ALMOST A MILLION HORSES WERE KILLED in World War I. HORSES! Imagine! Beautiful horses. Plus, of course, “half the seed of Europe one by one” (quoting First World War poet, Wilfred Owen). Although he read the relatively tamer “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, what Michael Palin did NOT read last night in the Festival Hall (and no doubt would not dare to do so, for fear of the outrage) was Owen’s more poignant and acerbic poem which concludes: “If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues — My friend, you would not tell with such high zest to children ardent for some desperate glory the old Lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”. Those last Latin words are a patriotic jingle calling the youth to war, translated as, “It is sweet and glorious to die for the fatherland”, which Owen rightly calls “The Old Lie”. Already, in his early 20s, as a poet in the trenches, he knew that it was all lies. He was killed at 25, just before the so-called “Armistice”.
Imagine if Palin had read “Dulce et Decorum Est” last night as a last-minute adjustment. He would have been hung, drawn and quartered! (Then you would find out just how little “freedom” had really been won in wars 😉). The romanticisation and reconstructionist narrative of World War 1 that we see in all the pomp of this weekend is a classic example of mind-control using highly-nuanced emotionalism as the weapon of choice. This is why the royalty, heads of state and trappings of government are so heavily involved in the faux-mourning that we observe on this day. They need you as pawns in their games — especially their wargames! What’s more, they need to foster the hideous illusion that to die in their manufactured wars is noble and wonderful.
I watch all the faux-pomp and studied-gravitas of yesterday and today with bewilderment. It makes out as if people gave their lives “for our freedom” — pretending they were all heroes, whereas in fact most were frightened shitless and lasted only five minutes before some wacko sergeant [who would shoot them if they didn’t] sent them “over the top” to their instant and inevitable deaths — when they were really just wasted cannon-fodder to preserve a class system (the elite and the rest of the rabble) and maintain a corrupt political status quo (false democracy). Then I realise how easy it is to cover up war crimes of gargantuan proportions (for that is what World War I was). This is why I often mention, in my own war poems, “the generals who sipped sherry on their garden-party lawns”. The only war criminals who get their just deserts are those few who the establishment wants to hang out to dry. The rest walk away scot-free and get plum jobs paying them six or seven figure salaries. Think of Tony Blair, Henry Kissinger, the Bush family, et al — though every US President, including Obama and the present incumbent, could be on that list of war criminals. People are so easily taken in by a Hollywood-style smile and smooth patter. That’s why they prefer the Obamas to the Trumps — yet both have presided over massacres and the prosecution of wars. And all the people do is vote for war criminals and then try and shame anyone who doesn’t. As the prophet Isaiah said: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil”.
How phenomenally ignorant we are about the reality of warmongering and other shenanigans. A winning smile, some faux-pomp and gravitas, a meaningless ritual at a monument, a false-flag threat, or some other emotional blackmail: That’s all it takes to inveigle us onto the state-run gravy train of war and armament profiteering. As a songwriter put it half a century ago: “War’s good business so give your son, and I’d rather have my country die for me” (Grace Slick, “Rejoyce”).
One hundred years later, we are no wiser but far more stupid. And the horses, the horses. Oh, the horses… 😢