Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context.
Remembrance Sunday, 9 November 2014
THE TOLLING BELL
Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? But who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Extract from Meditation XVII in “Devotions upon Emergent Occasions” (1624) by English poet and preacher John Donne (1572-1631).
Our initial reason for citing this excerpt was a touching personal anecdote which appeared in the London Guardian yesterday. In an interview, singer-songwriter Beverley Craven (born 1963 in Sri Lanka) said:
“My sister Kathy died this year from cancer at the age of 44. Losing her had a devastating effect on my family. What made it even worse was that it was caught early and she had a double mastectomy shortly after she was diagnosed in 2009. We then heard the news we had been dreading – the cancer had spread to her liver. I went into denial and became very angry.
“Kathy planned her own funeral. Opposite the woodland burial ground where she now lies is a cosy little pub where she wanted her wake to be held. When she was planning it, the pub barmaid asked her whose funeral it was for, to which Kathy replied: ’It’s for me’.”
As an afterthought we decided to pass from the personal to the political and refer to today’s Remembrance Day ceremonies.
Queen Elizabeth II has led the nation (sic) – according to the lead story on the BBC website today – in commemorating military personnel killed in action with annual Remembrance Sunday services being held around the UK. A two-minute silence was observed at 11am and then the monarch laid a wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, near the Prime Minister’s residence in Downing Street.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start in 1914 of World War One (1914-1918).
Antigone1984 does not approve of these commemorations, which have acquired a strongly jingoistic flavour, the memory of past wars being pressed into service by the political and military establishment of the day to justify present aggression. In the ideology underlying remembrance ceremonies, all past wars waged by the holier-than-thou commemorating parties – as opposed to the irredeemably black-hearted enemy – were wholly justified and the deaths of those fighting was both necessary and worthwhile in order to preserve age-old freedoms. The view that the soldiers and civilians who died had died in vain for nothing is not allowed to sully this jamboree of ostentatiously choreographied grief. Yet World War One has frequently been denounced by critics as a catastrophe born of diplomatic ineptitude that need never have taken place at all, the soldiers who died in their millions being famously lamented as “lions led by donkeys (their generals)”.
Alas, 100 years later the needless carnage goes on. We need only cite the disastrous Iraq (2003-2011) and Afghan (2001-2014) wars, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and the displacement of millions of others. The result: the rebels in both countries – al-Qaeda and its successor ISIS in Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan – are still at large, with extensive swathes of territory under their control. Both countries now have fragile US-vetted puppet governments whose writ hardly runs even within their capital cities. A civil war is raging in Iraq, while Afghanistan is on the brink of a Taliban resurgence. Rank hypocrisy was the word that came to mind, therefore, when one noted the presence at the Cenotaph of Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007, who invaded both Iraq and Afghanistan at the behest of his American controllers.
The lesson of past wars is that no lesson has been learned. World War One, once dubbed optimistically “the war to end all wars”, turned out to be precisely the opposite. The ceremonies of remembrance continue – attended without a blush by the very politicians responsible for the bloodshed – and so does the slaughter.
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
- Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
- Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
- The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
- Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
- Ladder (21 June 2012)
- A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
- A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
- Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.