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Billy King


Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Issue 113: October 2003

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Remembrance Of Things P ast
Last month’s edition of Nonviolent News carried news, as every year, of the white poppies available from the Peace Pledge Union. The season of ‘remembrance’ in Britain and Ireland is rapidly approaching.

We all need to remember. The world wars and the wars of the world in the twentieth century certainly need remembering, and those who suffered and died in them. There is nothing that should be actively forgotten, although we cannot carry everything in our memories – there are too many atrocities and deaths to do proper justice to the humanity of the dead. We do have to remember the big picture but also have, unfortunately, to select – hopefully in a non-judgemental way – the details that we carry with us

But there is a problem. How things are remembered is a key issue, and in the British tradition the British army is an integral part of the official remembrance ceremonies which makes remembrance also a celebration and glorification of militarism today. This is unacceptable. It is doubly unacceptable when we see the role that the British army played, and is playing, in Iraq, allied to the world’s superpower. While the Republic has made strides in remembering all Irish who died in wars, therefore including those who died in a British uniform, there is a danger that even this remembrance simply celebrates all the dead uncritically. We need to remember all the dead, both critically and respectfully, including those who were in a British uniform or fought to rid Ireland of British uniforms.

Some people wear both a red and a white poppy to indicate remembrance of those who died with a real desire for peace in the future. Some of us shy away from wearing anything and wait for the season of remembrance to go over, a bit like some of us wait for the Twelfth of July to disappear into the past in the North. Some who wear a red poppy would be totally uncritical of the British army; others wear it as a symbol of the struggle against fascism in the Second World War. There are a myriad of responses from both those who wear or do not wear a red poppy.

However it is a shame that some of us are denied the opportunity to remember because of the connections to current militarism. Soldiers do not go out to die as such, in general they prefer to kill rather than to be killed. And the old adage that ‘Greater love has no man than that he gives up his life for his friends’ is a euphemistic red herring seeing that most of those who died were actually trying to kill other people at the time.

Undoubtedly there was incredible courage and sacrifice, and these are qualities that deserve to be remembered. But also the fact that the various wars being remembered were not inevitable has to be taken on board. The First World War came through conflicting imperialisms and nationalisms in Europe, including the race for empire. The Second World War grew directly out of the First, a downward spiral coming out of the penalties which Germany paid for losing the war (of course there were other factors too, but this can be identified as the main causative factor). By 1939 most people in Britain and various other European countries may have felt they had no choice but to fight Nazism militarily. But the question remaining is – how and when do we break into history to prevent the downward spiral to war?

This year the people of the world, in their tens of millions, voted with their feet against war in Iraq. Popular opinion now expresses anti-war sentiment strongly. This was ignored by Bush and Blair who pressed ahead with their pre-ordained war project in Iraq with the consequences which we see today and which they did not envisage. The USA and UK missed an opportunity to ‘break into history’ in Iraq and the Middle East which might have been slower to take effect but which could have had longer term positive implications. They went for what they thought was an easy option – war. It may have been relatively easy to ‘win’ the war but they show no signs of being able to win ‘the peace’. Once more war has been tried and found wanting.

As remembrance develops in the future we hope it may be possible to say – “We remember all those who died and the sacrifice they and their loved ones made. But we look critically at the causes of war and those who sent people out to die. We have to build a future where living for Ireland and the world is more important than dying for Ireland, ‘Europe’, the USA or NATO. We demand that our countries’ policies lead to the development of peace and justice so that war becomes a memory and not a current reality.”

This demands some amazing changes in how the world works in economic, political and social justice, in fair trade, and in human rights. But without these changes we will be asked to remember the dead of more wars which were unnecessary and easily avoided. And ‘remembrance’ will still be something which tends to glorify militarism and military attempts at solutions.


We don’t yet have a tradition of people writing letters to Nonviolent News, or sending in material they have written themselves unsolicited, but we would certainly like to encourage both these things. Please tell us if you’re writing in and you don’t want your letter/material published. Here’s one letter anyhow. –Ed.

Nonviolence, Appalachia

I remain most appreciative of your work for peace and am always glad to see the Nonviolent News. I live in an Appalachian mountain community in the U.S. where activism is rich and diverse. Folks here are resisting efforts by police and municipal authorities to squelch protest. Anti-war vigils have been met with arrests, fines, and the shutting down of traditional areas in the public square where we gather to make our dissent visible. But we persist. We are involved in efforts to stop the manufacture of nuclear weapons in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and to alert our community of the shipment of nuclear materials by truck through our city. In November we will gather in Miami to demonstrate against the FTAA and in Columbus, Georgia, at Ft. Benning, to continue calling for the closure of the U.S. Army School of Americas, source of much of the terror and massacre in Latin America. And, of course, we continue to be mindful of the many women and men who are locked up in our prison nation-- well over two million disenfranchised persons. The fastest growing and least violent of these are women. Our local Women in Black group stands weekly in the public square, despite ten recent arrests for persisting during a time when the square was closed to dissent. Our freedoms are on the line as the current regime attempts to silence opposing views by equating healthy democratic disagreement with aid and comfort to the enemy.

It is always heartening to hear word of the courage and creativity of nonviolent activists in Ireland. Have you seen a copy of our local alternative weekly, the Asheville Global Report? I wish you continued success and perseverence in your important mission.

Clare Hanrahan

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