There are few openers that have become more tiresome in the last decade than: ‘As a veteran…’. That said, as a veteran, I’d like to be able to command a government minister to do something every Remembrance Day, as a special treat.
This year, I’d like Suella Braverman to confront the fact that Israel’s founding fathers killed more British soldiers than the Taliban. Partly because it would ruin her head girl smugness, but also because it’s true. Given she and her fellow ministers are denigrating Remembrance in support of the West’s favourite apartheid state, a history lesson wouldn’t go amiss.
Over the years, the rhythm and tone of Remembrance Day has changed. Anyone who was watching closely during the great war centenary years, which by chance aligned with the last years of the war in Afghanistan, will note that the manufactured furore of Remembrancea decade ago has since tailed off. It’s as if the poppy mafia have now retreated.
Fundamentally, this is because the event has done its job for now. The aim of reinvigorating Remembrance Day over the last 15 years or so wasn’t to encourage respect for the fallen, but to reset British culture and discourse to a base level of militarist fervour, to re-embed deference to the military in society, and to normalise the constant and costly preparations for war that the British ruling class are so addicted to. Why? Because wasteful and unnecessary wars in Iraq and Afghanistan generated major public opposition to the business of killing.
The peak Remembrance era of rightwingers calling out poppy-less news presenters and tedious rounds of annual hit-pieces on Derry footballer James McClean, of soldiers at football matches and Wimbledon, was never about ‘honouring the war dead’. Rather, it was about limiting space in which to criticise foreign policy, the hawkish politicians who produce it, and the British military institution.
The shift to a lower-key Remembrance Day doesn’t mean politicians won’t still invoke the Somme or D-Day to attack all kinds of things they personally or politically dislike, including perfectly legitimate democratic expressions of public will. This week, Braverman tried to instrumentalise the war dead to stop pro-ceasefire marches set for Armistice Day.
Ministers ultimately failed to stop the march, and rightly so. Yet deep hurt and offence really are being caused here. But it isn’t the people who will march for Gaza on Armistice Day doing the offending. Rather, it’s politicians of low moral health who are using ‘the fallen’ to attempt to roll back democratic rights and deny the space to criticise Israel: the violent apartheid state with which the UK has a deep – and deepening – alliance.
While hardly the worst of its ongoing crimes, this is the same Israel that right now is bombing part of Gaza which contains a major Commonwealth war grave. This graveyard holds the remains of over 3,000 British troops, as well as colonial soldiers from India, Australia, and New Zealand, and tended by Palestinians, no less. That the bombing may well involve components and arms manufactured in Britain only leverages the point.
This is the same Israel that was born out of a violent insurgency. When Braverman remembers the war dead this weekend, will she recall that Israel’s founding fathers killed more British personnel than the Taliban, at least according to the famously anti-imperialist National Army Museum in Chelsea? In fact, the British lost more personnel fighting Zionist insurgents after WW2 than they did in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. 750 British personnel died at the hands of groups like the Stern Gang and Irgun, compared to 456 and 179 in Afghanistan and Iraq respectively.
This toll included those killed in the bombing of the King David Hotel and the Officer’s Club in Haifa. As well as the high-profile kidnap and hanging of two British sergeants whose booby-trapped bodies exploded, seriously injuring a police officer during a recovery attempt.
Militarism is a powerful thing in Britain. It is so powerful that committed leftwing figures like Jeremy Corbyn and Mick Lynch have been forced to cede ground to it – in the case of the former, even to adopt its symbols and rituals. Those hundreds of thousands of good-hearted, right-minded people we hope will turn out on Armistice Day to march for Palestine are under no such obligation. And, as a veteran, I hope the streets heave on what is the most appropriate day imaginable for a peace march.