A Suspension of Hostilities

Among all the images produced during this weekend’s commemorations of the centenary of Armistice Day, this image of Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron struck me as particularly moving.

Part of the reasons is that it reminded me of this photograph, of President Mitterand and Chancellor Kohl, taken in 1984:

Exactly one hundred years after the truce that effectively ended the First World War, these images remind us how much suffering took place before Europe reached a point at which war between France and Germany became unthinkable. That peace now looks increasingly fragile as the forces of nationalism, spurred on by populist demagogues, and funded by greedy disaster capitalists, threaten to tear apart the institutions that have brought Europe together in a spirit of mutual cooperation for so long. All that has been achieved could so easily be lost.

As Fintan O’Toole has written in a long article in this weekend’s Irish Times, the First World War is, in many ways, still being fought. The Second World War was certainly very much a continuation of the First, after a break of just over twenty years, to which the short-sightedness of Western governments in their treatment of Germany was a contributing factor. The end of the First World War saw not only the disintegration of the German Empire (and the abdication of the Kaiser), but also the collapse of Tsarist Russia, and the end of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires to boot. We are still living with the consequences of that upheaval.

All this reminds us – or should remind us – that the word `armistice’ means `a truce’ or `a suspension of hostilities’ rather than a lasting peace, and it is by no means impossible we could be sleepwalking to disaster once more. As President Macron put it in his speech today

Les démons anciens resurgissent : des idéologies nouvelles manipulent des religions, l’Histoire menace de reprendre son cours tragique. Faisons une fois de plus ce serment des Nations de placer la paix plus haut que tout, car nous en connaissons le prix.

Frankly, I fear very much for the future and take solace only in the fact that I am no longer young.

I have found the pomp and ceremony of this year’s official Armistice commemorations very difficult to endure. Perhaps there are some people, including some in high places, who have learned the lessons of history, but it is also clear that there are very many who have not.

Which brings me to the poppy. I have written quite a few pieces on this blog, around the time of Remembrance Sunday, about the wearing of a poppy, the last being in 2016. I have worn a poppy at this time of year for most of my adult life, but I decided last year to stop.

For one thing, there is no pressure to wear a poppy here in Ireland. Indeed, many Irish people see the poppy mainly as a symbol of British militarism and colonial oppression. Even at Friday’s concert to mark the Armistice I saw only a few audience members wearing a poppy, and most of them were the shamrock version commemorating the sacrifice of Irish soldiers during the Great War.

But I don’t think I’ve ever really been that susceptible to peer pressure, so that’s not the main reason for my not wearing a poppy. The main reason is that over the past couple of years the poppy has been appropriated by the likes of racist thug, career criminal and founder-member of the EDL, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (also known as Tommy Robinson):

I simply cannot bring myself to wear the same badge as this creature, nor can I stand the hypocrisy of those politicians who make a show of wearing it while happily encouraging the rise of nationalism. Enough is enough. The message of the poppy is supposed to be `Lest We Forget’. I’m afraid far too many have already forgotten.

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12 Responses to “A Suspension of Hostilities”

  1. Bryn Jones Says:

    This year I have been wearing a red poppy closely touching my “Stop Brexit” badge. I feel they complement each other perfectly.

    The word “nationalism” has multiple meanings, including the chauvinistic ultra-patriotism that Peter referred to above. However, the word is also used for movements for self-government in territories subjected to external governance. Perhaps it is not helpful to lump people such as Mohandras Gandhi, Charles Stewart Parnell and John Redmond, who all sought to achieve self-government through peaceful methods, with those who seek to exalt their own identities above all others. Perhaps we need different terms.

    • telescoper Says:

      Agreed. Something like `jingoism’ would be better, but I couldn’t think of a good word.

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        I don’t feel terms like “regionalism” or “self-determinism” convey adequately the meaning of moderate, peaceful campaigns for some degree of autonomy. It’s impossible to find an adequate word.

        We need different words to describe the two concepts – a desire for self-determinism on the one hand, and a chauvinistic, aggressive patriotism on the other – which are often, but not always, distinct.

    • telescoper Says:

      ps. I see this article in the Independent has ruffled a few Leaver feathers.

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        It’s good that it has ruffled some feathers, although much of the article states its case quite gently.

    • telescoper Says:

      I do have a quandary here in Ireland. By far the most progressive political party is Sinn Fein, but the past associations with violence and the overtly nationalistic rhetoric of some of its prominent figures makes it difficult for me to support them.

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        Observing Irish politics from a distance, the association of Sinn Féin with violent struggle in the past would make it impossible for me to support it were I living in Ireland. It surprises me that Sinn Féin hasn’t wound itself up and formed a new party, to break with the past (something, incidentally, I think the Liberal Democrats would be wise to do over here).

        I don’t know enough about the Irish Labour Party to comment on it. Were I living in the North, I would vote either for the SDLP or, possibly, the Alliance Party.

      • telescoper Says:

        Well the Irish Labour Party vote has collapsed in the 2016 election after getting almost 20% of first preference votes in 2011, largely because it supported austerity budgets that hit the poor much harder than the rich when in coalition with Fine Gael. That is rather similar to the reason the Liberal Democrat voted collapsed in the UK.

      • telescoper Says:

        It’s perhaps worth stressing that for its entire existence as an independent nation, Ireland has had governments that were quite right wing, economically speaking. The result has been a huge underinvestment in public services (especially transport).

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        Yes, of course, the Labour Party was in coalition with Fine Gael during the period of austerity.

        Yes, independent Ireland mostly had economically right-wing governments. It seemed odd to us in Wales: independent Ireland saw patriotism as being socially conservative, Catholic and economically libertarian, whereas in Wales movements for self-government and cultural freedom were predominantly left-wing. This created some distance between Ireland and Wales in the middle and later 20th century.

  2. Reblogged this on Symptoms Of The Universe and commented:
    An eloquent and affecting post from Peter Coles on the centenary of Armistice Day and the poppy.

    “The message of the poppy is supposed to be “Lest We Forget”. I’m afraid far too many have already forgotten.”

  3. Well said. I felt emotional on Sunday as if the UK was hurtling towards an awful disaster. I felt caught between being both Irish & British. I checked my family tree and found an Irish relative to remember, who died in action in WW1. Richard Cuffe, RAF, died in action in an air battle at Chateau Thierry, France. He was from Killasser House, Swinford, Co Mayo. I also remembered my dad, an Irishman who interrupted his medical degree to join up in WW2, he served voluntarily in the Royal Army Medical Corps, doing medicals and training cadets in first aid. He was given a mirror on a stick to check undeneath his car, in case he got targeted, and we had to avoid mentioning his army activities to his mum in Kerry as children. My mother was stopped at gunpoint at checkpoints driving across Ireland on the day that Mountbatten was asassinated, with me and my brother asleep on the backseat of the car.

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