Armistice Day: Peace under tension and hypocrisy

More than 18 million people died during the four years that World War I lasted, killed by new and more effective methods of killing fellow humans that were invented by the warmongers

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

 Let’s face it: the world has been at war ever since man made his appearance on the stage. It’s said that two’s company and three’s a crowd. No: three’s politics, and that means war – again according to a saying that politics is war by other means. And so, it seems, till the end of times we are destined to be locked in both, which are one and the same thing with different but similar faces.

If the French hadn’t surrendered to the British in 1810 we probably would have been singing La Marseillaise on national days and on the occasion of Armistice Day here – since it is likely that the French would have been in favour of the movement for an association with the colonial power rather than independence from it. So we’d have ended up being like Reunion or some other overseas territory of France, DOM or TOM (‘Départements d’Outre Mer – Territoires d’Outre Mer’).

As it is, our farsighted leaders decided that we would not to be a peuple assisté, as our next-door neighbours are frequently referred to, and therefore we wrenched our independence and wrote our own national anthem. Before that, though, we used to sing ‘God Save the Queen’, which contained the lines ‘Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves’ as a crescendo towards the end. Until 1968, when the Union Jack was lowered at Champ de Mars and the Mauritian quadricolour raised in its place.

As a little boy in primary school in the first half of the 1950s, I remember how I and my fellow pupils used to be made to learn the British national anthem, which we sang on Empire Day. We were given a circular badge in three colours: red, blue and white, which we pinned to our shirt on the left side above or over the pocket if my memory serves me right, served lemonade and gâteau francais (French pastry), and then accompanied by our teachers we walked in Indian file to the Town Hall in Curepipe from our school – the present Hugh Otter Barry school, then known as Curepipe-Road Church of England Aided School. What I remember was the big crowd as we were joined by pupils and teachers from other schools, and then at some stage the chorus of ‘Rule Britannia…’

Innocent that we were, we didn’t know that courtesy a ‘naked fakir’, as Winston Churchill who was British Prime Minister during World War II ridiculed Mahatma Gandhi, the sun had already begun to set rather rapidly on the British Empire…

All peoples and countries of the world find themselves in situations driven by historical events and forces many of which are not of their making. Armistice Day is one such occasion which we commemorate in remembrance of soldiers who were killed during the two World Wars that took place in the last century. This year it was a particularly significant one because it was exactly one century ago that armistice was arrived at. That was on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (November) in 1918.

World War 1 officially ended when an agreement (known as an armistice) was signed by Germany and the Allies. This date is therefore known as Armistice Day, and is still commemorated each year when people wear paper poppies to remember those who fought and died in conflicts around the world – the pretty red flowers were the only things that grew on the bloody battlefields of Western Europe. Incidentally, we also used to wear these flowers on Armistice Day when we were in school, using the quite common coquelicot flower that grew in our garden.

It was supposed to be a war that would end all wars but, sadly, 21 years later in September 1939 World War II broke out. Mauritian soldiers too fought and died in both wars, and this is within the living memory of at least some Mauritians. My own father was recruited in the British army; in fact I was born when he was away in service on the front. I remember him recounting me some incidents that he was involved in, including one night in Kenya when he and his companions had to sleep in a cemetery on tombs.

He still had some of the paraphernalia of war, such as a khaki uniform, stockings, a whistle, etc. When I joined the Boy Scouts he gave me the whistle, and a few times he enacted the gestures that as a soldier he used to perform on parade, including a simulation of how he used to hold his gun, aim and fire. No need to say that this was very impressive to the growing lad that I was, and as a result I took great pride in our own Boy Scouts parades which were, well, military-like. Without surprise, since the founder of the Boy Scouts movement, Lord Baden-Powell, had himself been involved in the Boer War in South Africa.

But lest we forget, more than 18 million people died during the four years that World War I lasted, killed by new and more effective methods of killing fellow humans that were invented by the warmongers. It was described as ‘a new type of war’, because it was very different from conflicts of the past. For the first time, powerful new weapons and vehicles were used – at sea, on land and in the air. In Britain, it is reported, you could sometimes hear what sounded like thunder coming across the English Channel from Europe. In fact, it was the huge boom of big guns, called artillery, being fired on the Western Front. 75% of all men who died in that war were killed by artillery. For the first time tanks were used in combat, as well as paralyzing nerve gas invented by the Germans.

Because of its significance as a centenary commemoration, the leaders of the major powers that had fought in World War I gathered in the French capital Paris for the occasion. It may have been a pretty photo-op occasion for them and for those watching the ceremony, but it is one that hides many ugly realities. As Finian Cunningham, writing in The Duran on November 12 wrote, in an article he titled ‘World War I Homage – A Triumph of Lies and Platitudes’, highlighted, ‘The unilateral, lawless imperialism that engendered World War I and 20 years later World War II is still alive and dangerously vigorous.

Some extracts from that article will help to open our eyes to the darker aspects of that Remembrance Day.

Thus, ‘world leaders gathered in Paris on Sunday under the Arc de Triomphe to mark the centennial anniversary ending World War I. In an absurd way, the Napoleon-era arc was a fitting venue – because the ceremony and the rhetoric from President Emmanuel Macron was a “triumph” of lies and platitudes.

‘Macron’s address to the dignitaries was supposed to be a call for international multilateralism. He urged a “brotherhood” for the cause of world peace. He also made a pointed rebuke of “nationalism” as posing a danger to peace – a remark which seemed aimed at Donald Trump who recently boasted of his politics with that very word.

‘The speechifying and commemoration was completely detached from current realities of conflict and international tensions.

‘There was, of course, no mention by Macron of imperialist warmongering and the barbaric sacrifice of humans as slaves in the service of national capitalist power interests.

‘Grotesquely, as the world leaders donned solemn faces and mouthed pious platitudes for peace, the whole occasion was a triumph in burying reality and the ongoing causes of wars, as well as whitewashing the very culprits responsible for wars.

‘While the empty, self-indulgent rhetoric was ringing out, one couldn’t help but recall some of the most glaring contemporary contradictions that were blocked out with awesome Orwellian efficiency.

‘As Macron was telling world leaders about “the vision of France”, hundreds were being killed in Yemen in a battle to strangle the entire population by taking the port city of Hodeida. The genocidal war on that country – which is putting up to 16 million people at risk from starvation – has been fully backed by France, the US and Britain, from their supply of warplanes and bombs to the Saudi and Emirati aggressive forces.’

He concludes by saying that ‘when the culprits indulge in a triumph of bullshit then we also know that the world is once again in very grave danger’.

Chilling words indeed, and it looks like no amount of armistice celebration will be able to avert the ever- present risk of further wars.

* Published in print edition on 16 November 2018

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