In 1914 they began leaving the slums, taking the King’s shilling, to escape the dirt and the disease, to send some worthless pennies home to feed the wives and children they had left behind in buildings swarming with humanity and rotting with piss, shit, and vomit. You may think I’m being crass, but if we could revisit those dwellings, these rude words would be the least of our worries. The government that sent them to war had caged them like animals in these hell holes to work and to die for the good of the empire and the ruling class.
Yet the poppy, from the joke it was – no matter how ordinary innocent people feel about wearing it, has been “hijacked,” or so we are told. It has now become the totem of hyper-aggressive, right-wing racist British nationalism. On the football field it has become the weapon of choice to be deployed against non-British outsiders; Irish Catholics and Argentinians – very much victims of British imperial and colonial violence – who play for English clubs. On the lapels of knuckle-dragging thugs it has become a compliment to the Nazi swastika tattooed on their necks.
Today, regardless of what we think we are doing, we are not remembering the dead of that horrific war. The so-called ‘Great War’ is now all but beyond the horizon of living memory. Instead we are sharing in – not remembering – an imagined past; a glorious celebration of invented heroes who serve only to justify more modern, less morally justifiable wars – land and resource grabs.
From between the crosses, row on row, John McCrae’s blood-spattered blossom has come down to us from on high that we might remember. Remember what? The Fallen! What Fallen? All the Fallen!
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.
Follow @UrFhasaidh We might as well call this the general ignorance round. While taking in a few of the splendid beers Belgium has to offer, during our fortnight in Flanders, we were frequently accosted by the advertising banner for The Wipers Times beer, and it is only now that I am making the connection. ‘Wipers’ … Continue reading Are You a Victim of Optimism?
Remembrance is the lifeblood of modern Ypres. Every night of the week military and paramilitary style bands flock to the Menin Gate to pay homage to the dead. In many respects this is a noble gesture, and few can pause beneath the lists of the butchered engraved on the panels of the gate and be unmoved by the scale of the slaughter.
Flanders, like every theatre of the so-called Great War, was a place of genocide; it was where the ruling classes conspired to cull their excess labour force, and they achieved this goal with stagger effect.