Poppycock

Recently Foreign and Defence Ministers from France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain met in Paris and issued a joint communiqué calling for the European Union to develop a new “military structure" to oversee operations beyond its territory. The aim of such a structure would be, they said “to hold available, train, deploy and sustain in theatre the necessary civilian and military means" to meet a variety of situations.  These would include combating piracy and “Islamists” in Somalia, offering support to, for example, to the armed forces of Mali in dealing with rebels in the country’s troubled north, and providing assistance to Libya  in combating, once again, those “Islamists”.

The fact that piracy off the coast of Somalia initially arose because EU-based ships had emptied the seas of fish, or the documented brutality of the NATO-installed regime in Libya, or that the current Malian government came to power as a result of a coup d’état against its democratically elected predecessor are of no concern, apparently.  The EU needs well-trained, well-armed and ever-ready soldiers to achieve, also, “normalisation of the Western Balkans” (whatever that means), to aid "conflict resolution" in Georgia, and provide “police training” in Afghanistan.

To achieve these ends, a whole range of killing devices, including those operating from space, pilotless “drones”, and ballistic missile defence systems will have to be “pooled” to ease pressure on budgets.  According to the communiqué, the EU “should be and able and willing to shoulder its responsibilities in areas where security interests and values are at stake.”  To this end, providing “security and stability” where it is “operationally engaged” as well as “launching new crisis management missions and operations” are “concrete and indispensable“. Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski is even less subtle, going  on record as saying that "if the EU wants to become a superpower, and Poland supports this, then we must have the capability to exert influence” and that it might sometimes be necessary to “use force to back our diplomacy."

It is said that to a person with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. It’s just as true to say that to a country (or bloc) which invests greatly in its armed forces when it has no real enemies, every problem looks like it should have a military solution.

So the fact that the EU is dependent on Russia for a large chunk of its energy supplies means that ‘we’ need a stronger NATO and a stronger EU military force, rather than encouraging respectful negotiations with a neighbouring power. Piracy, to take another example, must be answered with overwhelming force, rather than by addressing the reasons why people are driven to this form of crime, which in reality is an entirely rational choice when all alternative means of livelihood have been destroyed.

Of course, not all member states are equally enthusiastic. Britain, for one, is less than keen on these plans. Don’t imagine for one minute, however, that David Cameron’s government is standing in the way of total militarisation of the EU out of some peace-loving instinct. On the contrary, the only point of their vetoing the development of a more aggressive military force was to keep the anti-EU Tories on board.  These Tories are the same people, remember, who have cheered on every British imperialist adventure since they first crawled out of the swamp. The government of the United Kingdom is fully committed to militarism.

This is shown by the way in which they, like their predecessors, have transformed Britain’s Remembrance Day, poisoning the nation’s traditional honouring of the men and women who died in two world wars. The first of these wars sent millions to their deaths in a struggle to secure markets for an expanding industrial capitalism. The men, women and children who died should be remembered as victims of a ruthless machine dedicated to the accumulation of capital via profit. Those who gave their lives in World War Two died not in a purely national struggle, but one upon which the entire future of humanity depended. The vast majority of the men who died in uniform on all sides were conscripts, people who before the war were unlikely to have had any desire to learn how to kill and maim their fellow human beings.

Most people on the left in Britain have always had mixed feelings about Remembrance Day, and some wear a white poppy as an anti-war protest, though to do that now would be to expose yourself to abuse and even violence. Others argue that it is indeed important to remember those who died fighting Nazism, whatever their nationality, and those who were sent to their slaughter in the service of empire and profit in World War One.

Since the British army launched a propaganda assault to erode its unpopularity, however, the atmosphere surrounding the poppy has changed.  Now,  'to the dead of two world wars' is routinely added 'and those who have died serving their country in armed conflicts since'. This is a clear response to the continuing unpopularity of the Iraqi and Afghan wars.

Worse still, everyone and anyone appearing on TV has to wear one.  Jon Snow, who hosts a news and current affairs programme on commercial television, refused to wear one, saying that he did not disagree that remembering the war dead was important, but that he would not be forced to do so in this particular way.

The hypocrisy and cant involved in all of this is typical of what has become of British public life. Cameron even wore a poppy in Parliament while defending British arms sales to the brutal dictatorships of the Gulf.

Every football match of the slightest importance is accompanied by displays of marching soldiers. The team I have supported since boyhood renamed one of their stands 'The Yorkshire Regiment Stand' for the evening of a big game. Fortunately, this is unlikely to be made permanent, as when we return triumphantly to the Premier League, the stand could well attract sponsorship. That should trump sentiment, all right.

To fail to approve all of this and cheer the essentially absurd marching displays would again be to expose yourself to abuse and violence.  James  McClean, an Irishman from Derry, a city until recently occupied by the British army, has received death threats for declining to wear the poppy on his shirt. In 1972, British soldiers murdered thirteen unarmed people demonstrating for civil rights for Catholics in the six counties of North of Ireland governed from London. It would be strange indeed if he were to celebrate the force responsible for this, and the emphasis on ‘all conflicts since’ means that would be unavoidable.

The argument that one thing the British people – and many others - were fighting for during six long years within the living memory of Europe’s oldest citizens was precisely the right of free expression carries, apparently, no weight.  So while the latest winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace continues its drive to become a warlike empire, Britain’s own militarists are hard at work ensuring that their country’s own imperialist tradition remains, unlike so many millions of its victims, alive and well.