The Old Lie

The Old Lie

Left to our own devices we can become farmers and bakers, tailors and cobblers, plumbers and engineers, astronauts and programmers. Our possibilities are limitless as we cooperate to help ourselves and each other. “What a piece of work is man”. It takes a state to turn us into soldiers and sailors to make us kill and maim ourselves and each other. On Remembrance Sunday we should take time to think on all those that died or were injured during war and pledge never to be fooled again, by the old lie, that it is sweet and honourable that we die for our state.

 

Dulce et Decorum est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep.  Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod.  All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas!  GAS!  Quick, boys! —  An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime. —
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie:  Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen 1920

 

 

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Please don’t wear your Poppy with pride

As Remembrance Day approaches in Britain red poppies have started to appear on the lapels of all those who appear on television and at the same time an argument has started with FIFA over the right of footballers to wear poppies on the outfits during international matches. _92205469_sun.pngThis is a slight change from the usual annual argument which normally occurs when someone apparently ‘fails’ to wear a poppy and is publicly berated for their lack of sensitivity. This is the usual hyperbole that we accustomed to each year – “How dare they not wear the poppy?“. This year there has been a slight twist, as the focus has been  FIFA and hyperbolic anger at its decision to classify the red poppy as a political badge (and thus not permissible on the playing field). So the call this year is  “How dare they stop them wearing their poppy ?”.

This argument has even involved the Prime Minister who insists, like the newspapers, that “people should be able to wear their poppies with pride”. There has been a tinge of  indignation that a body, as corrupt as FIFA, has dared lecture us on morality.

My concern, however, is the idea that we should wear our poppies with pride. I do not feel that this in the spirit of remembrance. The function of the poppy is twofold. Firstly to pay respects to those in British uniforms who died in war,  and secondly to collect money to help the lot of those disabled while in military service or those left bereft following the loss of their loved onbuy-your-poppy-and-wear-it-with-pridee. Both of these aims are laudable and no-one would wish to do other than promote them.

However, none of this necessitates feeling of pride. None of it needs to be associated with promotion of the military or the nation. Indeed, hopefully  most people during their one minute’s silence will be pondering on how to prevent future war and loss of life. Certainly not feeling any sense of military or national glory.  Pride is the feeling of satisfaction or pleasure we have about past actions or skills. There are few times we could extend this to include the death or maiming of soldiers. There has always been a sad irony that the poppy appeal has its origin with Earl Haig who was responsible for sending so many young men to their death (earning the  sobriquet “Butcher Haig” as a result.) A modern day irony is to watch politicians with their red poppied lapels promoting new fresh wars in the Middle East or seeing  British businessmen sporting their poppies as they sell new weapons to enable the ongoing slaughter in Yemen or elsewhere.

The Red Poppy appeal is limited in its concern to those in the British Military forces. It does not concern those who died wearing other countries uniforms nor those civilians who died as a consequence of war. There is no special place for some dead over the others. The German soldier did his duty equally, the  dead farmer’s family are just as bereft.

We need to remember everyone who died as a consequence of all wars and think how we can make war less likely. Therefore, if you wear your poppy wear it with sadness, wear it with regret, wear it with anger,  or wear it with hope for a better future. But please, do not wear it with pride. Pride, and national pride in particular, is often at the root of war and surely  we do not need to see any more people die before we learn our lesson.

Peace.

via Daily Prompt: Hyperbole

When I was young, millions of years ago .. ..

via Daily Prompt: Millions

I can understand nostalgia. I can understand looking back to a time when I was younger, fitter, faster, thinner, more attractive, more self assured and thinking it was better then. All those years ago I had been lied to less often, I had experienced cheating less often and had been disappointed less often, so perhaps it is not surprising these times have a rosy glow of the ‘good old days’. But although I remember those times fondly I am also aware that there were, in many significant ways worse.

As a baby boomer my early life was spend in the 60’s and 70’s and it was substantially different to that of my children’s. In those days many fewer of us went into tertiary education, foreign travel was an exotic figment of our imagination, central heating was known only to the wealthy. Television and car ownership had spread to the populace but cars were primitive compared to our current models and “one car families” were the norm as were television sets which could  provide our three, or later four, broadcast channels.  Ideas such as personal computers, digital photography, mobile phones, satellite navigation, and the internet were still science fiction. So although I may be nostalgic for my young self I am not nostalgic, in any true sense, for that period of time.

the-evil-of-capitalism-in-one-chart-foundation-for-economic-education

Individually my life was certainly less materially wealthy than my children’s and much less so than my own life now. But on a bigger scale there have been much more important changes with life changing effects.

In America last year 3,500,000 fewer Americans were in poverty according to the national census  (1). In China millions have been pulled out of poverty especially in the urban centres (2). Across the globe, with varying degrees of success, absolute poverty is declining. Between 1990 and 2010, millions of people were taken out of extreme poverty when this was halved according to the World Bank (3). These changes would seem to relate to our growing trade and, as a consequence, wealth. This growth in trade has also been associated with a reduction in deaths from violence. We are less likely to be  killed or injured by others of our own species (4). Millions more of us now live free from actual  violence, whether personal assault or as a consequence of war.  Diseases which used to kill millions are now plagues of the past and part of history. Recall that smallpox, a killer of billions,  was declared eradicated in 1980 (5).

It is unusual then, in the face off all these numbers and in the face of our own personal experience we are still so pessimistic and nostalgic. All our experience is that life has got better both for ourselves and for others. We can all see that materially we are much more affluent than generations before us. Our life expectancy figures let us know that we are less plagued by illness and early death than before. We may not know it but we are freer from violence and live in a more sociable society with less crime than before and the figures are quite clear on this – despite our perception

 

But despite all of this, still only 30% of us think life has improved and 43% of us feel Britain has changed for the worse (6). While recently 44% worried for the future (7) when all our experience is that things tend to get better.

Were this nostalgia and pessimism merely a pleasant  fondness for our youth passed the there would be no problem. Unfortunately, however, we often believe life was better, rather then were better, those days ago. This leads us to make mistakes. It makes us hanker for old certainties, to look back at old ways of doing things, when what we need to do is to continue the progress we have made. It sometimes makes us fear the future and change. For example our fear of GM crops, and “golden rice” in particular, will consign 2 million children to an avoidable early death next year(8).  We have not run out of challenges facing mankind and there is no good reason to try and put the brakes on progress.

Our rose tinted spectacles can also mislead us into reactionary, or backward looking, politics; wistfully thinking back of times of national pride and fearing globalisation. The future problems we will have to overcome will require continued trade, continued free movement of people, continued intermingling of peoples and knowledge. To think otherwise will lead us to miss opportunities which will consign present generations to experience  unnecessary illness, hardship or violence. If we want a bright and optimistic future we will have to believe it possible and  work to make it. We should not give up hope or wallow in nostalgia. In the wise words of Abraham Lincoln “The best way to predict your future is to create it

 


Millions

(1) http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/26/business/economy/millions-in-us-climb-out-of-poverty-at-long-last.html

(2) https://www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2015/aug/19/china-poverty-inequality-development-goals

(3) http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview

(4) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Better_Angels_of_Our_Nature

(5)http://www.who.int/csr/disease/smallpox/en/

(6) https://yougov.co.uk/news/2012/02/07/britains-nostalgic-pessimism/

(7) http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/after-brexit-vote-44-employees-uk-are-pessimistic-about-future-cipd-survey-shows-1573215

(8) http://supportprecisionagriculture.org/nobel-laureate-gmo-letter_rjr.html