Friday, 4 November 2016

Poppers O'clock

When you live in a foreign country you quickly realise that your home nation is a weird place with odd traditions.  Guy Fawkes night is a good example.  Here in Switzerland we celebrate August 1st as the day that marks the first political union of Swiss Cantons.  The day ends with fireworks going off all across the country.  Swiss people can afford advanced pyrotechnics so this can be quite a spectacular and noisy affair.  It's a bit like Guy Fawkes night with the exception that it doesn't involve burning the effigy of a religious assassin who was brutally tortured before accidentally falling to his death on the steps of the hangman's scaffold.   The good people of Zurich somehow find it in their hearts to just enjoy the bangs and whizzes without the macabre back story.  It takes some effort but it can really be that simple.

I always win this game when I play it in Bern.
What else is weird?  Armistice Day.  Seriously, that is completely messed up.  I'd be happy for an annual reminder of how bloody horrible war can be if it meant that the UK stopped getting involved in horrible, bloody wars.  I don't need to be reminded that war is bad because the country listed on my passport is permanently at war somewhere with somebody:  the Greek Civil War,  the Malayan Emergency,  Korea, Suez, Aden, Falklands, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria.  Right now we're not technically at war in Yemen but we're doing everything we possibly can short of pressing the trigger. I don't think Armistice day is doing much good if its purpose is to stop us going to war.

Is this messed up enough for you?
What is the real purpose of Armistice Day?  I don't honestly know but I do think it a bit odd that it is only really commemorated in the Commonwealth.  You won't find anyone wearing a poppy in Munich or Zurich or Innsbruck.  There is no minute's silence in Begrenz. Is that because they've truly learned the lesson that war is bloody horrible and don't need an annual reminder?  I'm led to the suspicion that Armistice Day is an indulgence for the victorious.  A solemn parade of retired soldiers lends an air of nobility to something that is actually properly dreadful.  Without that air of nobility it might just be a bit harder to carry on going to war.  It might also be a bit harder to recruit the next generation of soldiers.  Victorious armies, after all, are bound to just carry on doing what they do best.  Is that what it's all about?  Is it effectively a recruitment and marketing campaign for the military?  Is the aim to lend a sense of purpose and solemnity to the war machine in order to lure teenagers away from their games consoles and snapchat sessions?  Not just the teenagers, obviously, but their parents, their teachers, and their neighbours.  Everyone needs to sign up for this to work.  Tell me I'm wrong.

How about this?  Is this messed up enough for you?
I like living in a country that doesn't go to war.  It means I don't have to bother explaining to anyone why I don't wear a poppy.  What exactly is that about?  Obviously, I do know the point of the Haig Fund.  I'm not completely stupid, you know.  I'm really asking why we raise money for soldiers who were involved in recent wars long after the years of conscription and compulsory military service.  Why do we do that?  Why?  If we are going to be permanently at war why doesn't the army just start an insurance scheme?  I am completely serious on that point.  Get the actuaries involved and work it all out with maths.  The modern army, after all, is a profession.  It should start behaving like one. There's really no need for any of this standing around in the freezing cold selling miniature plastic flowers for random amounts of loose change.  Just call up an actuary and cost it out.  It really is that simple. Do they buy their weapons with the same lack of attention?  Maybe they do. Who knows?

You're probably swearing at your computer screen about this mad loony lefty Terry Entoure.  Lock up the traitor!  Censor his vile words!  Well, I'm not really a lefty at all.  I'm actually a big believer in personal responsibility.  That's one of the things I really like about Switzerland.  In general, the people of Switzerland have a strong sense of personal responsibility.  Quite often that requires being forearmed with insurance.  If my flat goes on fire I have insurance.  If I lose my job I have insurance.  If I drop a piano on someone's foot I'm not to be sued into bankruptcy because, you've guessed it,  I have insurance for that too. I'm meandering now but my point is that soldiering is a profession and professionals should be responsible for their actions.  Nobody forces a civilian to join the army.  Nobody forces a solider to go to war.  Nobody forces a solider at war to stay there.  Every risk they take is a professional risk.  In the main, I have no doubt about their professionalism but only up to the point when they leave the army or get injured.  At that point, their profession becomes amateurish.  Surely the pattern is clear now.  Retired soldiers have a long history of needing extra help.  Soldiers who have been to war need even more post-career help.  Why has their industry not responded with a professional solution?  None of these problems are a surprise.  We've known about this since the foundation of the Haig Fund in 1921 but we've doggedly stuck to the philosophy of the workhouse.

How about this? Is this messed up enough for you?
Some professions are really quite odious, aren't they?  Entoure Snr had a friend whose son worked as a lawyer.  For a while his job was to apply legal sophistry in order to delay payouts to terminal emphysema sufferers who had contracted their disease from unwittingly breathing in asbestos dust. I could never do that for a living. I doubt I could sleep at night if I did. What about soldiers who have been to Iraq?  Or the pilots who bombed Libya?  They had access to all the information I had but somehow an uninformed idiot like me managed to work it out well in advance that these campaigns would not end well for the local population.  If I had been sent to Iraq I would have made it my highest high priority to work out if this was something I could morally support.  There's that personal responsibility again.  Maybe soldiers don't think about that.  Maybe they take a professional view of their task, just like that lawyer I mentioned earlier.  Does that make it better?  Does that absolve them of personal responsibility for what unfolded in Iraq?  I don't think it does.  Moreover, I think they're behaving quite a lot like that lawyer I mentioned earlier, while civilians caught up in the whole mess play the unlucky role of the terminal emphysema sufferers.   This is a deeply unpopular view but my empathy is always directed towards civilians caught up in war.  Their plight is more demanding of attention because they never had a choice.  They never had the opportunity to weight up the pros and cons (not that there are actually any pros to having your street shelled).  I'm always going to feel more for their situation because I'm able to put myself in their shoes far more easily than I can imagine being a soldier with a backpack of spare ammo and an earpiece for encrypted radio communications.  Despite that, I don't see any street campaigns with special privileges raising money to rebuild their homes or buy them artificial limbs. No, they're just left to get on with it without any help at all.

The worst part of Armistice Day is that nobody apart from swivel-eyed bloggers ever says any of this.  Right now, politicians of all parties are at serious risk of angina attack from their red-faced Armistice Day bluster.  They are furiously arguing that Armistice Day isn't political, each one louder than the last.  Of course Armistice Day is political.  It can't be anything but political.  Wars and armies and soldiers are driven entirely by politics and power.  Even the Swiss army, which is forbidden by constitution from ever operating outside the national borders, is political.  I think everyone is familiar with the idea that the winning side get to write history.  Nowadays, though, they also get to pretend that their actions were apolitical, that they were guided by the natural spirit of universal justice and truth.  It's only the losers that are stained by the ugly world of politics.  This kind of uncritical thinking starts wars.   In fact, wars are only made possible by that kind of uncritical thinking.

I'm led to the depressing conclusion that the only remaining force against war is the shock and awe of its financial cost.  I guess that's why nobody ever bothered to work it out.

Over and out,


PS Next post will be back to the usual boring EU blogging. What has Liam Fox been up to?  Stay tuned.


  1. In short:

    Britain has always been a warlike nation.

    It has enjoyed the warring, and sometimes (although not recently) the winning.

    Clearing up the mess, be it in the other country or at home, is rather less to its taste. Abroad it leaves chaos, civil war and terrorism in its wake.

    At home, thousands die and their wives (possibly now husbands) are offered a mean little pension. Many more are injured and are treated like dirt. They largely rely on the DWP, which is the most mean minded organisation this side of the KGB, and for actual benefits they rely on charity.

    It was ever thus and in 1922 the Earl Haig set up a fund to look after them. Every year they sell poppies to raise money.

    The people who send the men (and women) to war do their bit too.

    They turn out on November 11 (or the nearest Sunday thereto) and wear solemn black. They can afford special costumes all in black because they are very rich and privileged, you see. The women often wear black hats that cost more than it would cost to feed an injured man for a year. Likewise, black handbags don't come cheap at Gucci.

    Then when the standing around in the cold is over for the year they all go inside and have drinks and canapés at out expense.

    The most senior of them probably go back to Buckingham, Palace and get their luncheon from the taxpayer.

    Then on Monday the serious business is back on the agenda. Stop their sickness benefits, the scroungers, and sell some more weapons to dictators, cause more conflict, get involved when instructed to by the USA... you can see where it's going.

    The tabloid newspapers weep silent tears over the dead.

    But not for long before it's back to bashing foreigners, scroungers and judges who have the temerity top interpret British/English constitutional law and save the prats from red faces when they trigger Articles that it may be illegal to trigger (depending on what the Supreme Court says).

    In the meantime wear a poppy or you're a traitor. Just like the judges, really.

    Till next year.

    Where is Guy Fawkes when you need him?

  2. Oh dear... that wasn't as short as I thought. OK, correction to the first line.

    In long:

  3. Long is always better in my book. It's a long book:)

    Guy Fawkes probably isn't what the Daily Mail have in mind but they're just one step from promoting insurrection.

    I do wish the UK would stop going to war. It's without doubt the single most important reason that I support an independent Scotland. Syria was the final intimation of madness. First we should bomb Assad, then a year later it had switched to Assad's enemies in order to protect Assad. When it became clear that we didn't remote understand the ultimate goals of Assad's enemies or their multiple intertwined struggles it didn't fluster the calls for bombing raids. Just bomb something. Anything.

    I always tell people I'm Scottish rather than British. 25 years ago I saw the distinction as mainly geographic. Not now.

  4. Completely agree.

    Always a war. Always a justification for the 4th largest military spend in the world.

    Always done without proper consideration of all the facts, but, as you say Syria takes the cake.

    Bloody idiots.

    I've been saved from trouble a few times by pointing out that "je suis écossais, non pas anglais!"

    They seem to like us a lot better than the Brits.

    1. The best thing is when you meet someone who doesn't know that much about Scotland. You can tell them anything you like!


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