1990s >> 1994 >> no-1079-july-1994

Editorial: Lest we forget . . .

This editorial is being written as the second world war is being re-enacted on TV. The news for June 1994 is followed by the news for 1944. This time uncensored (which is probably more than can be said for today’s news). Every bomb and bullet seems to have been recorded. What is lost by the absence of glorious technicolour in the dusty archive film is made up for in blood-soaked black-and-white. The unspoken message is repeated again and again: “Here’s something you should be proud of – we won, we won.” To remind us that the business of killing Germans had its funny side, an old repeat of Dad’s Army has just been repeated again. Now it’s back to how we won the war.


The reason for all this is not made clear. If the intention is to remind ourselves of the countless number of men and women who were pointlessly slaughtered – and we should remind ourselves – why the jingoistic display of 1,000 paratroopers descending into Normandy, watched by a smiling Prince Charles? Why the public display of pitiful, worn-out old warriors being interviewed displaying a strange mixture of patriotic pride for the killing along with their shame and their tears and their medals; and all-too-often total incomprehension of the obscenity and futility of it all? “Well I tried to kill him, he tried to kill me, – we both missed and that’s why we’re here.” Ideal material for a Dad’s Army script.


One thing to be thankful for is that enough old soldiers expressed their outrage at the Tory Party plans to make the whole thing a Conservative Party Euro-Election jamboree. The thought of Maggie Thatcher being wheeled out every night to sing “We’ll meet again” would have been just too much to bear. John Major’s Churchillian speech against the homeless beggars was bad enough: “We will fight them on the benches, we will fight them on the pavements” etc.


Of course the victims of war must never be forgotten, whichever side they were unfortunate enough to be killed by. Or the sacrifice they made. Or the lies they were fed to make them go out and kill or be killed by other ordinary, decent people. Or the children involved, or their mothers. Nicholas Humphrey, in his excellent essay Four Minutes to Midnight tells the story of Keiko Sasaki: “When my grandmother came back I asked ’Where’s Mother?’ ’I brought her on my back,’ she answered. I was very happy and shouted ’Mama!’ But when I looked closely, I saw she was only carrying a rucksack. I was disappointed . . . Then my grandmother put the rucksack down and took out of it some bones … I miss my mother very much.”


The bomb that fell on Hiroshima killed 140,000 people. The bomb that fell on Nagasaki killed 70,000. 210,000 people killed by just two bombs. How can we adequately remember the pain of Keiko Sasaki 210,000 times over? Plus the pain of the parents, children and friends of the victims of the Holocaust? And of every soldier, every civilian and every child killed? And that was just one war . . .  50 years ago.


Nor must we forget the sacrifice of those whose human dignity and humanity made them refuse to kill their fellow beings, and how they were punished for it by “their” countries. But to not forget is not enough. We’ve got to overturn this mad, bad system and never allow it to be possible again.