The deaths of Harry Patch and Henry Allingham the last surviving World War I veterans brought forth much emotion.
The funerals of the two men dominated received much coverage, less though was given to the strong stance that Mr Patch took against war. In one of his few interviews, given after he reached the age of 100 Mr Patch talked of the futility of war, the terrible loss of so many lives in the name of what?
Although many mainstream news programmes did their best to play it down, Mr Patch’s funeral was really all about peace and reconciliation. It was a protest against war from the last survivor of that terrible waste known as the First World War. There were not just British soldiers involved at Mr Patch’s funeral but also Germans and French.
The terrible irony of the funerals of messrs Patch and Allingham is that they were carried out against a background of soldiers bodies being brought back from Afghanistan. One of the abiding memories of this summer no doubt will be the sight of that plane door opening and the union jack draped coffins being brought out to be placed in a hearse. There were then the mourners and well wishers marking the sides of the road in Wootton Bassett.
The links between what is going on now in Afghanistan, Harry Patch and the First World War are prescient. It is not clear what the mission in Afghanistan is about. It seems to change by the week. At one point fighting Al Queda, then the Taliban, stopping the drug trade or standing up for women’s rights – take your pick. All that we do know is that it is costing many lives.
The most blatant lie put forward to justify the war in Afghanistan is that the soldiers are fighting there to keep the streets of the UK safe. The logic of this construction must be that the Taliban having once regained Afghanistan will then march on London. It is so ludicrous that it merely betrays the desperation of those now seeking to justify this ongoing appalling loss of life. The truth is the exact opposite of what the country is being told by government ministers. British forces involvement in Afghanistan make the streets of the UK far more dangerous. It is as a result of attacking other people’s countries that people here are radicalised or may come here to cause death and destruction. A look around the world at others countries that are not intervening, like Switzerland, Norway and Sweden confirms this truth.
Another lesson from Harry Patch’s funeral is respect for all sides and all peoples. In the case of British soldiers at least the names are known. 204 have died to date. The thousands of Afghan civilians killed have no names apparently. They just don’t matter in this hierarchy of suffering.
One of the major problems that allow wars like Iraq and Afghanistan to develop is the passivity of so much of the UK population. The assertion that you can be opposed to the war but once committed the troops must be supported is such a ridiculous construct. And the government, helpfully aided by its propagandists in much of the media play on this tendency.
The continual linkage of the lives of those who fought in the World Wars and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan is also disingenuous to say the least. The militarisation of most of the funerals of those who return in coffins is also disrespectful to the deceased. It often amounts to a glorification of what amounts to a futile waste of mostly young lives.There needs to be a little clearer articulation of what war is all about. It is bloody, nasty and in many cases totally unjustified business. When the war is unjustified it is wrong to take the cop out route of well I oppose the war but now we are there I’ll support those carrying it out on my behalf. It would be good to see some British soldiers following the example of Israeli soldiers who have refused to fight in certain areas like the west bank. If they were to take such a stand over Afghanistan they must be supported. It is good to see Stop the War redoubling efforts of opposing the senseless waste that is the war in Afghanistan. It is time to bring the troops home – its what Harry Patch would have wanted.