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Wednesday 4 November 2009

A Dilemma about a War Memorial - Just Some Thoughts

There's an outcry about the student caught on camera urinating against the poppy wreaths on a War Memorial and the suggestion that he could face a prison sentence (however unlikely) for this offence. The student, utterly ashamed, was apparently so drunk at the time that he has no recollection of the offence and, wearing his poppy to court, expressed his remorse. This, I read in the papers and have no knowledge of the 'accused' other than that.

But it raises all kinds of questions. The fact that someone in a state of intoxication was incapable of seeing where he was relieving himself - for surely it was not meant to be any kind of insult to the 'glorious dead' - is as old as time. The fact there is now a backlash to what the newspapers have chosen to call 'binge Britain' and this particular person was caught on camera, panders to the scapegoat mentality. The indignation of the British Legion and the families recently bereaved by recent wars is absolutely understandable but, putting all personal agendas aside, this was simply a drunk student relieving himself and he happened to do it in the wrong place with no harm or insult intended.

To whom was that Memorial dedicated? To the young men who gave their lives for their country. Many of them - particularly in the First World War - were exactly the same as the student who was arrested. In 1914, young men were intoxicated by the belief that they were going to participate in the 'war to end wars'. They believed in a better life for themselves (and the idea of travelling abroad and coming home as heroes) and were caught up in the dream that what they were doing was heroic. Some short time later, some of them awoke to the reality of what had happened - in much the same state of hangover as that young fellow awoke to his arrest.

In the case of the student, he had offended the sensibilities of decency and what is seen as the honour of those who died. In the case of the volunteers of WWI, they awoke to the realization that they had been sold a lie and had been involved in mass slaughter for someone else's dream. The hangover must have been much the same.

So much spilled blood - for what?? What did World War I achieve?? Only World War II. Had the student lived a century ago, he would have been one of those young men...instead he, without murdering anyone, without depriving a family of a son or a brother or husband, had the opportunity to get drunk and happened to pass water on those poppies. No harm meant. I'll bet some of those soldiers would have given anything to be in that position, rather than squirming in trenches on the Somme. Would they care that someone later urinated on their memorial?

Of course, I don't think it's alright to desecrate memorials, and I have absolutely utter respect for those who gave their live to allow me the freedom to write this, but the average soldier in 1914 (and, like everyone else here, we have our own family members who gave their lives in that war) would probably much rather have joined that boy for a whiskey and have weed on a grave, than to have spilt so much blood in some political war. The student is repentant; enough said.

Siegfried Sassoon (himself a war 'hero') wrote a brilliant poem that speaks many more volumes about what is truly a desecration than the action of the scapegoat student:

The house is crammed: tier beyond tier they grin
And cackle at the Show, while prancing ranks
Of harlots shrill the chorus, drunk with din;
‘We’re sure the Kaiser loves our dear old Tanks!’

I’d like to see a Tank come down the stalls,
Lurching to rag-time tunes, or ‘Home, sweet Home’,
And there’d be no more jokes in Music-halls
To mock the riddled corpses round Bapaume.

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