Wednesday, November 18, 2009

View from the Treetops (18 Nov '09)

Opinions are Like Arseholes...

...and I have a few.

Pisces Iscariot (L) puts on a brave face (1980)

There are no atheists in foxholes goes the aphorism.

30 odd years ago, aged 18, I stood (along with a few hundred others) at a sermon that provided us with the assurance that what we were about to do had been authorised by the highest power. I cannot remember if the chaplain actually uttered the words “God is on our side” but he did convey the message.
South Africa’s involvement in the destabilisation of Angola was, to those who knew better, an essential act in the prevention of the expansion of communism, and South Africa was a deeply Christian country (of the Orange/Lutheran variety), perfectly suited and (with US and Israeli assistance) equipped to perform the Lord's work .
Our week long soirée into Angola, complete with mass artillery bombardment, looting, murder and long term damage to the country and its inhabitants, was therefore an act of God (or at least, an act condoned by God)
At the time this only troubled me by the fact that I, being a conscript, did not want to be there.
There was, however, a significant event that occurred during that week that echoes down the years for me: during one night the Artillery battery of which I was a part found itself caught in the crossfire between a group of mercenaries and a group of Angolan soldiers.
As the red tracers streaked above our heads I prayed hard that I would not die.

There are no atheists in foxholes

In order for a man to willingly fight for his country he must firstly believe in his country.
In order for a man to be willing to die for his country he must believe that some reward will await him in the hereafter.
He must, therefore believe in a hereafter.

There are no atheists in foxholes

An atheist knows the value of his own life – finite and singular, not to be wasted or spent unwisely on causes that serve none but the powerful.

Iraq. Drugs. Islam. Terrorism. Afghanistan. The Future, North Korea. Hope. Nine years into the 21st century and the West has declared war on just about everything, and ,here in Britain at least, there is strong pressure to conform to the rituals of remembrance of those killed in war, as if war itself is inevitable and the heroic and patriotic fallen are the price we must pay.
The system applies social guilt in order to make it obligatory to wear a poppy, 2 minute silences are observed in workplaces and schools across the country – all while daily doses of dead soldiers are splashed across the pages of the press.
What is it that we are being asked to remember?
The dead soldiers?
The heroism and patriotism of those dead soldiers?
How can we honour those who died in those wars while standing beside the warmongers who continue to continue to glorify war itself?
These hollow men who tell us that the wars we are fighting are just, are for the good of those being slaughtered, for democracy, would have us believe that to die for one’s country makes us heroes; valiant and brave.
Should we not be remembering those politicians, kings and the industry that profits most from war?
Should we not, on these ceremonies of remembrance, be making personal pledges not to involve ourselves with the patriotic politics and fanatical religion of war-mongering?

If I had died that night in 1980, I would have died in fear, for a lie, begging to a God that does not exist; and for what? South Africa is no longer run by those vicious god-fearing bastards who filled our heads with the belief that our white skins make us superior, who felt no remorse in raping their black slaves after spending their Sabbath in righteous prayer, who quoted the bible in justification for all their hatred and prejudice.
If I had died in 1980, I would not have died an atheist.

Thankfully I am no longer a god-fearing man.

There are no atheists in foxholes

Pisces Iscariot: atheist and armchair anarchist


Blood on Their Hands


In the UK Remembrance Day is also called as Poppy Day, inaugurated to mark the end of the World War 1 in 1918.

November is the month when people remember the millions of lives lost in the battle of right against wrong."

So said the Belfast Newsletter in an editorial last week, concluding that we should all "wear our poppy with pride."

The editorial spelt out what it is we should be proud of.

"Our servicemen and women are still doing their duty in far-off lands around the world...Military personnel based in Northern Ireland have just returned from the war in Afghanistan, where the battle is being fought up close and personal. They know the cost of serving their country."

And so, too, in many cases, do distraught families left behind. The question is, should we contemplate this vista with pride? Should we concur in the implicit message of the poppy that it is sweet and fitting for young men or women from Ballymena or Ballymagroarty to bleed their last by the roadside in some dusty corner of a distant land?
Is what's happening in Helmand "a battle of right against wrong"? Was the relentless pressure for displays of the poppy in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Sunday an expression of ethical idealism?

All the dead of the Afghan war should, of course, be remembered. And it should be remembered, too, that the vast majority of the fallen are Afghanis. But pride? Ought they not rather be remembered with anger? Just as we should recall the unnumbered dead of World War One not with reverence but with rage? Then, as now, young people fresh-faced from school were flung to their death like fistfuls of chaff for no cause that any working-class person had an interest in. The millions died so a tiny elite could rule the waves and rob the world.

The purpose of the poppy is to sentimentalize this slaughter, to conceal a crime against humanity under a cloak of soft emotion. It has become fashionable in the last 15 years to project World War One, and in particular the stomach-churning carnage at the Somme, as an event around which Irish Catholics and Protestants, Nationalists and Unionists, might come together in sombre unity. Did not Orange and Green stand and fight and die together? Can we not find a sense of oneness now in consecrating ourselves to that memory? Many leaders of Nationalism North and South seem increasingly to agree, and to prize their allocated places in the valedictory ensembles.

In fact, in World War One, Catholics and Protestants alike were treated like dirt and trampled into the mud. The only good reason regularly to recall these horrors is to stiffen our resolve that they must never happen again. There's a thought we could usefully unite around. But Remembrance Day and the poppy, as the Newsletter contentedly noted, is not about ending the insanity and suffering of useless war but about taking pride in past wars so as to prepare the way for the wars of the future.

The English comedian Jimmy Carr landed himself in bother last week with a joke about amputees returned from Afghanistan ensuring British success in future paralympics. Not in the best of taste, right enough. But nowhere near as insulting to the dead and maimed of Britain's imperial adventures as the splashes of crimson on the lapels of political bosses who have drunk deep on the red wine of the battlefield.

Thinking of the latest British deaths in Afghanistan, my mind turned to Peter Brierley, the Yorkshire man whose son, Shaun, died in southern Iraq in March 2003 and who, at the memorial service in St. Paul's last month, turned away from Tony Blair, telling him, "I'm not shaking your hand, you've got blood on it". And to Lance Corporal Joe Glenton from Norwich, facing court martial for refusing to return to fight in Afghanistan. And to Siegfried Sassoon, poet, captain in the Royal Welch Fusilers and winner of the Military Cross, whose "A Soldier's Declaration" in July 1917 earned him the wrath of the war-mongers and the respect of all who love life:

"I am making this statement as an act of willful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.

"I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow-soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

"I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust."

Eamonn McCann can be reached at
Originally published at Counterpunch


Neil Young ~ Thrasher


the walking man said...

Brother the fighting is but the tip of the berg. The causes and rationale for war is the 7/8ths of the iceberg hidden beneath the waves.

We could blow the horns of nationalism and say the reason was this or the cause that, but we both know the published bleats are simply to turn the herd in the desired directions dictated by them who have the most to profit through the violence of war.

The chicken-hawks who have no idea of the blood of a comrade splattering on my face nor will ever send their children off to do what they themselves would never do for themselves. My children are expendable they say.

I honor in humility every veteran no matter their reason for going to fight but despise always them that sent them out. Including the deluded pastors who have the temerity to say "We go in the name of God." Terrorists all.

While not an atheist by any means I willingly link my arm to yours in this fight for freedom to know the truth. To see that hidden 7/8ths that will maybe, just maybe turn the sheep back to humans with eyes wide open.

In my eye this is the best, clearest thing you have written that I have read and I applaud you for it.

Be Well

Yodood said...

War is the hell from which the unkilled return unalive to the righteousness they fought to preserve, the homeland never worth defending ever again.

War is the hell to which the newborn are sent unaware of the mendacity they are to preserve for generations to come.

Harnett-Hargrove said...

Well said, well taken. I do always come back to the question of... why would anyone want their son sent off to kill others' sons? -J

Harlequin said...

I applaud the unflinching honesty here; what is remembrance and for what is it used, whose and what purposes does it serve.... not only for solace, such as it can ever suffice, but to remind how this keeps happening again, again, again...
I have no military or conscripted context out of which to howl my horror, yet I will howl my horror in any ways I can.
thank you

Pisces Iscariot said...

Walking Man: Thanks for your words :)
My experience of military life instilled in me a strong disrespect for authority. As you say - we need to look at what goes on at the top of government to understand how the shit goes down - The Nationalist government in South Africa had a firm grip on what it means to keep their population under the thumb while at the same time destabilising its neighbours with the overt approval (and part financing) of that Nobel Peace prize winner Kissinger.
All strings connect.

Yodood: war is a dirty joke played on the sentiments of the faithful and docile public.

Jayne: Who indeed? In the case of South Africa, 2 years National service was compulsary and conscientious objection was punishable with 4 years imprisonment in a military jail - hard labour. The other alternative was to join the police - no choice.

Harlequin: howl away - the more noise we make the better.

Jimmy Bastard said...

A lot of good men fell for their country, not all of on foreign shores. I'll not go down this particular road any further, politics tends to get people killed.

Pisces Iscariot said...

Jimmy: exactly!

ArtSparker said...

Don't know if you know of Ernest Becker's work. He was working on the idea, when he died, an atheist to the last, that war is a mechanism whereby old men attempt to attain immortality by sacrificing young men.

I also remember taking around an anti-war petition in the vietnam era, and knocking on the house of a woman who had lost her son, who told me that if she signed the petition, it would mean her son's death had meant nothing.

Pisces Iscariot said...

ArtSparker: I haven't heard of Ernest Becker before but will definitely look into it - The "wasted sacrifice" argument is still used here in Britain.

Twisted Branch said...

Brilliant post on view from the treetops. You've cut right to the heart of it. As a Buddhist and fellow armchair anarchist I can understand how the masses swallow the propaganda pill without even a chaser to wash it down. Yet it still boggles the mind sometimes the horrors our conditioned minds will condone.

JeffScape said...

That's insane! I'm a vet, myself... a guy I used to work with in the film industry was a Recce in the South African special forces. He's a bit aloof at times, but I can see his perspective in yours.

I, too, agree... there ARE atheists in foxholes.

Pisces Iscariot said...

Twisted Branch: There is a large amount of responsibilty that has to be bourne by us as parents for ensuring that the conditioning does not stick.

JeffScape: ah yes the recces - I'll say no more for fear of recriminations.
My arguement here is that, by definition, there are unlikely to be atheists in foxholes.

zoe said...

so incredibly well-said...

here in the us, next to the yard signs proclaiming support "for our troops" are the signs listing the ten commandments, one of which, bizarrely enough, is "thou shalt not kill."

Pisces Iscariot said...

zoe: a contradiction that appears not to confuse the faithful fodder, merely the sceptical: we who have been infected by the devil's questioning.

Moineau En France said...

wow, this certainly rang right through my blood and bones. my son is going through this now and arriving at the same conclusions after 10 yrs in the navy and the initial attack on iraq from a frigate that supported one of the major aircraft carriers.

thank you from the bottom of my heart for this personal essay. i know that that week must play in your head during times you wish you were thinking other thoughts... so good to write this out. and your conclusions? spot on, dear poet.

thank you for your "armchair anarchy". bisous de provence, cher frère. xooxox