13 thoughts on “Remembrance Day

  1. It used to be Armistice Day when I was a kid. That was a reference to that war we went and fought on behalf of the British. It is good that the name has changed (though they’re still selling red poppies to wear on your lapel). It took 90 years for Turks to be welcomed at Anzac Day parades – I wonder how long it will take before Remembrance Day takes into account all the others we went ‘over there’ to kill for the sake of some fanciful notion on how best to protect our national security.

  2. Every time I drive through a country town in this country I am visibly reminded of the damage done to this country by WWI. Look at any centotaph or war memorial. With the greatest respect to those who lost their lives we can only say there but for the grace of god go We. If you happen to visit Cairns go and look at the old cemetry you’ll find a tombstone to a family (The Hides)who lost both and only sons, who were twins, one at Gallipoli and one at the Somme, how much can any one family or nation sacrifice. Remember them when the idealogues come knocking. Those who have been on a battlefield never ask anyone to go on to another. Then remember that Anzac day was started as a protest march against the shabby treatment by government of the men who did do as they asked, Defence and Veteran Affairs to this day fight each and every claim to the wire, a pox on all their houses. Lest we forget.

    Without denigrating the seriousness of the day, curious how day by day I am reminded of the parallels between ‘little’ Billy Hughes and ‘little’ Johnny Howard. They seem the same to me.

  3. Why I never march on the various ‘Amnesia Days’ that have been devised
    12 November 2006

    Remembrance Day 2006 has just been ‘commemorated’ in Britain with a tight formation of four Vulcan jets screaming over Hyde Park and traffic diverted around the heavily securitised unveiling of a new monument to New Zealand’s dead of World War II and subsequent conflicts. This year featured a speech by New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark, who we know holds a very different view of the present military adventurism in Iraq, refuses to host nuclear powered and armed naval vessels, and has disbanded most of the offensive sections of the New Zealand Air force. Yet Helen Clark’s government refuses to acknowledge that some of New Zealand’s military personnel were involved in one of the twentieth century’s bloodiest and most illegitimate wars, the CIA’s Secret War in Laos, during the American Indochina War.

    “Where have all the poppy sellers gone?� was a front-page headline on the aptly named giveaway tabloid ‘London Lite’. Indeed, there seem to be fewer people wearing the tawdry little red flower, which was probably mass-produced in Bangladesh or, dare I suggest, Vietnam. There has even been some discussion as to whether people should be coerced by social obligation to wear this thing on their lapel. A religious organisation has even suggested that the red poppy ‘smuggles in’ the message that redemption can come from participation in war. They have the temerity to suggest that we should look afresh at the principles of ‘Just War’ and that the flower should be white, to symbolise purity and peace.

    Remembrance Day and similar commemorative events play a vital role in reinforcing the nations’ mythology of righteousness, purity and goodness in the face of a great deal of evidence to the contrary. These annual officially supported events help to underpin the ‘high external threat – high internal cohesion’ formula that keeps governments in power and well-funded militaries under civilian control.

    The real point of ‘remembrance’ is that ordinary people have been persuaded by distorted history and disinformation into performing high risk ‘tasks’ at the expense of their own well being. These ‘tasks’ have included putting their own lives at risk and taking the lives of other ordinary people. As David Grossman says, this breaks all the fundamental conditioning of human beings that tells us that killing is taboo. People have to be trained to kill and it often causes them great, if very private, remorse and frequently psychiatric illness. Many veterans cannot express disclosure regarding their experiences for many years after the traumatic events. Some psychopaths enjoy this kind of work and no one really knows how to reprogram them.

    ‘Remembrance’ gives political and religious leaders the opportunity to enhance their own positions of authority, reinforce the precarious righteousness of the Christian ‘Just War Theory’ and sanitise the historical record of the nations’ narrative mythology. It also gives the veterans and their families the mistaken impression that these leaders actually care for the well-being of this audience and valorise this mythology to the wider audience of the nation.

    Veterans, especially but not only those who experienced combat at close quarters, but including those who killed by remote control, as well as those who performed the support tasks, all need to be rehabituated into civil life and need to feel ‘OK’ with what they have experienced. Some will need to come to terms with things that they have done. For others it might be remorse for what they failed to prevent others from doing. Some veterans grieve over fallen comrades and feel guilty to be enjoying their own survival.

    I am reminded of the SAS storming of the Iranian Embassy in London in 1982. One story that has had little airing alleges that the SAS soldiers entered the building through a smoke grenade cloud and disabled everyone on the floor. They then pumped bullets into the heads of all but one of the hostage takers. This was all standard procedure for SAS personnel. One hostage taker lay down with the hostages and emerged from the Embassy building alive to be seen by the waiting media contingent. The hostages had not ‘given him away’. The operation was considered to be a ‘failure’, not because the hostage takers ‘escaped’ interrogation and were not brought to trial; but because one hostage taker lived to see his day in court, and no doubt revealed details of what had happened. It is also said that the Coroner did not record the nature the ‘execution style’ killings – a very British approach to public amnesia in the face of inconvenient facts. No one knows the names of the soldiers or hears their explanation.

    The identity of the ‘Veteran’ is a person scarred by war. A meticulously constructed ‘public amnesia’ prevents a closer examination of this phenomenon. The comfort the veterans feel with this identity depends on a valorising narrative. They were brave, they fought for their country, and they fought so that their fellow citizens can enjoy freedom. Yet they return from wars with persistent military habits, with a simplistic logic that the strong should always prevail – that force can always settle problems, a desensitised culture of violence and an inability to associate their actions with the well being of others. Substance abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, child abuse, family murder-suicide, risk-taking behaviours and self harm all characterise the destructive cycle that can be experienced by veterans affected by PTSD and similarly ‘uncategorised’ affects of war.

    Governments often make the appearance of respecting the dead whilst wilfully ignoring the pleas for help and the sometimes ‘invisible’ injuries suffered by veterans. Those whose personal narrative reminds them that they performed their ‘tasks’ in undeclared and clandestine conflicts are at most risk to their own well being. They are at risk of being, co-victims of ‘plausible denial’, together with millions of unknown civilians, when their exploits do not fit comfortably into the nations’ mythological narrative of ‘bravery, purity and righteousness. The extensive deployment of Special Forces around the world in the Long War, also known as the War on Terror, will inevitably lead to some more of this ‘short-changing’ when these people return wounded or worse for wear. There will be some ingenious explanations for ‘remembrance’ humbug, I think.

    I never march. I always cry inside.

    Willy Bach
    also to be found on my blog:

  4. I quite agree wth your sentiments, Willy Bacj.

    I find it hard to believe when Brendan Nelson gets to say that Armistice Day is about freedom and lberty and the defence of our values. Who does he think we are, Americans, to swallow such unadulterated horse shit?? No disrespect to the dead, and Armistice Day is still important to remember that war is a horrible thing, but we were fighting for Empire back then, in a pointless bloody conflict that Australia should never have been part of.

  5. Great comments John, a total denigration of the contribution of Australians who have served in the Armed Forces. I presume the young men on the Kokoda Track are all bundled in the same short sighted view. It would appear any service is wrong but surely there are times when it is justified. Would Europe have been better under German domination after WW1 and 2? Would the people of the Pacific, South East Asia and possibly Australia have had a better quality of life if young Aussies and Americans hadn’t stopped their advances?

    I think not but never mind – it’s a part of the servicemen’s job description. Serve for those who would denigrate as well as those who are appreciative.

    The Veteran is not just scarred by war he is also scarred by those Australians who see nothing good in what he has done.

    Melanie, maybe the the reasons for contributing to the stability of Europe are ‘fancifull’ in hindsight but Australia at the time was very well aware of the ramifications of doing nothing and acted in hers and the Empires interests. It is not necessary for the enemy to be attacking Australian soil for the events to seriously affect our way of life.

    Mike H. I am one who has been on a battlefield and I would ask others to take up the cudgle again to defend what we have, should it be gravely threatened. The tombstones in Cairns you refer to are indeed sad (my father lost two uncles in the same theatres)and I personaly believe that the British command element in that war are the greatest villians unhung but soldiers will always die for what they believe in and Generals will always make mistakes. Nothwithstanding that, what we have is worth defending and the stability of the world is worth defending as well from those who would kill our woman and children because we pray at a different temple (some of us).

    I am reminded of the SAS storming of the Iranian Embassy in London in 1982. One story that has had little airing alleges that the SAS soldiers entered the building through a smoke grenade cloud and disabled everyone on the floor. They then pumped bullets into the heads of all but one of the hostage takers.

    That’s what happens. Another story, the real one, has it that the terrorists weren’t disabled beyond the capacity to kill for ideological reaons and would’ve killed all the hostages had they themselves not been killed. It actually got plenty of airing at the time and we thought it was a watershed in dealing with terrorists. They were not executed, they were shot in the line of duty and no, you will never know the names of the soldiers for if you did you would most probably shout it out and subject those soldiers and their families to execution themselves. It’s a terrifying task to enter a room filled with terrorist armed with auto weapons, particularly for the first trooper through the door, and know that if you, and those that follow, dont disable the terrorists within seconds, then innocent hostages will be murdered Tel me Willy, who do you want to win? Terrorists who would murder woman and children or the soldiers who are charged with defending those same innocents?

    To give you something else to condemn us for; we (the SAS) train for Iranian Embassy type tasks in what we call the ‘killing house’ and it wasn’t smoke grenades in the Iranian Embassy, it was stun grenades. Stun grenades increases the hostages chance of survival, slow down the bad guys and give the good guys a chance to stop the mahem.

    Armistice Day is not the time to remember that war is a terrible thing; it is a day to remember the sacrifice of those who served. Election Day is the day to remember and debate the right or wrongs of any particular war.

    Lest we forget.

  6. Kev, the Australians who served on the Kokoda Track and in WWI include my father and both my grandfathers. I’m sure all of them would agree with my post. However, I won’t return your compliment and accuse you of denigrating them – I’m sure you don’t intend to do this.

    Armistice Day is the day, of all days, to remember that war is a terrible thing, and to remember all those who have lost their lives in the wars caused (as all wars are ultimately caused) by the ambitions of evil men. There are plenty of other days to make the case that going to war is sometimes a necessary evil.

  7. “Melanie, maybe the the reasons for contributing to the stability of Europe are ‘fancifull’ in hindsight but Australia at the time was very well aware of the ramifications of doing nothing and acted in hers and the Empires interests. It is not necessary for the enemy to be attacking Australian soil for the events to seriously affect our way of life.”

    Melanie was refeerring to Australian involvement in WWI.

    Kev commits two major historical errors.

    1. Under the Australian constitution at the time, the Australian government had no choice but to commit to the War. In other words, the choice was not made by the elected representatives of the people of Australia.

    2. When Australia committed to the Great War, and perhaps unbeknownst even to PMs Fisher and Hughes during the course of the Great War, Australian troops weren’t fighting for the “independence of small nations”, the cause proclaimed in propaganda. Rather they were fighting to impose the terms of secret imperialist treaties signed by Britain, France and Tsarist Russia. If Australians had known this, perhaps they would have fought anyway. However, the imperialist governments of the Triple Entente thought it wise to get their cannon fodder to fight under false pretenses. These secret treaties were revealed to the world when Trotsky read them out over the radio soon after the October Revolution. The treaties had been discovered in the Tsar’s safe.

    The men who fought on the Kokoda Track, on the other hand, had been told most of the truth about the reasons why they were fighting. Governments were less shame-faced about WWII motives.

    The lies surrounding the so-called Global War on Terror suggest that, like during the great War, governments now believe that they can get away with lying to their citizens and soldiers again.

    Trick me once, shame on you. Trick me twice, shame on me.

  8. There’s a lot of difference between what the war was originally for, from a British perspective, and what was wanted from it once it was underway anyway. The British did join in on behalf of Serbia (emotionally) and far more in defence of British commitments to guarantee Belgian neutrality. The Entente Cordiale commitments were insufficient to tip the balance until Belgian neutrality was violated.

    As for no Australian backing for the war, well, there was certainly no formal mechanism to establish the popular will on the point, but that’s far from saying that there was no backing.

  9. PML,

    1. I never claimed there was no Australian backing for the Great War. On the contrary, I entertained the hypothesis that there may well have continued to be powerful Australian backing for the most imperialist of British aims.

    Australians were very enthusiastic enlistees until the Easter Uprising in 1916 and until the Battle of Pozieres impressed its horror upon the Australian people by means of whole sections of newspapers devoted to death notices. The Dublin uprising and its brutal suppression provoked many Australian Irish Catholics to withdraw their support for Brtish war aims. The Battle of Pozieres caused many Australians to re-evaluate the cost of supporting the Empire, as opposed to the principle of supporting the Empire. In-principle support for British war aims remained strong until the bitter end.

    2. While the British Government was most vociferous in its proclamation of the defence of “plucky little Belgium” etc., there was no talk at all about the terms of the secret treaties. One of the causes of interwar pacficism can be found in the deep cynicism experienced by patriot Britons when they discovered the truth about British government postwar ambitions.

    The point is that the British government chose not to level with their own people. There was a mismatch between an evolving democratic sentiment and decidedly pre-democratic behaviour of the British government.

    The behaviour of the British government is understandable in that democratic expectations at about the time of the Great War were very new. It was only later that the consequences of ignoring these expectations became clear.

    On the other hand, the Coalition of the Willing have some lessons from history that might have dissuaded them from their lying, spin and general mendacity.

    Alas, too late now.

  10. After that clarification, I’d almost agree with you. However, I still have one point of disagreement: the materiality of those other treaties as at 1914. Certainly, that approach was part of diplomacy before, and became significant again after – as with Italy joining in on the side it did – but I really don’t think it was material once everything was in place in 1914. That is, those things had already taken effect in the nature of the facts on the ground – but couldn’t make any difference to the consequences of the trigger for war being set off. A great many people of the old persuasion, like Sir Edward Grey, were hard at work pulling their strings in the run up to hostilities, but to no particular effect.

  11. I agree PML.

    Except, one ought not confuse a discussion about actual motives for war, as expressed in secret war aims, with discussion about how a war is justified to the citizenry and potential enlistees.

    Indeed, it is the chasm between actual motives and public justification that we are discussing.

  12. In 1914, it was more the other way around. It was the British (Empire) public that wanted more more than the ruling classes, once the triggers had been squeezed. Bertrand Russel was shocked by the cognitive dissonance he felt when he realised this, since he had been the sort of unsophisticated pacifist that thought the people were only ever dragged into wars by statesmen. At the least he should have widened that to include media barons.

  13. That’s true PML. Except almost everyone thought that it would be a splendid little war that’d be over by Christmas.

    No one needed to work very hard to sell a war that would involve not much more than a pleasant walk to Berlin.

    When things got more serious in 1915, the Jingo press did ramp up the bloodthirsty rhetoric. But popular opinion in Britain was initially very much opposed to conscription and anything connoting what later came to be called “total war”.

    When it came time at the end of 1915 aggressively to sell the war, no mention at all was made of the secret treaties, or Britain’s postwar plans as a member of the Victor Powers. This is when cynical appeals to patriotism proved to be so useful.

    It was only after Trotsky embarrassed everyone in early 1918 by revealing the Entente’s secret treaties that Lloyd George began to talk about such things as “national self-determination”. By then LG had perceived how dangerous was open subsciption to the spirit of the secret treaties.

    Did LG panic unnecessarily? Would the British public, and more to the point, the British Army, continue to fight for the now-revealed causes of the secret treaties?

    Patently, LG decided not to risk it, so we’ll never know.

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