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20th century, a century of war


George Anthony  remembers the victims of  a profitable business

It is either morbidity or subdued anger, but the slaughter of the First World 
War, with its 350 miles of trenches, from the Belgian coast to the Swiss 
border, has always had a fascination for me. Early on, the reading of "Lions 
led by Donkeys", "In Flanders fields", "Goodbye to all that", "First day of 
the Somme", seeing the play and then the film, "Oh, what a lovely war", 
visiting the Imperial war museum, and the first four lines of the Wilfred 
Owen poem, "Anthem for Doomed Youth", 
"What passing-bells for 
these who die as cattle? 
Only the monstrous anger of the guns. 
Only the stuttering rifles` rapid rattle, 
Can patter out their hasty orisons", 
has fed this fascination for years. And the Cenotaph in Whitehall with the 
Armistice commemoration there; for the establishment to shed crocodile tears, 
every November 11th, has kept it in my mind and everybody else's since that 
war ended 82 years ago.
I suppose it was the sheer size and apparent senselessness of it that is so 
overwhelming, even though it was so long ago.  Perhaps that's why it is still 
referred to as the Great War. A.J.P. Taylor, in one of his BBC television 
lectures, described it as war of attrition, saying, "That providing the 
French and British lost three and the Germans lost two, the Allies would 
win." No bows and arrows here, as at Crecy, Agincourt, and the Little Big 
Horn. No Waterloo, engaging a mere 140,000 professional soldiery, for only 
one day, leaving 62,000 dead. But a monstrous engagement, killing millions in 
no time at all.
There have been war's since of course, indeed the 20th century's main feature 
has been war on a frequent and huge scale, fought with ever increasing 
inhumanity with ever increasingly sophisticated weapons. 
Beginning the century with the Boer War, followed by the Russo/Japanese war, 
the Gulf  war, the French Indo-China war, the Russian Civil war, the 14 
countries war of intervention against the Soviet Union, the Spanish Civil 
war, the Mexican civil war, the Spanish/American Cuba war, the Liberia civil 
war, the Yemeni war, the Guatemalan war, the Nicaraguan war, the El 
Salvadoran war, the British Malayan war, the Kenya Mau Mau war, the Vietnam 
war, the Six Day Israeli/Egypt war, the Nagorno/Karabakh war, the 
Bougainville/Papua New Guinea war, the Burma civil war, the Khmer 
Rouge/Cambodia war, the Angola/Unita war, the Nigerian/Biafra war, the 
N.A.T.O. bombing of Serbia, the Afghanistan wars, the Falklands war, the 
Sudan war, the Ethiopia/Eritrea war, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, the 
Chinese Red Army/Kuomintang war, the Sino/India war, the Rwanda/Burundi civil 
war, the East Timor war of liberation, the Georgian civil war, the Guinea 
Bissau civil war, the Israel attack on South Lebanon, the Kashmir war of 
liberation, the Kosovo civil war, the Iran/Iraq war, the Chechnya civil war, 
the Tajikistan civil war, the Turkish war against the Kurds, the Uganda civil 
war, the Moluccas war of liberation, the Comoros civil war, the Turkish 
invasion of Cyprus, the Colombia liberation war, the Zapatista/Mexico 
liberation war, the Western Sahara liberation war, the Sierra Leone civil 
war, the Somalia civil war, the Sri Lanka/Tamil civil war and the Congo war, 
making 56 qualifying as war. With another 26 "nascent international armed 
conflicts", have in their different ways, demonstrated the Clausewitz dictum 
that "war is politics by other means". Attempts at conquest by one military 
power over another to maintain its hegemony, instead of by diplomacy and 
political struggle.
Young men and women, still see war as an adventure, but not on the scale of 
1914. Even then they had to be lied to, either that it would be all over by 
Christmas or, "Gott mitt Uns". Working conditions, long hours and miserable 
pay, with appeals to patriotism and defence of country, prompted millions 
between 1914 and 1918 to join up for King, Kaiser and "La Patria".
Even though, subsequently, there was something of a sea change in world 
mentality, the Russian October revolution, the Kiel naval mutiny, their own 
artillery shooting French mutineers and demob mutinies here at home, has not 
endured as long as the system which creates war. It did end the age of 
innocence they say, and did radicalise the international working class for a 
while. But within a mere 21 years, it engulfed even more countries, and still 
more millions died. And still the concept of war continues to dominate into 
the 21st century, with more countries with ever ready nuclear weapons, and 
the European Strike Force, allegedly part of the Maastricht Treaty, being 
installed by Blair`s Labour. Obsessed, among other killing machines, with 
Trident.
Such thoughts rushed through my mind as I searched the War Graves Commission 
web site for two uncles, who joined the army with no intention of entering 
the ranks of the "glorious dead." I found paternal uncle and namesake, 
Private George Anthony, resident of Stoke Newington and poulterers assistant 
at Smithfield Market, killed at the age of 19 years on either September 25th 
or 29th 1918, at the battle of  Villers-Guislain, near Cambrai. And maternal 
uncle, Gunner Freddie Fooks, resident of Clapton and plumbers mate who 
expired at the Falaise gap in Normandy, on August 15th 1944, aged 33 years.
I shed tears for these two young men, they probably had no idea what they 
were fighting for. But I also had a feeling of great anger; that they, like 
millions of others died in a slaughter of innocents. And still Capital, the 
creator of wars, survives. As the man said, "War is terrible, but it's also 
terribly profitable."?




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