One drink I used to really enjoy was the US whiskey liqueur called “Southern Comfort” but it has become quite difficult to find it in in pubs and bars over the last few years. I think it might be something to do with the logo on the label which is of a man in a white hood holding a burning torch! A more popular US whiskey, available everywhere, is Jack Daniels. The adverts for it on posters in tube stations and so on make great play of where the drink is made, which is a town called Lynchburg in Tennessee. Now towns are often named after what went on there aren’t they? Like “Queensferry” where there was a ferry the queen used, or “Minehead” where there used to be the entrance to a mine. So Lynchburg – a town in the Deep South – you think “hmmm….”
Apologists for the British Empire are proud that we outlawed the evil of slavery in 1840, twenty years before the United States. But then I think to myself :“we bleeding started it in the first place!” To expect praise for stopping doing something you shouldn’t ever have been doing seems a bit much! And what people don’t mention is that slave owners throughout the British Empire were massively compensated to the tune of something like £10 billion in today’s money. That’s a bit like after WW2 us saying sorry and making restitution to the Nazis. You can imagine the TV ads: “Been involved in creating forced labour, torture on an industrial scale and laying waste to an entire continent…then you may be entitled to compensation! Call Genocide Lawyers For You!”
I’m aware that there is a tendency to use WW2 as an example of bad things happening and sometimes that can be lazy writing. But in my case I would consider myself an expert on the subject because I obsessively watch TV programmes concerning that conflict. Programmes such as The World at War, World War Two In Colour, and World War Two With The Muppets. I am often moved to tears by accounts of such military engagements as the Second Battle of El Alamein, where British and Commonwealth forces drove the German Axis troops into headlong flight. Then it struck me that El Alamein is not in either Germany or Britain, it’s in Egypt! Its a sign of the arrogance of European powers that for centuries they’ve been prepared to settle their disputes on a whole other continent! Say what you like about the war between Iraq and Iran – it was at least conducted in Iraq and Iran. It wasn’t fought in Colchester!
Also for a long time I didn’t share the lefty dislike of Remembrance Day. It seemed to me to be, by and large, with the ceremony at the centontaph and the laying of wreathes and the aging veterans with their medals, a solemn, healing meditation on the cost, pointlessness and suffering of war. But in recent years all that has begun to change. Nowadays, while ex-military people form a substantial part of the homeless and prison populations and military charities squat on huge amounts of money they refuse to spend, Remembrance Day has become all about competitive giant poppy wearing. All about endless military displays at sporting fixtures, promoting a simplistic and brutal celebration of militarism and a wallowing in cheap emotion and sentimentality, plus vacuous round the clock coverage that says nothing.
Conspicuous flaunting of patriotism is meaningless if it’s not accompanied by an awareness and acknowledgment that war is a terrible aberration which causes nothing but suffering. And a realisation that campaigning for a better, fairer world does more for our veterans that any amount of empty jingoism. But actually I think there’s worse to come. After all, Capitalism is endlessly creative and inclined to monetise any event. Just as Halloween – once a simple celebration of the coming of Autumn – is now a massive shopping opportunity, I can see the giant corporations taking over 11 November to see their profits through till the mass indulgence of Christmas. I can imagine adverts in a few years’ time screaming: “Why not get the beers in for Remembrance Day?” “Mussolini costumes for the kids now on sale at Asda!” Or “Dominos have created a Special Armistice Day Pizza of ham, pineapple and shrapnel!”
Featured image via Adam Richardson for The Canary / Facebook – Alexei Sayle
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