David Cameron's letter to an unknown soldier glorifies the First World War
UK prime minister David Cameron uses his Letter to an Unkown Soldier to glorify WW1 and the slaughter of 15 million as a necessary sacrifice.
14-18 NOW is a major cultural programme taking place across the United Kingdom to mark the centenary of the First World War. It is seeking contributions for Letter to an Unknown Soldier, the aim of which is to create a new kind of memorial made by thousands of people. You can sign up to write your letter here.
You will be joining UK prime minister David Cameron. Predictably, from the man who said he wanted the First World War centenary to be a celebration like the Queen's Jubilee, his Letter to an Unknown Soldier seeks to justify the slaughter of at least 15 million people, including nearly a million British soldiers. It was a price worth paying "to make a better world":
After what you have seen no-one would blame you for asking why. No one would criticise you for feeling angy... But be in no doubt: however dark this time of war - our world would have been far darker if you had declined the call to act ...From your toil and sacrifice there will be a better world ... Your bravery will never be forgotten. Your name - and the names of your fellow servicemen - will be celebrated on memorials ... across the land.
Cameron admits there have been "yet more unthinkable horrors along the way" to "a better world". But now, he says, as a result of "your bravery and selfless determination" we "enjoy a peace in Europe".
Among the "horrors" in Europe that Cameron fails to mention are the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, the Holocaust and the Balkan wars.
Nor does he mention that from the Middle East to Vietnam, from Africa to Central America, the defining feature of the last 100 years has been perpetual war across the globe.
Not a word,of course, about the countless wars in which Britain has sent its armed forces to kill and be killed in other people's countries, including the disasters of the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And No mention that last year Cameron was only stopped from taking Britain into another military intervention opposed by the majority of people in this country, when the almost unique action of MPs in parliament voted against the bombing of Syria.
Nor would you know from Cameron's letter that European nations are again mobilizing for war in Ukraine.
No Glory's pages have numerous articles countering Cameron's glorification of the First World War - including by Seumas Milne, who says it was a savage industrial slaughter perpetrated by a gang of predatory imperial powers, and ex-soldier Joe Glenton, who says politicians rebranding the first world war are trading on the backs of the war dead.
Harry Patch, who was the last surviving UK soldier from the 1914-18 trenches - dying in 2009 at the age of 111 - summed up the First World War as "legalised mass murder":
To me, it's a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn't speak?
It is therefore fitting that Harry Patch should be the recipient of a Letter to an Unknown Soldier written by Jan Woolf of the No Glory campaign.
Dear Harry, my dearest boy
For you are still my boy – no? Watching you leave like a man pulled at the very centre of me, it was as if you'd just been born, needing my protection like no other time, but there you were, marching off with your big boots and steps looking so brave. I fancy my words won't come out right, not like your da's chipping away at his stone, always just so. But I'm going to try. Harry, you will see things no other soldier has – not even your granda' fighting the Boers, and I hope you will come out of it caring for life as ever you did. You were – are – such a kind and life loving boy –
and there will be other life loving boys on the other side, who mas worry just the same. I pray God you don't kill any of them - censored.
If you are hurt you must imagine my hand on your forehead, whispering you better, and know that there is a little space inside you filled with my love. Then there is the fondness of that lass Ada that you met at the Coombe Down dance. I expect there'll be hanky panky when you get leave, and I hope you bring her home for tea.
Harry, you are in a war
not of our making – censored – and how can I tell you that your enemy is not the lad you will have in your sights but those that – censored – run the British Empire. How can I tell you it is wrong and that no man should kill another. - censored – I've been reading books as well as going to church you see and your da has joined the stonemasons' guild where they talk about these things. There is no glory in war – censored – But you have to work this out for yourself.
I have found a mother's courage dearest Harry, and you must not worry about me.
Love from us all at Fonthill Cottage
Your loving ma
Elizabeth Ann Patch
Aka Jan Woolf