This is the basis of an address I gave at a public meeting, hosted by the Penzance branch of the Society of Friends, at St John’s Hall, Penzance, on 11th November. It was severely cut back to fit into the five minutes allocated.
Before I start I must point out that I speak as a Humanist – not for Humanists.
And you will see I wear a red poppy out of respect for the past – a white poppy in of hope for the future.
In Australia, on the 25th April, they commemorate ANZAC day, The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps., suffered a tremendous loss of life in Gallipoli during the 1st WW. Eric Bogle, a Scotsman, who has spent most of his life in Australia, wrote a song called ‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda’. I challenge you to find it, listen to it, shed a tear, and reflect on the tragedy of war.
Tomorrow there will be a parade to the cenotaph. Men marching in uniform with all the pomp and ceremony they can muster. The atmosphere will be charged with ‘proud patriotism’. I find that inappropriate. Pride and Patriotism are two words that I have difficulty with. According to Aesop, I was brought up on Aesop, “Pride comes before a fall”.
Dominic Behan, brother of Brendan, wrote a song called ‘The Patriot Game’. It starts, “Come all you young fellows, and list while I sing, for the love of one’s country is a terrible thing.”
Bertrand Russell said “Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons”.
And George Bernard Shaw, “You’ll never have a quiet world till you knock the patriotism out of the human race.”
Voltaire wrote, “It is lamentable, that to be a good patriot one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind.”
But, of course, our chairman, Andrew (George MP) can tell you that pride and patriotism are tools politicians use to promote their wars.
I don’t wish to take away any of the gravities of the occasion. I’m sure it means much to servicemen who have lost comrades to war, and for their families who have to cope with the consequences, but I see no place for pride, or patriotism. More like shame. We should be ashamed. We sent these young men to foreign shores to kill, and to be killed. We are still sending them today, ironically, 40 years after abolishing the death penalty. But then, perhaps foreigners don’t count. No, let us not be proud of what we have done.
Another thing that I found most distasteful. Remember Michael Foot in his duffel coat at the cenotaph? How disgraceful! The media had a field day. They turned it into a fashion parade.
And what did they call the first world war? The Great War? ‘The war to end all wars’. What was the cry when it was all over? ‘Never again’. Did we listen? Did we #####. Throughout history wise men have been saying the same thing but nobody’s listening. From ancient China to Napoleon Bonaparte who said, “In the long run the sword is always beaten by the spirit”.
“War does not determine who is right – only who is left.”
John F. Kennedy
War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.
Simon Weston OBE Welsh Guardsman, instantly recognized as the casualty of the Falklands war.
“I’m not interested in war anymore. I’m not interested in the reunions, getting together with old mates, patting each other on the back, saying – damn it, didn’t we do a good job?” “What? Shoot, kill and bomb? “You’ll find there’s nothing victorious or glorious gained in conflict. “You’ve got two sets of soldiers: the losers and the losers. It’s just a matter of who loses the most. There are no winners.”
OK, have your parades if you must. Have your two minutes silence. But to honour the dead, and all who have suffered in conflict around the world let us just Put an End to War. We can do it – and If I had more time I could tell you how.