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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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