Cautionary note: in a stale attempt to be informative, poignant and witty all at once I have made the error of waging war on three fronts and, just as history teaches us, failed to succeed on any of them.
It’s been nearly 3 weeks. I’m getting sloppy. No, correction: I am sloppy. I’m getting sloppier. I think that’s enough of the adjective sloppy, it doesn’t sound very appealing. Lots have happened in the last 3 weeks but as most of them are work related I can’t really go into them. What I can discuss in an oblique way is war and remembrance, particularly now because I’ve just done the whole battlefields experience in Belgium and not only did I not have to pay for it I also managed to go there so very close to 100 years since World War I ended. If you’ve ever stood under The Menin Gate in Ypres for The Last Post you’ll get a good idea of just how sombre it will feel come the 11th of November.
World War I had a lot to do about pride and ambition, of the strengths and weaknesses of human bondage and of sacrifice. An almost incalculable amount of sacrifice. It had a lot to do with mud and blood and exploding horses and faeces and rats too. It also had rather a lot to do with stupidity. Walking past hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of almost identical tombstones in a seemingly inexhaustible string of war cemeteries will set many bells ringing for many different reasons. The chief bell ringing in my head more often than not was “was it really worth it?” To live in a free world, or at least a free country: definitely. But……….
Undoubtedly we (as in you and I, I couldn’t possible speak from the perspective of 7 year old dying from Ebola in Malawi) live in a richer world but there’s not a lot else to celebrate. My life is perfectly fine and I want for very little but the same can’t be said for a lot of people out there. Did boys of 16 sit in a freezing quagmire, constantly shitting themselves with fear that the next big bang would be the one to blow them to pieces just so we could all watch Theresa May fuddle and fudge and fuck up her way through complex Brexit negotiations? I find that quite unacceptable as an exchange. And I don’t blame Theresa May for it either.
The Belgians gave Britain pretty much as much land as they wanted to bury their dead: a thank you for saving them. Apparently the citizens of Ypres are still rather fond of us, which is helpful since most of the rest of Europe think we’re idiots. Or 51.89% are. Conversely they gave the Germans almost none at all; stick ’em in a big hole, scribble down a few names and bugger off was the general idea. As we all know the Germans felt they had been hard done by; clearly instigating a war in which many millions perished was all just a run-of-the-mill kind of thing to them back then. In yesteryear. In the days of yore. Way back when. Now we rely on them to hold Europe together. Nuts.
Anyway (as I like to say far more often than I should) war is possibly the most stupid thing that humans can do. It pretty much trumps almost anything else I can think of. Even the most justifiable war is not really any better than legalised mass murder. Walking around the battlefields of Belgium is a humbling experience and I would recommend it to anyone, though you might want to go in a slightly milder professional capacity than the manner in which I went. We fought, we won (again, I mean you and I)and then we waited for it to happen all over again. Only that second time was somehow, amazingly, even worse. That’s what we’re capable of when we put our minds to it: doing something really stupid and then when it’s finished dreaming up a way to do it even more stupidly. There can’t be many creatures that are clever enough to do that. Hurrah!
G B Hewitt. 25.10.2018