So it was Remembrance Sunday yesterday, warmongerers and advisors to arms companies put on their best suits and their blood red poppies and stood in silence in memory of those they’d killed in the furtherance of their careers and for the advancement of their bank balances. Tony Blair was there, bowed like a vulture weeping for the bones it’s picked clean. He prayed to his god that he won’t go to hell for the lives he’s lost and the deaths he’s cost. It was a ceremony best watched in silence, if only because then we wouldn’t have to hear the oleaginous voice over by Nicholas Witchell, casting establishment judgement in the BBC’s impartial way.
There was only one man who was being judged yesterday, and it was the one who wasn’t responsible for war and death. We live in a country where the powerful and influential see fit to question the motives of the man who doesn’t want to kill en masse, who will go to extraordinary lengths to preserve life and peace. This is the guy we’re supposed to be suspicious of, not Tony and his toxic tongue. Jezza gets so much criticism in the press that you’d almost think he was a member of the SNP. Almost, but not quite.
The big news was that Jeremy Corbyn didn’t bow as obsequiously as the Daily Mail and the Sun might have liked. The Sun is the paper that traduced the victims of the Hillsborough disaster, so that publication taking the moral high ground on respect for the dead is a bit like Al Capone complaining that widows completely ruin the spirit of Valentine’s Day or getting a lecture on care of the elderly from Dr Harold Shipman. Although if Jezza had prostrated himself full length on the ground in front of the Cenotaph, the poppy fascists would just have complained that his jacket was covered in mud and muck and how dare he disrespect the veterns by appearing in public in clothes that need a good wash. Our grandparents fought and died for Fairy non-biological you know. Jeremy Corbyn attracts more press acreage about his clothing than Kate Middleton does, discussion of the leader of the Labour party in the national media is the very definition of shallow.
You might think that the fact that an avowed late middle aged left winger who isn’t Italian has a sense of style that makes a Chums catalogue look fashionable is news in the same way that Nicholas Witchel is a vacuous brown-noser is news. Anarchodandyists like myself who believe in bringing about the downfall of global capitalism while being terribly well dressed are few and far between. Even so there was still more press discussion of the colour of Jezza’s tie and the state of its knottage than there was of the real scandal of Remembrance Sunday – the fact that General Sir Nicholas Houghton the Chief of Staff of the armed forces went on national TV in full uniform emblazoned with his blood red hipocripoppy and showed that he’s got little understanding of the democracy that all those service people died to protect. But then generals in splendid uniforms don’t tend to die in action, just the men and women they command.
Because when you’re a high ranking officer who briefs the press anonymously that you’d support a coup d’etat to overthrow an elected government if that government threatens your boy toys, or you’re an army chief of staff who goes on national TV in uniform and pontificates about the undesirability of a government that threatens your boy toys, then you cross the line and are no longer defenders of democracy who deserve the respect of the public. You become a threat to democracy who should be court martialed, because you’ve demonstrated that you put the interests of the armed forces above the interests of the country they’re sworn to defend. You make the people your enemy and you become the enemy of the people. This is the danger of the poppy fetish, it puts the armed forces beyond criticism or reproach, and when that happens democracy is endangered and remembrance of the fallen topples that which they died to uphold.
Who invited a general onto Andrew Marr’s politics show anyway? It’s not the first time that Andrew Marr’s programme has done a disservice to democracy in its pursuit of a headline. The general should have known better, and Marr should have known not to indulge him, because the thing about soldiers in a democracy is that when an elected government tells them to do something that’s legal, they do it. If an elected government tells the armed forces that it wants to get rid of nukes, then the only appropriate response from the armed forces is “How deep a chasm do you want them chucked into Sir/Madam?” In a democracy they are servicepeople, the clue is in the name. When they cease to serve then they become a danger that must be kept in check.
The army has no role to play in policy making. It’s not up to generals to decide whether the country has nukes or not. But even more shockingly, the general’s intervention was supported by Maria Eagle, Labour’s own defence spokesperson. Labour is no stranger to internecine warfare. Maria could teach the general a thing or three about back stabbing.
The UK has got armed services where there are more admirals than ships and more generals than regiments. The defence services are overblown, oversized, and their senior officers are over privileged – and still overwhelmingly come from the same small social groups which are likewise over represented in Parliament and in the media. They protect themselves from criticism, hiding behind a poppy and the service of working class kids who are thrown out into the streets once their time in uniform is up, left to the mercy of mental illness and work assessments while Davie Cameron bows his head and wears a blood red poppy.
Increasingly the army is beyond criticism. When that happens, democracy dies, and the army kills what it has pledged to protect. The UK’s democracy has always hung by a slender and tenuous thread, and yesterday General Houghton took a swing at it with the sword that army officers still wear on ceremonial occasions. But it’s not his motives which were questioned, it was the guy who wants no more wars. This is the UK, the shallow land where the powerful remember that all that matters is the appearance of things, not their substance. Britain cares only about how things look, not about what things mean.
My new book is due to be published on 23 November. Barking Up the Right Tree is an anthology of my articles for The National newspaper and is being published by Vagabond Voices press, who also publish Jim Sillars. The dug is in exhalted company. None of the articles collected in this book have appeared on this blog.
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