War! What is it Good For?

Dave Evans

This was originally written Autumn 2000 while at a Southern English university as a mature student, in response to hearing some serious and nauseating whingeing about how the poor unfortunate 'normal age' students had (gasp!) "morning" lectures all week, the beer wasn't subsidised enough, they thought the new Radiohead CD was crap, there were too many XXXX (the abusive racial term used is deleted here) on campus and life was just hell. This was intended to offer some perspective for them, via the campus magazine. Now such racism and xenophobia is even more pertinent for this site - occult e-book articles are being translated into French via the efforts of our dear friend Willy F at EzoOccult, and this could well spread into other languages. If we are able to talk as a species, then there is less chance we will fight. In any case, nationalist xenophobia has no place in the occult world, or indeed anywhere else. This was written before Sept 11th, and has not been altered to account for that, all I have done is changed some tenses.

It is also a highly personal article, and the much-missed and loved subject would have been 82 in mid-April. Please forgive this indulgence.

Each Autumn, towns and villages everywhere in Europe mark Remembrance Day. Remembering what, exactly?

Well, 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month was when the first World War ended, but the time and date were adopted well afterwards, and now used to mark a ceremony of remembrance for the dead of all wars. It's no coincidence that it is close to Hallowe'en, the traditional time for remembering those passed over.

There has been much public debate in the last few years about whether the event actually glorifies war, and so now you have a choice of ignoring the thing altogether, not buying a poppy at all, buying a red one (proceeds going to help needy ex-services people) or a white one (proceeds going to peace movements). So what does all this actually mean in the 21st Century? Surely it's just boring old history, you need only learn a few dates for an essay at school and then simply forget about it?

I would like to share with you the story of Tom.

Tom was born in 1920, in a very small village around 40 miles from London. He grew up during the great depression and left school at 14 to learn a trade. At 18; the age when the original intended readers of this will have just been starting Uni, Tom joined the army, along with just about everyone he knew in the village.

In 1918 it had been said that the horror that was now over had been the last war between Nations. It was not, and once again political gesturing was escalating towards another full-blown conflict. It happened; worse than before.

Tom fought in North Africa for four years, and was then sent into Normandy on D-Day, riding in a Horsa Glider. These things were basically a quickly-built square plywood box with wings and were notoriously unstable in the air, very slow (thus an easy target for fighter planes and anti-aircraft guns on the ground) and awfully prone to break up when returning to earth. The potential landing grounds had been largely booby-trapped with tight cables and wooden stakes to destroy the gliders on landing. Many of Tom's friends had not made it as far as Normandy, and many more didn't get off the beaches alive. Tom did. It took me years to work out why he didn't like flying anywhere on holiday, then I saw video footage of a Horsa self-destructing on attempting to land. Obvious really, his last experience of flying had been in something like that; and while being shot at. He fought on, and on, and on, and was involved in the liberation of Paris. Then into the Low Countries and on to Berlin and the eventual end of the war in Europe in 1945.

The war took up six years of Tom's life. Six years in which he would otherwise have been a professional sportsman (having been offered a contract in 1938 by both Arsenal as a footballer and Middlesex as a cricketer) with potential to represent his country as a full international player. At eighteen he should also have been a university student, easily having the academic ability; but back in those days there was very little chance of this for someone of his social class/background; unless there was a very generous benefactor to be found. In the years after the great depression these were few, and far between.

So without any room for regret at these lost opportunities Tom returned to civilian life, and his trade. He married, had children; and eventually grandchildren. He played amateur sport to an exceptional standard until he was in his late 'fifties. As the years passed by, fewer and fewer of his army colleagues were surviving, and fewer still were able to attend Remembrance Day parades. In January 2000 Tom died, after fighting a long illness and just short of his 80th birthday. He survived all that war could throw at him, and lived to see (relative) peace in Europe and a very different world from that in which he grew up. He also lived to see both his younger son and grand-daughter attend University, which circumstance never allowed to do himself. One of the last journeys he was well enough to make was to see a university graduation ceremony. He is survived by very, very few of his army colleagues.

World War 2 ended 57 years ago. So, by definition, anyone who was in it as an adult will now be around 75 years old as a minimum. That means that in 5-10 years time there will be a tiny few alive who were actually 'there'. In twenty years there may be none. There is no way you will be able to know what it was actually like; not knowing from one day to the next whether you will live or die; not knowing when the war would end, or IF it would, seeing your friends cut down around you, rationing etc. But try to empathise. Forgetting the 'whys' allows the possibility that it could all happen again.

Attend the memorial services if you will; or observe the minute's silence in private, but all with respect; prepare to be deeply moved and gain a sense of valuable perspective. You are lucky in so many ways; you are not spending your formative years in a war, not being in that area is the chance of a lifetime, and you live in a world of choices that millions before you died for. Just look at any war memorial and see all those names- often all the men and women of entire families were wiped out; never to return, never see their children grow up, never see grandchildren. Nothing. Small villages were often decimated, losing over half their young men and women as a result of short-sighted policies that insisted all men from a village would be in the same company of a regiment…. And entire companies were often lost in minutes at the Somme and Ypres in the first war. Try to think what that would mean to your local community today.

One last point. This is, thankfully, now an international and multi-cultural society. Remembrance in the UK is not an anti-German (or anti-Japanese, or anti-Italian) thing. It's not about 'who won'. Looking back from this distance it is arguable whether anyone can 'win' a war. People of all nations mourn their war dead for the same, human and personal reasons; and the 'opposing' peoples in the war were equally screwed by their politicians, and suffered just as much as anyone of any other nationality. For example, you can't conceive how many Russians died in WW2, both troops and civilians. Go look it up somewhere, it's one of those 'telephone number' type statistics that defies belief.

There is a very moving plaque in the Italian Army Cemetery near Alexandria in Egypt, part of which translates (roughly), as 'We lacked not courage, only luck'. Nothing there about ideology or any words carved against the 'enemy'; simply an honest statement about the men and women buried there; and one which would apply to all victims from all countries.

I have many friends from various nationalities; as did Tom. His delight at England winning the world football cup in 1966 had nothing to do with any anti-German martial feelings. I've lived on a multi-national floor in university halls, and not for the first time. It's not a problem, in fact I welcome it, and miss it now. Wars are between politicians and leaders, not the expendable troops on the ground. I have been to Remembrance Day events where members of formerly 'opposing' armies were present, as respected, invited and very welcome guests. The whole point is that inter-national and inter-ethnic hatred CREATES wars. World War Two is over, despite what morons at England-Germany football matches may still sing.

We are all children of a world that saw this war, and as such it is a part of us. Remember, respect and be grateful. I've deliberately not included any web links in this piece- you'll find all you need with ease if you search the net.

For Tom


(Tom's son, and forever proud to be so)