Wearing, or not wearing, a poppy with pride?

Published: Sun, 11/13/22

In the centre of Hull, right opposite the railway station is a rather fine war memorial. The figures of two soldiers caught up in the heat of battle are carved in stone and mounted upon a granite plinth.. However, this sculpture does not commemorate those who fell in World War One, rather it is dedicated to the memory of those who left East Yorkshire to die in South Africa between 1898 and 1902. Behind is a much larger memorial erected after World War One, to which names were added for those who perished in the 1939 to 1945 conflict. Smaller memorials commemorating those who lost their lives in more recent conflicts since have been added more recently. That is 120 years of erecting memorials to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. And, yet again there is war in Europe.
Along with about 50 other people I attended a safeguarding course on Friday, which was the 11th, at Driffield Methodist Church. We observed the 2 minute silence at 1100hrs and the Chairman of the District (the most senior clergyman present) led a short prayer. The average age of those present must have been at least 60 years of age and yet I only noticed about one person in ten wearing a poppy. I was not one of them. Not so long ago the ratio would have been reversed, and those not wearing the red and black emblem would have felt a little naked. The poppy was meant to be the symbol that the 1914 to 18 conflict would be ‘war to end all wars’. Wearing the symbol of that hope 104 years later has begun to seem rather futile.
Why does war continue to plague our world? In his famous book Vom Kriege (On War) (published posthumously in 1832), the Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz wrote that ‘war was politics by other means’. The General might have been right about the Prussian attitude to war. However, for the British and Americans, war is business by other means. The East India Company was founded in London in 1600. The company had its own private army which conquered India for the purpose of trade. The British government did not incorporate India into its empire until 1858. According to the US Department of Arms Sales and Defence Trade, the USA Arms manufacturing business is worth about $115 billion per year. The votes for, and political donations, received by a great many US politicians are dependent upon keeping the arms manufactures and their workers based in their state happy and confident of future orders. War, especially long lasting and
inconclusive conflicts such as Vietnam (1955 to 1975) or Afghanistan (2001 to 2021) are very good for business. I know a retired civil servant who was involved in procuring small arms ammunition for British troops serving in Afghanistan when the fighting was most intense, and, if I heard him correctly, they were needing a million rounds a day to fight the Taliban. A nice little earner for someone.
Are we looking at a 20 year war in Ukraine which generates billions of dollars for the US Military, Industrial, Complex? I really would not be surprised. However, it does not have to happen and perhaps the loss of interest in wearing the poppy symbol is a sign that we are just beginning to wake up at last.
PS I am by no means a pacifist in the sense of believing that a refusal to think about violence will just make it go away. Cultivating sophisticated martial training and practice enables two things:
Firstly, an awareness of the conflicts within ourselves which give rise to violence unless we can find peace through cultivating self-awareness, compassion, and love.
Secondly, in order to manage those who would use force for their own ends, we must know how to ensure that aggression fails to achieve its aims and peace and harmony can be restored.
This is the true purpose of martial arts training and this is what we will be exploring at the 2023 Stav Camp in July next year. See here http://www.stavcamp.org
Graham Butcher
21 Beaver Road
Beverley East Yorkshire HU17 0QN

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