiors had the vote where their English counterparts, predominantly, did not. They had left tedious or dangerous work and, once they had joined up, reported having the best food they could remember eating. There was no threat to Britain, and most had no freedom to speak of to defend if there had of been.
This year the anniversary fell awfully close to the release of the Chilcot report: a review of a contemporary conflict that begs reflection on our progress. A century since the whistles blew in flanders, what was our modern motivation and was it any less questionable than that of the past?
It was not the first time the English had fought on the Somme: Agincourt still raises pariotic rhetoric through the medium of Shakespeare, and Waterloo, which ended a long and bitter war against the french. It can't be denied that both of these were empirical battles. Nor was 2003 the first time British boots went to Iraq, far from it.
Iraq itself was formed by the British, lumped together from three Ottoman provinces once oil was discovered in Mosad. The already disgruntled populace, denied the freedom and independence it was promised for fighting with the British in WW1, was placed under direct British control. What were now Iraqis, although quite probably not to themselves, saw this as an invasion. In 1920 they revolted and were brutally reminded who ran the country. Gas was used on the insurgents of the day.
In 1941 it appeared as thought the British were busy; allies against the British were also, apparently, in abundance. None the less the support from the Germans was minimal and another rebellion was quickly quashed by British soldiors, all of whom were experienced and battle hardened. Iraq had been independent since 1932, but this was in name only and no real changes took place for the populace. It is important to remember why this took place: if the oil had not been there then neither would the British.
In 1914 German soldiors were not slaughtering babies on Church doorsteps, in 1990 Iraqs troops were not massacring babies in Kuwait hospitals nonetheless, on both occasions, this is what the allied countries were informed. Nayirah, the daughter of the Kuwait ambassador pretended she wasn't and said she had witnessed these atrocities take place. It is safe to assume the enthusiastic allied leaders knew this, but the enemies of empire killing babies is a historically tried and tested method of encouraging the unwilling to fight. The testimony of the girl received massive exposure at the time: rather notably and for obvious reasons it rarely gets a mention now. In the context of false reasons of fighting iraq it does seem awfully relevant, even if it was an earlier war it proves how happy those that desire war are willing to lie to achieve it.
We continued to bomb and threaten Iraq between 1991 and 2003, occasionally firing tomahawk missiles to enforce the dubious peace and no fly zone created at the culmination of desert storm. This was just a Conflict of air defense systems but it was still very noticeable to the Iraqis, if not to the western media.
The Chilcot enquiry is supossed to explain why we started the 5th Anglo Iraq war: once again the reasons were false. Atrocities were used as propaganda once more: the genocide of the Kurdish population was frequently referenced. Although the allies were clearly not overly influenced by it: firstly it took place in the eighties, when Saddam Hussain was regarded as an ally and we didn't seem to mind at the time. Secondly the chemical weapons used were of western manufacture and sold to Iraq to be used against Iran, which they were. This one of the reasons Iran is deeply suspicious of the west to this day. We know the other reasons, we know they weren't true.
What we know of both wars, in 1914 and in 2003: a great deal of money was made and both were the direct cause of future conflicts. The profiteering of WW1 gets less of a mention than a lot of its other aspects, because it still relevant. companies such as vicars and citroen, among others, were caught up in a perpetual arms race. The french were very aware of this as their revolt of 1917 suggests, the revolt was supported by the song adieu la vie (goodbye to life). The topic of the song is that the rich men at home should do the fighting as it was they that want war. A german soldior wrote the words: "we have to fight only for the purse of others, anything else they keep telling us is rubbish." It was observed, cynically but accurately by soldiors on all sides, that the war could not continue without the support of the newspapers. All sides were reassured by celebrities and politicians that God was on their side.
Britain and America are still huge arms dealers, but that is just one aspect of the industry: Haliburton made at least 1.7 billion from building prisoner of war camps and army bases. (Remember Dick Cheney was the vice president of this company at one point). Before Iraq was "freed" the oil was nationalised and closed to outside interests, now ExxonMobil, shell and BP all operate there. America troops were told on more than two separate occasions, but in this case, once by Woodrow Wilson and once by George Bush that they were going to "make the world safe for democracy". On no occasion has it been the truth: As observed, Germany at this point had a much more equal democracy than Britain.
The war to end all wars was the direct cause of its sequal: The loss of land, the collapse of the German economy and destruction of its infrastructure, this led to the hyperinflation of the weirmar and a political void. French general Ferdinand Foch said of the treaty of versaille: "This is not peace, but a twenty year armistice." The destruction of iraqs infrastructure and the political void that was left is the exact reason we are fighting the 5th Anglo Iraq war against Isis. Nothing breeds a dictatorship like desperation and nothing breeds radicalisation like decades of bombing and poverty.
There is no need to draw unnecessary comparisons or conclusions: we have a long history of going to war for reasons other than those that we are told, the actual reasons are often the same for differing wars. As another example we know for a fact that the bay of Tonkin incident that started the vietnam war was a lie: I don't want to list examples of this from the past, I would like an example suggesting it has stopped.
Before the battle of the Somme Field marshal sir Douglas Haig stated at the start of a speech "The nation must be taught to bear losses." It did learn, and after half a million iraqi civilians died, I assume they learned too. But we didn't need to learn, why should we have to? The lies made the world unstable, both at the beginning of the 20th century and the start of the 21st. Ruining the lives of millions of people globally on both occasions.
Harry patch, the oldest surviving veteran of the Somme said: "I felt then as I feel now, the politicians that took us to war should be given the guns and told to settle the difference themselves, instead of organising mass murder." For me at least, this applies to contemporary conflicts.
The emporers may have changed their clothes a little, but many of the lies remain the same. Whenever we are informed there is an enemy we should look closely at the person saying it, just to make sure it isn't them. Through education, spotting deceit through our knowledge of history, through kindness and forgiveness, may we find the peace for our children that we have failed to find for ourselves.
|The ambassadors daughter.|