UNPUBLISHED LETTER TO IRISH TIMES ON THE SOMME COMMEMORATIONS, JULY 2016

Sir,

the difficulty of President Higgins’s “ethical remembering” and “narrative hospitility” (News Agenda, 1 July) towards Ireland’s shared experience of WW1, especially the Battle of the Somme, is that it is in danger of encouraging a muted uncritical discourse of the event that at best portrays it as an inevitable blunder and at worst glorifies the carnage, all seemingly in the search for good neighbourly relations between Ireland and Britain. Liewise the focus of Irish revisionist historians and media commentators who portray the Sons of Ulster and the ‘Sons of Éire’ dying ‘herocially’ side by side in an allegedly noble cause.

The use of language is so revealing regarding the distortion of history at play here. The number of instances that the word ‘heroism’ was used in print and on the national airwaves last Friday and Saturday is striking. There is nothing heroic about men cajouled to fight a sensless battle with all likelyhood of death or horrific life-changing injuries.

The WW1 commemorative process in Britain is, as writer Christopher Donnison argues, exemplified by a somnolent remembrance culture dominated by the victory narrative which Britain’s political leaders and the Royals use to promote militarism today. Meanwhile in Ireland the establishment’s guilt at the non-remembrance of those Irishmen who fought and died, and the desire to use the carnage to unite all Irish of varied persuasions, dampens any space for serious critique. How disturbingly macabre that the primary way Irish people, north and south, are portrayed coming together in unity is in dying together in a futile imperialist war?

Remembrace should remember all the victims of the war and not be selective for devious or misguided purposes. We might do well to heed the words of the last surviving British soldier, Harry Patch who told the war criminal Tony Blair, scuttling up for a photo op in 2006, that “war is organised murder”. Harry was a true hero of WW1 having conspired with four other British soldiers not to kill any of the enemy, an act for which he could have been executed at dawn as so many brave soldiers were.

Far from being a "war to end all wars" or a "victory for democracy", World War 1 was a military disaster and a catastrophe for humankind, all premised on big establishment lies. Caring little about humanity, establishment powers sent millions to be slaughtered while using the war as a testing ground for new mechanised techniques of mass killing that encouraged huge profiteering through the armaments industry. In the US alone, for example, war profits saw the creation of 21,000 new millionaires

The best way to commemorate World War 1 is to expose the lies told to young men at the time while also exposing lies that have been told of successive wars since then, and more importantly - of wars currently waged.

In Ireland we should commemorate the memory of every individual, including the 49,000 Irishmen, who died in WW1. While recognizing that many joined for different reasons, we should look back in anger at the way all those soldiers were stirred up, frightened, made to feel guilty if they refused to join up, cajoled by fantasies of great glory, manipulated and lied to - by army generals, politicians, clergymen, industrialists and media moguls - while forced to fight their fellowmen and die horrible deaths in muddy trenches and scorched battlefields for what was ultimately one big lie, orchestrated for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many – de facto the biggest example hitherto in human history of organised, mechanised mass murder.

Yours etc.

JIM ROCHE,
PRO Irish Anti-War Movement,
PO Box 9260,
Dublin 1.