My dad Kassam, who looked like Jeremy Thorpe, didn’t eat much, but greedily consumed books on British politics and British wars. He bought them on credit knowing he couldn’t pay the bills. In the end, the owner of the only bookshop in town, banned him from his store. This was in Kampala, capital of Uganda. Exiled ignobly from his daytime hangout, Papa turned into Coleridge’s mad Ancient Mariner, pulling people into his obsessions. One story he told over and over again was of an Indian relative called Jaffer, who had volunteered to fight with the Allies in the Great War – as did thousands of other Indians and Africans.
In fact, at the beginning the Indian army outnumbered the British army. Jaffer died soon after on the Western Front, somewhere near Neuve Chapelle-Givenchy. “War made him great, made him a man. Without his guns he would have been nothing, just a dukanwallah (small shopkeeper).” Jaffer’s suffering widow and kids didn’t get parts in Papa’s heroic yarns. Before I was born, he himself had tried to enlist when the next world war broke out but was deemed physically unfit. I didn’t see the glory then and don’t now.
What I see is countrywide mania, a craving for braggadocio and justifications for military action, most of which are post-victory, well shined-up lies. The illegal war on Iraq was the only example I can think of when millions of Britons, high and low, rebelled against the mission, its pretexts and methods. That was a blip in an unbroken narrative of armed valour and supremacy. Britain is arguably more addicted than is the United States to wartimes, past and present. Wars, not religions, are now the opiates of our people. And the state funds the drug habit, big time. With so much of the stuff sold energetically in the marketplace, few will escape from its effects. And there are no curative clinics, clinicians or therapists to help the young. Those who work with terrorists know how hard it is to detoxify a mind that has been indoctrinated. When the minds of millions are systematically turned by the UK political and military establishments, restoration to rational, independent thought is well nigh impossible. We are the great brainwashed.
The Government has decided that the centenary of the First World War will be marked over four years. Four years costing over £60m. Andrew Murrison has been appointed the minister of the Great War. A minister for rain would make more sense. Jeremy Paxman was absolutely right when he said recently (when talking about his own sensitive, BBC series on this conflagration) that “only a complete idiot would celebrate such a calamity”. According to soldiers who were there and experts over the decades, the conflict was devastating, needless, ruthless, and dishonourable. It badly affected Africa, Arabia, Asia and led Europe inevitably to the next global inferno. Why even the right wing, pro-Empire, hawkish historian Niall Ferguson, says: “It was the biggest error in modern history”. Michael Gove will be most displeased. (He looks and acts like a Dickensian character when most displeased. Will Ferguson be summoned and bent over a table and caned?) Our resolute Secretary of State for Education is determined to turn this remembrance into a pro-war cant-fest. As Simon Jenkins observed last week: “It will be the British at their worst; sanctimonious, self-congratulatory, worshipping at the tomb of the unknown, awful German... [already] there are war poems, war propaganda, war nurses, war horses everywhere.”
Robert Fisk: As we move towards the Great War’s centenary, it’s time to recognise the reality of its horror
The potent myth of sacrifice is evoked whenever men and women die in wars. Britain beautifully embalms these victims and those to come in these sentiments. It is to ensure the army remains big, popular and ready for the next big battle. Five years ago the armed forces were no longer held in awe. Their PR sorcerers went into battle and got the nation to hug soldiers again, all “heroes” who give their lives so we may be free. The poppy is now a mark of loyal citizenship. Once the people are manipulated to back the military, they do not ask why we must have the Trident defence system, just one part of which has gone up 600 per cent in costs. Thanks to MP Paul Flynn we know the final bill will amount to between £15bn and £20bn.
My colleague Andy McSmith ran this story in the paper last week. Was there public consternation? No. How much of the deficit would be cut if we dropped this vanity project? How does it help fight the al-Qa’ida threat? Imagine if the NHS overspent this profligately.
The next four years will push militarism down our throats, so we assent to the next armed venture in a fug of druggy pride. Resist the peddlers. Read No Man’s Land: Writings from a World at War (edited by Pete Ayrton) and seek the truth. And know this nation is more than the sum of its wars.
Rape is appalling. But so is ignoring common sense
The agony aunt, Irma Kurtz must be feeling wretched and bewildered after a god-awful week. She has been offering wise, sane, invaluable advice to readers of Cosmopolitan magazine for 41 years. In this fast industry, hardly anyone holds on to such a job for that long. She does so because she is clear-eyed, honest, and understands and responds to social changes. In 1973, when she began, women were experimenting with freedoms and also learning new responsibilities. Kurtz was never judgemental but did express her opinions firmly. And that has continued.
Suddenly, now, she is a pariah, denounced by feminists, anti-rape organisations and most female commentators. All because she said on air to Jane Garvey, presenter of BBC Radio4’s Woman’s Hour that young women in particular should try and protect themselves from rapes and assaults, by “not getting drunk with boys” and taking other sensible precautions. That was it. Just a few prudent comments, and she was accused of blaming victims of rape. She has been made to say again and again that she does not think women somehow provoke the “vicious and wicked” crime. Have we completely lost any sense of reason and proportion in the age of non-stop communication?
Intoxication makes women vulnerable. Fact. With the many dangers lurking out there, women should try not to get drunk and make it easier for men to violate them. Don’t let the shriekers get you down, Ms Kurtz. You are right. Many of us feminists give that same advice to our daughters.
In pictures: First World War
In pictures: First World War
1/30 Victoria station, London
1914: A soldier saying goodbye to a loved one in the rain at Victoria station, London, as he leaves for the front
2/30 Trafalgar Square, London
1914: In Trafalgar Square, London street urchins dressed as soldiers with paper hats and canes as guns stand to attention watched by a small crowd. Behind them is a notice declaring ' The Need for Fighting Men is Urgent'
3/30 Marylebone Grammar School, London
1914: Two men conscripted to the British Army undergoing a medical check-up at Marylebone Grammar School, London
4/30 Victoria station, London
1914: Two soldiers on the concourse at Victoria station, London, about to leave for the front line. They are carrying parcels full of food and other provisions
5/30 British Army
1914: A group of new recruits in training for service in the British Army during World War I
6/30 Aisne, France
1914: A lone soldier with a bicycle stands amid the remains of a German motor convoy which lines a country lane after an attack by French field guns in the battle of the Aisne in France
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
7/30 Aisne River, France
1914: German sharpshooters move to a position near the front line, during the fighting near the Aisne River
8/30 German naval zeppelin
1914: The L2, a German naval zeppelin during World War I
1914: French officers dining in style in a trench near the front line
10/30 Anzac Cove in the Dardanelles
1915: Troops landing at Anzac Cove in the Dardanelles during the Gallipoli campaign of the First World War
1915: Soldiers arriving at a station in London to travel home for Christmas
12/30 German Army
1915: A wounded German soldier
13/30 British Army
1915: A wounded British soldier is stretchered back to camp past a carnage-strewn trench, during the World War I
14/30 Brighton Pavilion
1915: Injured Indian soldiers of the British Army at the Brighton Pavilion, converted into a military hospital
15/30 Fort Vaux, France
1916: A German rifleman beside the corpse of a French soldier in a trench at Fort Vaux, France
1916: Private F.E Henningham leaves for service in the British Army during World War I
1916: The British soldier, Drummer Bent, wearing his Victoria Cross
18/30 Somme, France
1916: Gas-masked men of the British Machine Gun Corps with a Vickers machine gun during the first battle of the Somme
19/30 British Army
1916: British soldiers sitting around a lamp in their trench
20/30 Austrian Army
1916: Austrian soldiers in the trenches demonstrating their gas masks
21/30 German Army
1916: Three German soldiers display rats killed in their trench the previous night
22/30 German Army
1916: A German officer leads his men through a cloud of phosphene gas set off by themselves for cover, as they run toward the British trenches
1916: A dog finds a wounded soldier lying under a tree in Austria during World War I
24/30 Royal Air Force
1916: Pilots from the Royal Air Force ready to drop bombs by hand over Germany from their aeroplane, a development as in the first stages of the war planes were thought of only as reconnaissance machines
25/30 WWI aircraft
1916: A group of World War I aircraft flying in formation
26/30 French and British troops
1916: French and British troops in a trench on the Western Front during World War I
27/30 Cross Farm, Shackleton, Surrey
1917: Women war workers, at Cross Farm, Shackleton, Surrey
28/30 American Army in London
1918: American soldiers sightseeing in London from the top of an open-decked omnibus at the end of WW I
29/30 American Army
1918: A US Army cinematographer filming a US Nieuport 28 biplane taking off during the summer counter-offensive
30/30 American Army
1918: An American cinematographer sets up his camera in a water-filled trench