Passchendaele: The Hypocrisy of Remembrance

Last weekend the centenary commemorations of the horrendous Battle of Passchendaele were held. I found them extremely moving. Over half a million young men perished during 100 days in one of the bloodiest conflicts of the First World War. One of the most poignant times was when young people handed out wreaths at the Menin Gate. Most of the soldiers who died were their age: 17, 18, 19, even younger.

It is absolutely right that we remember those young men who died, and totally essential that politicians, royals and dignitaries from countries all over the world pronounce that “we shall remember” these half a million men and the many millions of men and women who died in that four-year conflict.

But they won’t remember! Which makes the act of remembrance an act of total hypocrisy!

They will forget.

They have forgotten in the past and will forget in the future.

If they REALLY remembered, would there have been so many wars since the Battle of Passchendaele?

No-one remembered Passchendaele just 20 or so years later when the world again went into battle, leading to the deaths of an estimated 15 million soldiers and 45 million civilians.

Did President Truman remember Passchendaele when his “police action” in the Korean War led to over 33,000 Americans losing their lives?

Was Passchendaele on the White House agenda before the US lost over 57,000 men and women during the Vietnam War?

After 9/11 in 2001, did President Bush remember Passchendaele? No, he launched his War on Terror which led to military action in Afghanistan and Iraq and nearly 7,000 US military casualties and more than 900,000 injured. And has it succeeded? The world is now a less safe place than before 2001. The War on Terror has simply made more terrorists, instigated more acts of terrorism, and led to increased terror among normal people doing normal things in airports, railway stations, concert halls, seaside promenades and other public places.

I am fully aware that there is no easy solution to stopping dictators like Hitler or terrorists like Osama bin Laden or organizations like al-Qaeda or the Islamic State.

But if we are really going to remember the past, surely there has to be an alternative to sending in troops?

What if, after 9/11, President Bush had reacted totally differently?

History records some of his statements:

  • “We’re going to get the b******s. We’re at war.”
  • “When we find out who did this, they’re not going to like me as president. Somebody’s going to pay.”
  • “I can’t wait to find out who did it. It’s going to take a while and we’re not going to have a little slap on the wrist crap.”
  • “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”

What if he had remembered the past and said something like this:

  • “I am going to remember the atrocities of Passchendaele, the Second World War, Korea and Vietnam and am not going to send more young men and women to die on foreign soil.”
  • “These terrorists do not represent Iraq or Afghanistan. The majority of people in these countries are decent, law-abiding citizens. I am not going to pursue military action that could lead to their deaths.”
  • “Instead of spending billions of dollars on military action, I am going to authorize investments in these countries to build roads, schools and hospitals; new ICT infrastructures; healthcare equipment and medical supplies.”
  • “I intend to work with these people, and I appeal to them to hand over the terrorists who are living amongst them.”

You may say I am a dreamer (but I’m not the only one). You may say that such an approach is ridiculous, laughable, naïve, impractical …

But surely this approach couldn’t have left the world in a worse place than it is now?

Who knows how different it might be looking if this had been implemented 16 years ago?

Moreover, it’s an approach that removes the sickening hypocrisy from current remembrance services.

It shouts out loud “We will remember!” and puts those words into actions.

22 thoughts on “Passchendaele: The Hypocrisy of Remembrance

  1. I’m afraid I’ve never heard of the battle of Passchendaele. It sounds extremely sad. I’m don’t know what the correct response to terror is except, people do tend to lash out when terrified. I do wish there were a more nonviolent way tonrrspond that all the governments employed. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. I understand your point. I think the sentiment of remembrance is to honour the sacrifice these young people gave for their country. I also believe that the message is that we should find other ways of dealing with conflict. The League of Nations was set up for this very reason.

    You are right in that their sacrifice has not taught us anything. The League of Nations failed. I suppose that leaders go to war for the greater good and that the end justifies the means. There was a lot of appeasement, negotiations and tactics employed before the outbreak of WWII. Peaceful methods did not work with Japan, Italy or Nazi Germany. I have no answers. Thoughtful post.

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    • Thanks for your interesting comment. I believe the League of Nations became the United Nations, but I sometimes doubt their effectiveness, especially when countries take military action into their own hands. I have no answers either, just suggestions, but I would have thought that with all the intelligent people on this planet, their innovative ways of thinking, their ability to think out-of-the-box, that they would have come up with a solution other than “let’s go to war”.

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  3. I couldn’t agree with you more. I remember after 9/11, knowing in my gut that they were going about it all wrong and feeling so frustrated. It would take a fraction of the military cost to do positive things to improve the lives of those involved. Instead, we make it worse and go further down the drain, making recovery near to impossible. As Eisenhower said, “Beware the military/industrial complex.” They are even more powerful today. Great post.

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      • As a woman I don’t think it would be any better. Humanity has always admired heroism. This has in most cultures led to a certain pageantry and excitement about going to war. Even as I read All Quiet on the Western Front I felt a weird desire for the brotherhood of soldiers. The film Dunkirk was scary, horrifying and beautiful all at once. Uniforms are often beautiful and battle histories enthralling but in the end while we’d like to blame leaders they would be nothing if everyone else remembered the past. We all have evil in our hearts and dress in pretty uniforms to hide it. I fear no matter who leads the rest of us will follow since we are all so flawed. Very interesting post and comments.

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        • Thanks for stopping by and commenting Adrienne. You made an interesting comment about women leadership. Here’s an article you might like too: https://www.economist.com/news/europe/21722877-european-history-answer-queens-especially-married-ones-who-gets-more-wars-kings European queens have generally been more warlike than kings! And insightful comment about the beauty of uniforms: why is that, I wonder, when they could be ripped to shreds, covered in blood, and are expensive to produce?

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          • I’m not going to mention names but in the US there a few female war hawks who come to mind. It’s a human thing. I wonder about uniforms too. Well-dressed men are always in fashion. 😉 And we women have a curiosity about all things masculine.

            I suppose men (and now women) feel a sense of unity when in uniform. Seeing large groups of people joining as one for a “glorious” cause is pretty awe-inspiring–although one questions the very notion of what’s glorious. Individual bravery is… yet I agree that our leaders use pageantry and deception to trick young people into fighting horrible wars.

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  4. I think Eliza hit it on the head when she mentioned the “military/industrial complex.” Presidents don’t make decisions alone; they are heavily pressured by other “interests.” When the Cold War ended (or took a pause, anyway), I thought it was an opportunity to divert funds from military spending to education and other worthy areas. An educated populace would be less apt to choose war, right? Well, we’ll probably never know… But reading your alternative thoughts gives me hope, nevertheless.

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    • You are right Audrey. Unfortunately, the current US President seems keen to further bloat this military-industrial complex even at the expense of domestic welfare programs. With a single Tomahawk missile costing $15 million (!) there is certainly a lot of money to be made in armaments. Yes it creates jobs, but as I indicated, there would be jobs in other areas where the money was diverted to.

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