Lest We Repeat

War doesn’t determine who is right — only who is left.

— Bertrand Russell

Is the world marching off to battle, Fellow Reckoner? If history is any guide, the answer would seem to be a categorical, “always.”

“US may have to strike Iran: Republican VP prospect” read a headline from the wires yesterday afternoon.

Apparently Marco Rubio, one of the contenders tipped to fill Romney’s presidential ticket, said a unilateral “military solution” from the United States may be needed to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb.

“America has acted unilaterally in the past,” gloated Rubio, “and I believe it should continue to do so in the future — when necessity requires.”

Ahh…did you see that, Fellow Reckoner? The ol’ “When necessity requires” clause. Phew! Now we feel better. What could possibly go wrong with an administration constrained by such watertight definitions?

There’s trouble in Syria too…and across the Middle East. And the financial crisis in Europe has left the continent smouldering with discontent. All that’s required is a breeze from the right direction and the whole thing could go up in flames…

Reports in from France show the far right gaining political ground in the face of widely unpopular austerity measures. From France 24/7:

Far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen obtained a surprising 18% of the vote in the first-round of France’s presidential election Sunday night…

“When things are going well, people vote for the status quo,” observed Bill in Tuesday’s issue. “When they aren’t going so well, they move farther out on the political spectrum.”

And it’s at the fringe of that political spectrum where the war drums usually start beating…

Of course, history is not always a reliable forecaster of future events. Men had never before taken to the skies…until they did. Never had they been drunk on wine…until, merrily, they were forever after. And never had they placed their trust in central bankers…until they let the bastards rule the world.

Indeed, the history of mankind is mostly one of dull and bromidic humdrum…perforated by short and blinding instances of a truly disruptive nature. War, as far as we can tell, belongs firmly to the latter category…at least as much as it does to the former. That probably depends on whether you’re “in” it or not…

We were thinking about this the other day, during our afternoon stroll home from the office. Half a world away, at around the same time, back on that great red hunk of land whence we came, millions of antipodeans bowed their heads in an oddly collective silence. Dawn Paraders marched the sun scorched streets. Dewy-eyed onlookers uttered, in sad unison, “Lest we forget.” News anchors reported the ghastly affair with pregnant pauses and tawdry emotion.

ANZAC Day is a day of remembrance in Australia and in New Zealand too. The occasion is set aside each year to honor those fallen in the disastrous WWI campaigns, into which their ashen bodies were hurled in sacrifice to the Empire. They were boy soldiers of the Australian New Zealand Army Corps., sent to kill unfamiliar boy soldiers of another state with whom their own Empire had a beef. This was a war, lest we forget, to “end all wars.” But only a fool ignites a tragedy in the hope of ending one. And only a knave would claim the hand of history on his shoulder, thrusting him forward into the bloody breach.

The ANZAC boys should have been at home, the extent of their gentlemanly combat restrained to scuffles at the local pub. Lads will be lads…and all that. Instead, they were cut down at the knees in Somme mud, left agape and lifeless on the beaches of Gallipoli, annihilated by the tens of thousands in missions at once idiotic and pointless.

Likewise the lads’ “enemies,” themselves child puppets of the opposing state, were slaughtered en masse…by “our boys.” The difference between the Victoria Cross and an Iron Cross is not the “degree of courage,” but the color of the flag sewn onto the victim’s uniform.

Their missions were pointless. Disastrous. The outcome a heretofore unprecedented massacre of human life and its vast, ultimately unrealized potential.

It’s tradition…whatever that means. So too was the precursor to ANZAC Day; Trafalgar Day, when long-removed convict descendants of the old empire would gather to commemorate Admiral Lord Nelson’s naval victory over Napoleon in that infamous namesake battle. Children in Queensland state schools were subject to such ridiculous war glorification rituals until 1918…a few years before the terrible event was replaced by its modern equivalent.

Then, of course, there was Empire Day…another commemoration foisted onto young, impressionable minds during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Reads the strangely proud description on the Queensland Education website:

Empire Day was a formal commemoration of the British Empire and its member nations. The day itself and the accompanying celebrations throughout the Empire acted as symbols of unity, supremacy and philanthropy and commemorated the Empire’s birthday. Loyalty and patriotism were encouraged.

Of course, only the sparse of scepticism would swallow the “philanthropy of the empire” hogwash without chewing. Half of Ancient Cairo currently resides in the City of London…along with treasures from all over the once conquered world. There by the grace and benevolence of an eleemosynary crown!

Continues, without so much as a hint of shame, the propagandist offal…

On the appointed day, usually in late May each year, teachers in Queensland schools gave special lessons on the growth, freedom, rights and privileges enjoyed by the Empire’s citizens. Through these lessons, children were reminded of the vastness of the British Empire and the rights Australians as members experienced as a consequence. The lessons were also used to stimulate patriotic sentiment among pupils.

May we all, friend and foe alike, forever and with courage resist the “freedom” of being owned by any Empire, be that Empire celebrated or not.

War isn’t something to make the chest swell, Fellow Reckoner. It’s something to make the stomach sink.

Joel Bowman
for The Daily Reckoning

The Daily Reckoning