Sunday 1 June 2014


Writing in yesterday's Independent (article not yet available online), Andreas Whittam Smith chronicled the way in which the political establishment has tried to hobble and frustrate the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war right from the word go, with Gordon Brown announcing that its proceedings would be held in private until a storm of protest forced him to back down. And that was only the beginning of the foot dragging.

The latest compromise agreement means that in all likelihood four years will have passed since the inquiry held its last public session before we get a redacted final report, quoting "gists" and carefully selected extracts from Blair's correspondence with George W Bush.

Elfyn Llwyd MP and Leanne Wood have called for the "unvarnished truth" to be published, and for the senior politicians involved to be held to account.

Adam Price and Elfyn Llwyd together tried to impeach Tony Blair. Here, as a reminder, is an article which Adam wrote in the Guardian back in 2004. It reads as true today as it did 10 years ago.

There is a long and noble tradition in Wales of opposition to militarism which is not confined to Plaid Cymru. Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West, has also taken a very strong and consistent stand against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he is not afraid to dish it out to the bigwigs in his own party. Here he is on top form laying into Peter Jay.

By coincidence, this year is of course the centenary of the start of World War One, and thousands of events  will be held to commemorate Britain's part in the slaughter. In Carmarthenshire the enterprising owner of Morfa Bay Adventure (stag and hen parties catered for, coasteering and a mud assault course) has opened a World War One Trench Experience, aided by a hefty grant from Carmarthenshire County Council.

The Trench Experience attracts lots of school parties, apparently, although anxious parents can rest assured that it is nothing like the real thing. If it were, the Health and Safety Executive would have shut it down.

Elsewhere barely a week passes these days it seems without some new war memorial, arboretum or heritage centre opening to recall the sacrifice of British troops, and if that was not enough, parades of troops returning from tours of duty have become a common occurrence in our towns - a practice which had all but died out.

In 2006 the then Labour Government introduced Veterans Day. Jim Devine, the Scottish Labour MP who was subsequently jailed for fraud, enthusiastically called for it to be made a public holiday, and Gordon Brown (yes, him again) upgraded the event to Armed Forces Day when he became Prime Minister in 2009.

Back in the 1960s and 70s, most people if asked would probably have predicted that remembrance days, veterans parades and the rituals involving royals, bemedalled bishops and assorted generals in full fancy dress would gradually fade away, but the opposite has happened.

Commemorations now turn up in the most unexpected places. Switch on the telly to watch the Antiques Roadshow, and there's Fiona Bruce standing in front of the Menin Gate. Tune into the BBC's coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show, and there are lingering and mournful shots of the Help for Heroes show garden. It won't be long before we see the cast of Eastenders belting out "Pack up your troubles" down the Queen Vic.

There is no doubt that people who take part in these events do so with good intentions, whether it's a fund raising pub barbecue for Help for Heroes, another march-past, or getting young school children to witness the signing of the Armed Forces Covenant in Llanelli, but invariably these things are wrapped up in the Union Jack and turned into drum-beating jingoism.

How much of the money raised by the scores of military charities goes to help the people on the receiving end of British "liberal interventionism", such as the family of Baha Mousa, the Iraqi hotel receptionist murdered by a "large number" of British heroes soldiers? War is never black and white.

With all the commemoration, tin rattling and flag waving going on, it's little wonder that we forget to remember the most important lessons.

In Alan Bennett's The History Boys a young teacher, Irwin, sums it up as he stands in front of a war memorial:

"The truth was, in 1914, Germany doesn't want war. Yeah, there's an arms race, but it's Britain who's leading it. So, why does no one admit this?

[Points to the names on the memorial]

"That's why. The dead. The body count. We don't like to admit the war was even partly our fault 'cause so many of our people died. And all the mourning's veiled the truth. It's not "lest we forget," it's "lest we remember." That's what all this is about — the memorials, the Cenotaph, the two minutes' silence. Because there is no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it."


Anonymous said...

Only a family man who has lived his whole live under the protectorate of others could pen such dishonesty.

Educated in Wales? I thought so. You and so many others. And all largely at the expense of the English taxpayer.

Perhaps it really is time for UKIP to sort out this country.

Cneifiwr said...

Thank you Anon@21.20. Of all the brickbats this blog has received over the last couple of years, that will be one of those I cherish most in years to come.

When I'm feeling gloomy or fed up, I will take it out and laugh out loud.

Richard Powell said...

It's rather impressive, though not in any very positive way, to write several hundred words on British militarism without mentioning the Second World War. Should Wales have stood aside from that? What do you think would have become of Wales if Nazi Germany had prevailed?

I agree that the Govt's failure to be completely open over the Chilcot report is a disgrace.

I too have been surprised by the resurgence of respect for the armed forces. I suspect there are two reasons for this: the perception that they have suffered for the vanity of politicians to risk; and the impression they give that they are more competent and less corrupt than just about any other institution.

Cneifiwr said...

Thanks Richard. There is a difference between pacifism and opposing militarism.

The parades, Armed Forces Days and televised eulogies of individual soldiers killed in Afghanistan (something else we never used to get) obscure the question of why they were in Iraq/Afghanistan, etc. in the first place.

There is a huge paradox here, and it seems to me that the families of the 176 soldiers killed in Iraq who are pushing for full disclosure have seen through it.

Anonymous said...

You have a simplistic view on this.

You seem to mock patriotism in normal everyday people - unless it is of the independence for Wales kind.

As regards disclosing all of the correspondence between Blair and Bush this will create a very dangerous precedent. There must be a belief that conversations between heads of state should be private for at least a set period of time otherwise the cooperation on military and security issues will be impeded, probably to our detriment.

Anonymous said...

Cneifwr - I suspect that if Wales was an independent country we would only maintain a small coastal protection / defence force because I can not see Wales wanting to join in Nato/ UN foray's into Iran Irag/Libya etc foray's
However we must acknowledge and cherish the memory of brave Welsh men , Scots . Irish & English and Common wealth nations who fought and died for us to have the privilege of commenting on blogs & choosing not to vote Mind you I think the alter should be a compulsory right and duty of every citizen .

Tessa said...

Brave post Cneifiwr - good for you!

Anonymous said...

It wasn't war though was it, so it shouldn't be called a war.
It was an invasion in to Afghanistan and an invasion in to Iraq.
In Iraq over a hundred thousand everyday people just like you & I going about their everyday life died violently in & due to the invasion.
It makes the inequality really stark to only count the British victims of the invasion.

I don't wear a red poppy any more, I always, always used to, I thought it symbolised 'Lest we forget' -so lets not ever go there again. I think as a society we've done worse than forget. The tragedy of war has been marketed & packaged in to superficial, obligatory, meaningless porn for mass public consumption.
I think Bill Hicks would have termed it the 'Patriotic buck'

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

This year's festival of WWI jingoism is rather incredible given the way the returning soldiers and the families of the fallen saw the war itself during the 20s and 30s.

If you read contemporary newspaper accounts of the opening of town and village cenotaphs and war memorials, the key theme is not so much revelling in victory and bravery. Rather it is a deep sense of loss and regret, as well as a desire never to become embroilled in such a conflagration again.

Why do we today seek to drag out the tub-thumping 1910s playbook, rather than the sombre and reflective tenour of the 1920s?

By the way, what does UKIP want? Another European war?