Sunday, November 09, 2008

Remembrance in London

This morning I went for a slow jog in the weak winter sunshine around Wanstead flats, listening to Radio 4 on my headphones. Instead of the “Today” programme there was a wonderful Remembrance Day religious service from Wales.

I am a convinced atheist but like most Brits brought up in state schools with Christian hymn singing at morning assemblies, and celebrating the Harvest, Easter and Christmas festivals, I consider myself "C of E". I have also of course attended countless “Christian” weddings and funerals since I was knee high. I usually find such services at symbolic times such as Remembrance Sunday very moving. Of course, historically many atheists feel very much “at home” in the Church of England.

The service discussed the famous and often quoted biblical quotation from Isaiah 2:4And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”.

It was only today that I realised that the quotation referred only to an idealistic time where the worship and most importantly the rule of “God” was absolute, everyone accepted and submitted to his rule. This I think is important since you often hear this quotation being hawked about without it being in any way qualified. For all its many faults and limitations the only secular body I thought could possibly bring about universal peace and disarmament is our much maligned and often unfairly abused, United Nations.

Wars will continue to break out until nations surrender at least part of their sovereignty and power to a democratically constituted World Government. Until then despite all its faults we have the United Nations and if we are really interested in World Peace and preventing (don’t fool yourself that it can be stopped) War, then support the UN. Last week I had the privilege of attending a UN conference and while it is too easy to attack the UN it is difficult and very hard to come up with workable alternatives. Despite all this the many ferociously bright young people from all over the world, I came across last week at Geneva gave me cause for optimism.

Later on today I attended the National Remembrance service at Whitehall. It was also very moving and so packed with people that I could not get any nearer than Banqueting House. What struck me was the many young people and families with young children who were present. I think they were not serving military personnel but ordinary Brits that felt in someway it was important to turn up physically and show respect.

After the first very loud Royal Artillery gun blast which made us all jump and marked the start of the 2 minute silence, a very young lad standing on top of railings next to me looked startled and shouted out “Gran, was that suppose to happen?” to which she gave him a "look" and gently clouted him on his knee.

During the long 2 minutes silence itself in Whitehall, all I could hear was the cooing of babies, the cries of seagulls and the rustle of the wind in the trees.


Charlie Marks said...

Good post, but c'mon John:

"Wars will continue to break out until nations surrender at least part of their sovereignty and power to a democratically constituted World Government."


Sounds like a nightmare rather than a recipe for peace. What we need is popular sovereignty (look that one up!) not a centralised global government...

And whats all this "Brits" business John?

Anonymous said...

Good that Labour support remberence day so well..shame Brown had such an appalling record in supporting them with proper may times did he visit the MOD when he was Chancellor? Once? Col.Tootal "Senior Army Officers have also made their frustrations known. But the commanders have been disenfranchised from the equipment procurement process, which remains in the hands of civil servants and ministers. However these are not the people who have signed upto the unlimitted liability of serving their country in combat". Labours record of managing the armed foces is pathetic. Good for photo opportunities and throwing into the wars they get us into but a bit less than convincing in their support. It runs against the grain for Labour is the truth.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes the Faulkands I can remember all that great equipment and new naval ships

the truth is very few governments truely care for the armed forces or public sector workers in general

in a crisis we are key, brave the rest of the time we ride on the backs of the tax payer

Anonymous said...

I was always brought up in a left household with a line that the Second World War was against fascism and slavery (unlike the Trots who still claim it was a capitalist war...tell that to the inmates at Dachu.

And that the First World War was as Imperialist war which could have been avoided ??

Now history would seem to be changing on WW1. Gewrman invaded Belgium, Holland and France and did carry out atrocities on civilians (I am not saying the Brits didnt to Prisoners)

Just how could the war have been avoided, given German Imperialism ??

If you read Socialist who fought they state I went to war to defend Belgium

Was that so very wrong ??

yes imperialism was still being used

but what was different to Belgium marching into Belgium in 1914 and Poland in 1939

or Spain in 1936

As Karl Marx said we must learn from the past

Anonymous said...

Who do you think you are Grey Keats Pass the sick bag please

John Gray said...

Hi Charlie

Interesting but I don't see that much difference between a powerful UN based on representative democracy?

Brits - well, this is what other people call us. I'm half welsh, half scotish and lived now in England for most of my life. What does that make me? What should I call myself - english? (never!)European?

(I can't wait for some of the suggestions)

John Gray said...

Hi Anon 1

I would agree that procurement needs to be taken out of the hands of civil servants (many of whom are retired senior officers)and aliened more closely to operational needs. I actually think that despite mistakes our armed forces are now better equipped than they have ever been. This does not mean that there should not be improvements. Especially in housing and medical care.

John Gray said...

Hi Anon 2

I don't understand your point?

Hi Anon 3

Good point, rarely said

Hi Anon 4

Apologies,the muse just took me as wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o'er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host....

Charlie Marks said...

Can't understand your aversion to being English, John. In Scotland, Wales or Ireland you'd be regarded as English. American's would comment on your English accent. If you went to France they'd note you were an English speaker... It's up to you I suppose.

On the first world war - the labour parties of europe agreed to call upon workers not to fight a world war... but didn't, and instead actively supported it. Perhaps it could have gone differently. Maybe not, who knows?

And remember it was the revolutions in Germany (half-way, eventual failure) and Russia that ended the first world war...

Anonymous said...

How many of the current cabinet have served in the Forces or have an immediate relative fighting in one of Labours wars?
The forces are just a photo opportuntiy for Brown.

Anonymous said...

The forces are better equipped than they have ever been? This is total crap. Read the direct quote from the commanding officer of the Paras? Has he got it all wrong? I don't think so. Also look at the Coronors inquest into the SAS men killed in Afghanistan recently in snatch landrovers. Brown was directly repsonsible as Chancellor for bleeding the forces of he has a change of heart but he is responsible for the plight we find ourselves in.

John Gray said...

Hi Charlie
I think you don’t quite “get” what the Celtic nations really think of the “English”. In living memory, native welsh speakers were violently suppressed and physically persecuted. My Nain recalled to me how if she was caught speaking Welsh at her primary school she was forced to wear a noose around her neck attached to a wooden log which she had to drag along in breaks. She would also have to wear placard saying in English “I spoke welsh”. This is my grandmother. Do you think that my family will ever forgive or forget this? (I have 21 first cousins from this side of the family). Due to time, marriage and geography I accept being British but never, ever “English”.

The revolutions did not of course end the war. The Russian revolution allowed hundreds of German divisions to used against the western front. It was the Haig, his generalship (of all people!), and a bloody minded, aggressive and ruthless British army who smashed the Germany Imperial army.

Anonymous said...

so in the Fauklands the paras had all the equipment they needed

dont make me laugh

what boats did we sail sail in
what equipment did we haave

all governments try to run the military on the cheap

and in my experience the Tories were worse

Charlie Marks said...

John, my parents are Irish. 'The Brits' is, in my mind, referential of the British army's occupation of Ireland, and latterly the six counties...

I'm more familiar with Ireland, I suppose. I've yet to have anyone refer to me as "British"...

Anonymous said...

You can't even spell Falklands but you have a view on the equipment used? At the time the forces had their own Hospitals - Stonehouse in Plymouth for example - bit better than sharing the NHS in Birmingham and being abused by anti war visitors. Also the Royal Navy was the third largest in the World. You need to get your facts right.

John Gray said...

HI Charlie
I have never really understood the Irish Nationalist emphasis for blaming the occupation on the “British” rather than English? Despite Scottish settlers, it is and has always been England and the English who have been the chief drivers of Irish occupation, empire and imperialism. The British state (also absolutely dominated for obvious reasons by England) has spent most of its existence trying to deal with this mess. Until recently it was of course pretty damn unsuccessful in its attempts.

The British army is also a vehicle of the state and was only based wherever due to the wishes of the British (English) state.

I am also amazed that anyone from the “British Isles” or whom speaks English, has never been mistaken for being “British” and/or being referred to as being a “Brit”. I have Aussies, South Africans etc who have bitterly complained about being referred to as British (or even worse – English).

I appreciate that you do differ from my view for entirely noble reasons but personally I hate and fear the prospect of English nationalism and an English regional government. If this happens I fear that history will just repeat itself.

Charlie Marks said...

John, we have to be careful here.

The case for English devolution - and Cornish devolution - is about a democratic deficit - other nations within the UK have democratic institutions (Wales, Scotland, Isle of Man, etc.) why not England. It is unfair that MPs who have constituencies outside of England can vote on England-only matters - just as it was unfair that English MPs could, in the past, vote on Scottish-only matters.

In the past when I asked you about this, you seemed to understand the logic of some kind of national assembly for England.

I really don't think that there is anything essential about the people of England that means they are inherently fond of colonising others.

It is a ruling minority that benefits from British imperialism. We can tell from the opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - a majority want the troops brought home within the next few months, rather than sending more - that majority of people in England aren't warmongering.

It might interest you to know that as a disproportionate number of British soldiers come from outside of England, assuming that they would join Welsh or Scottish armed forces, England on its own would be far less militaristic.

Whatever the constitutional situation within these isles, it is certain that more democratic pariticipation, development in the domestic economy, and co-operation with other countries will stave off war in the future.

Anonymous said...

Stop bleating on about the are only jealous...and F*** off back to sheep shagging land.

John Gray said...

Hi Anon
“The forces are better equipped than they have ever been?”

Yes, I think they are and you haven’t backed up your claims with any empirical evidence. Things are not perfect in procurement. They have never been so either. I can remember British commanders resigning in fury about the state of the BAOR ability to defend itself against the threat from the “Red Army” tanks. Also, over the inadequate equipment and support for those fighting terrorists in Northern Ireland.

This is not new. In all conflicts you get this. Recently the head of the armed forces returned to the UK and affirmed that the overwhelming majority of those he spoke to felt that the kit was very good.

John Gray said...

Hi Charlie
It is only a democratic deficit if people in England want an assembly and it is denied. So far, there has been no such demand, in fact if anything the opposite has been true. I am not in favour of an English assembly, but of course if people wanted it I would accept this.

I must apologise that I have not properly posted on this subject as promised in the past.

I am worried about English nationalism, as I do about all “nationalism” Welsh, Scottish and Irish (or British).

I actually don’t think there is any real demand for an English assembly, since you already have one – it’s called the Houses of Parliament. England completely dominates our political arrangements by existing structures. Maybe in the future Wales, Ulster and Scotland will achieve meaningful independence. I hope not, but that should be their democratic choice.

If this does happen I honestly fear for things since I think that the concept of a freely made up union of the nations in the British Isles is the glue that restrains England from exercising and abusing its absolute economic, military and social predominance.

I think you might be right about the British publics’ attitude towards withdrawal from Iraq but not I think over Afghanistan.

Also, I think that your sort of suggestion that the Welsh/Scots are more aggressive than the English and therefore England if independent would be less militarist is a bit off base. I think that I know what you mean (% of population in armed forces etc) but I think that any reading of English history across the ages would think this analysis is at best a little bit naive. We still have 2 battalions of Ghurkha’s (faithful friends...) over 50 years since we left India.

Charlie Marks said...

John, you probably didn't see this on the BBC as it wasn't exactly highlighted on news bulletins: like other surveys of public opinion on Afghanistan over the past two years, there has been majority support for swift withdrawal.

On an English Parliament - it's not exactly a top priority, I'll admit. There's some polling evidence that shows that, as a constitutional mattter (which are again, not high on people's list of concerns!) it has significant support. Consider that without MPs from Scotland voting for tuition fees, students in England and Wales would not be paying them...

As for the Gurkhas - Nepal is impoverished, and for a decade war-torn. Is it any wonder young Nepali men join the British Army?

Charlie Marks said...

Anonymous said...

I know you can't acknowledge Col.Tootals comments so here is a report from the Sunday times for you.
An army document leaked to the Sunday Times shows the dramatic and thus far unreported extent of equipment shortages across the army. The dearth of everything from tanks to radio sets is caused by lack of funding for spares and replacements for kit destroyed on operations or too broken to repair.

No area of army equipment is unaffected by the shortages. There is so little kit for training that it is now merely an aspiration to provide troops preparing to go to Iraq or Afghanistan with a third of the equipment they need to train properly. But even this “will take time to be fully in place”, the document says. The author of the document, Brigadier Simon Levey, who is in charge of equipment at the Army’s Headquarters Land at Wilton in Wiltshire, points out the potential problems this could cause, not just in the way it prevents soldiers training properly for operations, but in terms of morale.

Pressure on equipment in theatre has seen it sucking in spares, and shortages of spares caused by under-funding have in turn led to widespread cannibalisation of tanks and other vehicles. There are now massive shortages of armoured vehicles and light artillery guns back in the UK and Germany. To make matters worse, there has been no money to replace tanks and vehicles destroyed on operations or scrapped because they cannot be repaired.

Units have ended up with less and less equipment and now have to arrange their own loans of tanks or vehicles from other units in order to carry out any sort of training. Swapping equipment between units has become the norm. This is arranged by the units themselves but is sanctioned centrally. As the document makes clear, there is no choice.

Sunday Times - Lord Snooty

John Gray said...

Hi Charlie
Looked at survey. Not sure what this really means? Withdraw within a year? Yes, we are all agreed that the troops should be withdrawn at some stage – but when? 11 months or 13 months?

If folk said withdraw “now” then that would be something different.

I think most people understand that we had to intervene in Afghanistan (much more than Iraq) to get rid of an openly international terrorist regime and that we have responsibilities because of this.

John Gray said...

Hi Anon
Things are really, really tough. UK forces are engaged in fighting the most intensive warfare since the Korean War.

We have War on two fronts and loads of other world wide commitments. Things are very difficult and will go wrong. What I think you fail to do is prove your charge that this is deliberate or grossly reckless by the government.

I think that this undermines your argument and showes is just daft. By taking such a partisan view it trivialises such really important issues.

Charlie Marks said...

"We" would be occupying Afghanistan on our own, would we, John?

The reason for British troops being in Afghanistan has nothing to do with helping the Afghans - more is spent on fighting than rebuilding....

Come on. You can do better than that.