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Michael Winship: In a Chilly London November, War and Remembrance

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

"In a Chilly London November, War and Remembrance"
By Michael Winship

In Great Britain, Remembrance Sunday falls on the second Sunday of November, the one closest to November 11th, the anniversary of the end of the First World War in 1918. Once, the world called November 11th Armistice Day. Now, here in the States at least, it is Veterans Day.

As coincidence and travel itineraries would have it, twice over the last four years I’ve been in London on Remembrance Sunday. This time, my girlfriend Pat and I were on our way home from Greece, stopping off for a couple of days to see old friends.

As we unpacked at the hotel, a recap of the Remembrance Sunday ceremonies was playing on TV – Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife laying a wreath at the Cenotaph (the UK equivalent of our Tomb of the Unknown Soldier), a stirring parade of veterans along Whitehall, the military bands playing “Rule, Britannia,” “God Save the Queen” and “O Valiant Hearts.”

Remembrance Sunday fell just a couple of days after the horrendous shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, that left 13 soldiers dead and 30 wounded, many of whom were preparing for deployment to Afghanistan. From Greece, we had been watching the news reports on CNN with special interest. I’d been at Fort Hood several times – the huge military base is where my parents met during World War II; my father a medical supply officer, my mother a secretary from a nearby town. It was Camp Hood then.

Remembrance Sunday also fell less than a week after an Afghan policeman named Gulbadin, armed with a machine gun, shot five British soldiers dead at a police compound in Helmand province. The men had just returned from patrol and had put their rifles aside, preparing for a rest. The policeman opened fire from a rooftop.

The wantonness of the killings only further deteriorated the already plummeting British support for the country’s involvement in the Afghan war, and anger worsened in the next few days after Prime Minister Brown accidentally botched a handwritten letter of condolence to the mother of Jamie Janes, a British soldier killed last month by an IED. He, too, was in Helmand province.

It seems Brown misspelled Janes’ name in the letter. The mother, urged on, some say, by Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid, THE SUN (which recently switched its political allegiance from Brown’s Labor Party to the Conservatives), bitterly attacked the prime minister for insensitivity. In a subsequent phone call with Brown, which she recorded – perhaps with the assistance of THE SUN – she chastised him for failing to adequately equip and protect British troops in Afghanistan. After several days of media-manufactured controversy, she accepted his apology.

Brown blamed the incident on his notoriously poor penmanship and inability to see – he is blind in one eye.

Metaphor, remembrance and coincidence were in abundance during our brief London stay. As it happened, the next night, we went to see a play called The War Horse. Written by Nick Stafford, and based on a children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo, the drama uses remarkable, life-size puppets of horses, beautifully crafted and each masterfully manipulated by teams of performers so skilled you sometimes forget that what you’re seeing isn’t real.

The War Horse is the story of Joey, a horse that’s half-thoroughbred and should be raised for riding in foxhunts by the landed gentry. But through fate and the cruel reality of rural life in southwest England’s Devonshire, Joey is brought up as a farm horse, trained and loved by a teenager named Albert. When World War I begins, Albert’s father sells the horse to the British cavalry. Albert runs away and joins the army to find him.

In the beginning, almost everyone is convinced that the war will be brief – “God help the Kaiser, because… we’re gonna run him right out of Belgium, right back into Germany.” But as a veteran British major tells a junior officer, “Every generation has to discover things for themselves, don’t they? There’s some things that can be understood through telling, but other things have to be experienced before they can be fully apprehended. War is one such thing.”

Joey is ridden into senseless, deadly charges against German machine guns. Eventually, he and another horse end up on the other side of the enemy lines, and are forced to drag German hospital wagons and artillery as both armies fall into the trench warfare of mud and misery that will go on for more than four bloody years, killing between 15 and 16 million.

Our current reality, our deadly dilemma in Afghanistan as Barack Obama reportedly agonizes over the next steps there, were never far from mind, even as we lost ourselves in the story and stagecraft of the play. At one point, a young British recruit is given his grandfather’s knife to carry, a souvenir of the Second Afghan War, he’s told. At another, a German sergeant named Rudi talks with a group of fellow soldiers: “They’re saying that because we attacked, we’re paying for it. They’re saying that we must get rid of the Kaiser and make a democracy. It would be impossible for a democracy to start a war, continue a war against the will of its people. What do you think?”

In the penultimate scene, an injured Joey has been pulled from the barbed wire of no-man’s-land by a British soldier and is about to be out of his misery by a doctor’s bullet when Albert, temporarily made sightless by gas, hears him and they are reunited.

A happy ending of sorts, but what I was reminded of was another powerful metaphor, a painting by American artist John Singer Sargent that I saw a few years ago in London’s Imperial War Museum.

During World War I, Sargent, master of the exquisite, artful society portrait, was commissioned by the British government to go the front and create a work that would celebrate the cooperative spirit of British and American soldiers pulling together in “The War to End All Wars.”

Finding little to none of that alleged battlefield camaraderie, instead, he painted a massive canvas – 20 feet wide and more than seven feet high – depicting a group of soldiers felled by a mustard gas attack. In hues of yellow and brown, they stumble in a setting sun toward the hospital tents, eyes bandaged, each man in the line struggling to find his way, guided by a hand on the shoulder of the man in front of him.

The blind leading the blind.


Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.


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Comments

It is this constant embellishment of war, this glorifying of what is nothing but mass murder for the pleasure of a few psychopaths that makes me puke. You may have noticed the psychopaths like Bush, Cheney and Blair are well out of it, no fighting for them, no sir.

Then when all the young men and women have given their all these same psychopaths organise parades in their honour but it's nothing of the sort since the sole purpose is to give the impression they died for their country.

How can the murder of one person of another under any circumstances be beneficial to a country. How can killing Iraqis and Afghans help in our defence, it can't and it doesn't in fact just the opposite because we're generating enemies every day.

Of course war is a racket, it generates great wealth for a few and that is why making enemies is essential since you need enemies as an excuse for war.

In a democracy war would be the ultimate answer to any disagreement between nations but for the UK and USA it's the first option. We have a massive stockpile of the most sophisticated war toys with which we threaten any other nation having the audacity to have any capability of defending themselves and the UN goes along with the scam.

Iran has seen what happens to a country ( Iraq ) which has no defence capability, it gets invaded and the country destroyed and for what, the oil, no because we could have bought the oil for a fraction of the price. No the invasion of both Iraq and Afghanistan was for only one reason and that was expansion of Empire and complete control of the Middle east.

I am not now nor have I ever been a wino. "See you in Heaven if you make the list." Michael Stipe singing about Andy Kaufman

I do good. My labor fashions reality by the hour.

Posted by: Klark Mouvinon

See, Klark, that's why you're on MY list...delusional and dangerous about "reality" shaping...

I have not ONCE been wrong about my picks...not once...and like a good wine, I get better every day...

Anna, Don't make me take off my glasses and pull my cape out my briefs! (No more phone booths-Is there an app for that?)

Do you resemble Janeway, Anna? Going in space is a pipe dream. We are herd-wedded to this planet until death do us part. Our sorry bodies won't bear the wear and tear of stellar travel, but maybe there is astral projection. Ellen Burstyn (Alice/the Mom in the Exorcist/ method actor) thinks so.

I do good. My labor fashions reality by the hour.

Klark Kent wrote, in part, "You didn't address organ transplant as cannibalism but it fits the definition under several criteria."

What's ticked off on your driver's license...? "Yes" or "No" for organ donation?

Some one woke up one morning and decided to spend the rest of their lives working on organ transplants - is there a psych logical profile for that kind of "personality"?

Reminds me of the "vidians" episode - Captain Janeway just didn't buy into the initial "horse-swap" deal the Vidians proposed - so the Vidians decided on Plan B - kill 'em all and take their organs...

The one problem I have with the Star Trek series is the idea that "intelligent species" could learn how to travel into space with technology other than strapping yourself on to BIG tanks of gas - yeeha! - and then still be so socially lusty for theft, war, torture, tyranny, slavery, etc...?

Indulging in the seven deadly sins, as a collective civilization, takes time, thought, money, natural resources, slave labor, etc.

Not sure I have experiential proof that greed and depravity produce an abundance of the kind of minds and organization of labor that could design "warp speed"...

The majority of the 700,000 engineers who participated in sending "man" to the moon were twenty year olds, which means that 8 years back when their imaginations were first ignited by the Kennedy challenge, they were teenagers and teeny boppers...

What has inspired the 20-somethings of today from Bush's 8 years of cultural inspiration...?

See my point, Klark?

Whatever you think you are doing in the way of "good", you ain't...and the odds are 50-50 that you KNOW it ain't "good".

Yogurt with cherries; sounds good, Anna. I had apricots with Oikos vanilla this morning at 6 am. Poor Coley, if she follows Esselstyn, cannot have even yogurt or any other dairy, and she'll probably make poor Jack Martin follow the same diet. (Peggy informs me they've been lacto-vegans for almost 40 years and have enough good recipes to open a restaurant. Going all-veg seems demanding.) Maybe her condition comes from stress cortisols.

How's your heart health, Anna? Do you agree our grocery buying choices are a viable form of voting? You didn't address organ transplant as cannibalism but it fits the definition under several criteria. We're having a rice and crucifora dish with cheese on homemade pitas today. They eat light here. (Tomorrow I visit the Farmer's Market behind the airport. My turn to cook this weekend.)

Cherry-picked "science" again, Klark Kent...

It's not WHAT you eat, it's simply how much.

You should add yogurt to your diet - just one glass of booze kills off the LIVE flora and fauna in your digestive track that CAN break down whale blubber...

The novelist Jonathan Safran Foer recently had "Eating Animals" published. Not only does he find factory farming deplorable because of the mass suffering, but he also believes our meat diet is diminishing humanity. He has decided to raise his new son vegetarian. Here at Figgers we have combined these ideas with the research of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland clinic showing how a strict vegan diet can often reverse heart disease and extend cardiac patients' lives and fitness. (Our colleague Coley Whitesides is presently testing Esselstyn's ideas following a dire diagnosis and recommended surgery.) Any thinking person can surmise that our food system is unstable and killing us.

Add to this the real love between higher animals and caring humans as depicted in "The War Horse", as described by Michael Winship above. What a contradiction it must be to eat a pet. More and more research shows animals with an emotionality resembling our own. While there are some lands suitable for forage only and polar humans have all-meat diets these are exceptions to good sense. Meat production consumes several times more energy and space than fruit or vegetables. Our group has even been forced to admit that egg and dairy production are not feasible without eventual mass slaughter. We've been lying to ourselves so fervently and so long that we are easily taken in by "grass fed" and "free range" lies. Seafood is also problematic because we stubbornly continue consumption of top predators like tuna, decimating aquatic ecology and getting a concentrated dose of pollutants like mercury.

Grady Lee Howard often compared our collective condition to that of chickens in a factory farm. I have been shocked into contemplation over this last week as I read and absorbed the information he used to justify his claims. I watched a report that showed urban Chinese earning more than American counterparts and duplicating our over-consumption. Supermarkets were one focus of their spending frenzy and they have adopted our unhealthy diet. Soon more than half of Americans will be obese, as will about 300 million Chinese, while traditional diets become ever more impossible because of increased factory farming and poverty within China. It's funny to see our upper classes trying to get back to nature via "organic" and vegetarian routes.Meat and fat addiction seem to be a strong locus of social control. I believe now people vote their diet.

Why am I writing this in the context of war and remembrance? Well, aren't we in an asymmetrical war against our meat species? Foer was accused of comparing factory farming to death camps and ridiculed. I criticized him too, because factory farming is probably worse than human genocide because of its perversion and scope. With money driven medicine and human trafficking we are approaching cannibalism. (Is organ transplant a form of cannibalism asks Gladiola Victrola?)

If people engaged in war because of ecological pressures and population control maybe our military murder wouldn't seem so purposeless. But when I consider that war might be necessary to keep the developmentally limiting meat diet and the factory farm system in place I see it as another superstructural oligarchic tool that keeps me in my place. With that in mind I'm able to drive past the fast food joints and enjoy my apple and peanut butter sandwich with pineapple juice. I can't help but feel more enlightened than Michael Winship who must ride on a polluting jet to Greece in order to enjoy his calamari (squid). High living makes intellectuals wishy-washy I think. Take a more comprehensive view of war and our diminishing volition, Michael Winship! The countdown continues...

captcha: paced NASA
moderator: Do you enjoy writing along with Figgers?

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