Honouring the dead

Today is the anniversary of the end of the First World War. Here in the UK we will be honouring the soldiers killed in armed conflicts. I’ll be very clear up front: I take no issue with people who are soldiers as a general premise. Individual conduct is a different thing. I am not questioning honouring the war dead in any way (emotive topic after all) but I am questioning the things we don’t do alongside that.

The desire to serve and protect has always brought people to armies. Propaganda and tales of glory, cultural pressure and politically nurtured fear: Honest reasons to defend hearth and home that no individual should be blamed for responding to. Formal drafts and recruitment by force mean that many who have fought and died were not there by choice. Poverty and lack of other opportunities has always been a great army recruiting officer, too. I do not blame anyone for doing what they had to, to survive. Thinking about soldiers dropped into disaster zones, and the way these trained and disciplined people can be mobilised in any emergency… there’s a lot of good work you can do with an army that is not about killing people.

Wars have always been about people in power wanting more power and more resources. If you are obliged to fight to defend your home and way of life, you have every right to do so, but never forget this only happens because some power hungry bastard has started a thing.

War does not just kill soldiers. We do not talk about the medical folk, men and women alike, who died trying to save lives. We do not speak of the men and boys who died in the merchant navy, trying to keep countries supplied with essentials. Their work is no less heroic – and arguably more so because it is simply directed towards preserving life, and often undertaken with no arms or armour.

In the First World War, one fifth of the casualties were civilian. By the end of the 20th century, your typical war inflicted a 90% civilian casualty rate, while wars in the 20th century accounted for some 187 million lives worldwide. (Figures taken from John Keane’s The Life and Death of Democracy). Wars kill off countless animals, both those used to facilitate it, and those who are ‘collateral damage’ alongside their civilian human neighbours. Landscapes and eco systems are destroyed by bombs, alongside culture and heritage. War destroys.

It is simply not enough to honour those who fought and died. We need to start talking about what war actually means, and what it actually costs. The best tribute we could pay to the many victims of war, and especially those who fought, would be to cease this madness. World War One was supposed to be the war to end all wars. It wasn’t. We failed them. We owe our war dead more than that. We owe each other more than that and we owe it to the future. Killing people is not the answer, the ‘collateral damage’ of murdering civilians is not acceptable, and there is no excuse.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

13 responses to “Honouring the dead

  • Robert

    I understand your point—–However—-The JEWS did not fight back against one power hungry bastard an what happened to them?????—The position that takes us down this path is that free people will evenually fight ANY power hungry BASTARD who tries to inslave them——-A passive approach leads to The holocoast, The killing fields, The taliban, The inqusition, Human slavery of all forms around the world——No!!!!!– I don’t have an answer either——-But passive resistance worked in India, South Africa, In America in the sixties because of civil societies and people willing to died in the streets—(Death is still a part of the equation–I don’t like it either)—–It hasn’t worked yet in China ——And the muslims would rather kill than peacefully co-exist—–NO Answers for me anyway—Sorry for my alternate opinion—-Peace!!!!!!

    • Nimue Brown

      Sorry, lack of clarity on my part, I have no argument with anyone who needs to fight to defend themselves, the responsibility for causing war is always in the hands of the aggressor. I don’t advocate a passive approach to resisting, what I do advocate is resisting the kind of power hungry tyrants who start wars in the first place. So often what revolutions do is just replace one mad tyrant with another. The French, Russians and Chinese all walked that path. But then you look at South Africa and India, and there’s scope for hope.

      As an aside, it turns out the Muslim history with democracy is more complex, there have been some Muslim democracies in history, and apparently in Senegal Muslim enthusiasm for democracy has been a deciding factor. The rational end of Islam, seems as able to engage meaningfully with democracy as anyone else. They just have more than their fair share of the other sort right now, but I found it reassuring to learn that Islam itself is in no way incompatible with functioning democracy, and power sharing, outside of Israel and other notoriously troubled places.

      Your passion is welcome Robert, always.

  • Nika

    As a historian, I agree that war is always expensive ( in money, lives, material, etc..) and should be the last resort in conflict resolution. Unfortunately, not all cultures value peace or human life as much as we do in western civilization.

  • Nimue Brown

    Nika, yes. So insanely simple – in that we can stop having wars by stopping having wars, and so frustratingly difficult in that, as you say, so may cultures and individuals seem not to have considered this option yet.

  • literaryvittles

    Again, a thoughtful and reasonable post. It drives me mad when people say things like, “I don’t support the war, but I support the troops.” That paradoxical thinking is made possible by a humongous war propaganda machine that casts soldiers as heroes while ignoring the atrocities those soldiers are often ordered to commit.

    • Nimue Brown

      And all too often, atrocities committed by people whose minds have been shattered by exposure to violence. War is a kind of insanity in which is becomes hard to be confident who is a victim and who is responsible. I mostly blame the people who are sitting at desks deciding tactics and talking politics.

  • Ziixxxitria

    Potent words. War is tremendous in scope, and affects far more than we generally think of. More than us remembering personally, though, I think those in power need to start thinking this way. I wish diplomacy was regarded as the primary solution, rather than jumping to violence.

    For example, with the controversy surrounding the chemical weapons use in Syria. We talked about bombs, but where were those talking about sending medical help? What about accepting refugees from dark places? What about any number of things that aren’t killing people?

    • Nimue Brown

      Absolutely, dropping bombs on people because they used chemical weapons in their uncivil war… what the hell is that supposed to achieve? And yet nations stood by while Syrians killed each other by other means. Dead is dead, the method really is a secondary issue. We seem to have such strange and skewed priorities.

  • verdant1

    Thank you.
    I appreciate the thoughts you provoke – even when these are uncomfortable.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you! I frequently get pretty uncomfortable thinking them, especially facing how little I can do about so many things. Although I have been told the place of greatest productivity is on the edge of the comfort zone, so, we plod out there and see what it looks like. Sharing the discomfort is an important part of that journey.

  • Anzan

    I don’t know that we will every be free of war, or violence. It seems it’s deeply embedded within our core as humans, as if we are wired for it, especially for survival.

    More so it seems inherent in the universe itself, as yin and yang ebb and flow back and forth. Since these energies vibrate to and fro across the human realm, though much can be done to turn down its amplitude, not sure that it can ever fully be silenced.

    • Nimue Brown

      It may well be me romanticising the past, but the older approaches to conflict that were both more personal and more professional strike me as being a better way of dealing with it. I wonder how many of our leaders would remain so gung-ho bout wars if it meant going out there and putting themselves in the front line?

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