Spectres of the Somme

Yesterday’s ‘art’ commemoration in Britain of the centenary of the first day of the battle of the Somme was intensely moving: men dressed in authentic World War battledress walking around cities, sitting at stations as if ready to embark for the Front, sadly, silently, each with a card to give out with the name of one of the fallen on it, and all kept secret until then – like ghosts suddenly risen from the dead. (https://becausewearehere.co.uk) A brilliant and totally apt memorialisation; so different from the usual militaristic shenanigans.

I also noticed that on TV news and documentary programmes nothing was made of the ‘patriotism’ of the original men, which of course hardly existed after the first few weeks. Soldiers stuck to their duties, in situations of the utmost squalor and peril, not because of any loyalty to their country, but because of their comradeship with the ‘pals’ who were suffering alongside them. They didn’t want to let them down. It was the same at Gallipoli, another slaughterhouse, about which I published a review article recently. (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n10/bernard-porter/who-was-the-enemy.)

All of which must be annoying to Michael Gove, who when he was Minister of Education lambasted what he called the ‘Blackadder myth’ of the War, which he attributed to ‘left-wing academics’, who resile from the idea of ‘patriotism’ in order to undermine the patriotism of the present generation. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/10548303/Michael-Gove-criticises-Blackadder-myths-about-First-World-War.html). I’m sorry, Govey, but that’s the ‘expert’ view, and not only among ‘Left-wingers’. But then you don’t believe in ‘experts’, do you?

What it does undermine, and why Right-wing ministers so resist it, is the authority and judgment of the governments which led these brave soldiers into this hell, and have continued to do so thereafter. Chilcot should corroborate this for a later war.

In the meantime, pictures of these ‘ghosts’ reduced me to tears. The time is now past, of course, for anger. But not in the case of Blair’s and Bush’s war.

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