Fighting the 'Great War'
The fallen soldiers lie somewhere between fighting for their king and country against tyranny to being cannon fodder for the imperialism of European powers
Every year, the most diligent promoters of Armistice Day promise something new and different. The broadcasting media, in particular, tell us they will not only be commemorating the scores of millions who perished in 20th-century wars but they will, we are assured, be looking at why they died — not just at who, how and where. Yet this never happens. Nor could it, without exposing the whole history of deception, delusion, hypocrisy, betrayal, barbarism, and exploitation that is the real history of British imperialism.
It's true that, occasionally, a tiny truth can be glimpsed in the fog of ruling-class propaganda. An old soldier or a relative will declare that the 1914-18 Great War was a colossal waste of life. There will, of course, be other voices saying that casualties on such a scale are a tragedy in any war. But for the most part, these are drowned out by the deluded sentiments of those who believed they would be fighting in the Great War for "king and country," for freedom, democracy and peace. In reality, those who marched to the trenches in that war were doing no such thing. They were cannon fodder for the super-profits of British imperialism.
Those who sent them to their doom — with the blessings of the Church — were the criminals whose lies about the "civilising mission" of the British empire had already covered up more than a century of colonial slavery, massacre, and brutal repression. They are the politicians and generals who framed and implemented British imperialism's policies around the world. Their busts and statues can still be seen in Westminster, Whitehall and cities and towns across Britain.
Those who profited most — the bankers, industrialists and big shareholders — remain discreetly in the background. They will never be exposed by those who serve the same interests today.
Far from being the "war to end all wars," the victory of British, French and Japanese imperialisms over German imperialism and the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918 helped set the scene for World War II.
While the horrors of fascism are often reported and condemned, its class character is never mentioned. Fascism was, as Georgi Dimitrov explained, the open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary circles of finance monopoly capital, defending their system against socialism and communism.
Only when fascist Germany, Italy and Japan threatened the interests of other imperialisms did the ruling classes of Britain, France and the USA go to war. Again, the appeal to the masses was to defend king, country and empire against tyranny. However, the rise of the labour movement and the expansion of democratic rights meant much greater prominence had to be given to the defence of democracy and freedom.
Because fascism indeed threatened those rights and freedoms, as well as the socialist system in the Soviet Union, the Second World War was the most — if not the only — necessary and honourable war in modern British history.
This makes it all the more incongruous that while Armistice Day rightly remembers all the dead of every war, much of the propaganda around it makes no distinction between just and unjust wars. They are all presented as wars to defend the freedoms won, in truth, by the people against their rulers in other times.
The criminality of British campaigns in Malaya, Korea, Kenya, Egypt, Cyprus, Aden, Syria and elsewhere is concealed within the epic virtue of the fight against fascism, while imperialism's latter-day politicians parade their piety at the cenotaphs, still blessed by the Church, determined to enlarge their armouries of weapons of mass destruction. IPA
(The author is the Editor of Morning Star, a British daily. The views expressed are strictly personal)