War is the statesman’s game, the priest’s delight,
The lawyer’s jest, the hired assassin’s trade …
We’ve just passed the centenary of the Battle of the Somme – a war crime so flagrant, so shameless, so inhuman that I would call it demonic if that did not risk absolving from responsibility the appalling humans who caused it. Watching Peter Barton’s excellent in depth documentary about the whole appalling catastrophe was as sobering as you’d expect.
Most of you know that I am a pacifist. It has to be my deepest conviction, though I confess at once that I can’t be certain exactly how I’d respond if the chips were really down and I/we were seriously threatened. And of course I have genuine respect for those who, following their own convictions as I follow mine, risk their lives in combat. Even more do I feel for the families who lose people close to them as a result of war, often without understanding why.
You can see, I expect, where this post is heading. But bear with me while I work my way there. Here are some more quotations to add to the one above (which is from Shelley):
The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend (Abraham Lincoln, apparently)
It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare (Mark Twain, as usual)
Before you set off in revenge, dig two graves (Old Chinese proverb, of course)
War is a coward’s escape from the problems of peace (Thomas Mann, surprisingly)
I’ve got a million of them, as music hall comedians used to say. But there’s nothing comic about this. A few years ago the BBC broadcast an even more extraordinary documentary. It was called The Fallen, and it was based on the simplest of ideas: to commemorate individually each of the 300 or so British service people who had been killed in one of our recent Middle East ventures – the pointless war in Afghanistan or the immoral, illegal one in Iraq. And it was probably the best documentary I’ve ever been unable to watch.
The film was based just on names, photos and chats with family members in their homes. At least I think it was. It lasted about three hours and I managed only a few minutes before literally (I mean that word literally) running from the room, pausing only to turn off the TV and delete the recording. Just the sight of a very ordinary mother showing the cameraman into her dead son’s bedroom, still laid out – football posters and other young guys’ paraphernalia – as if for his return, her sad face, and her simple, bewildered words, was stronger meat than I could digest. As a film it was intensely powerful, indescribably moving and, for me at least, unwatchable. But I’m glad it was made, and anyone who did not react to it with the profoundest grief needs to see a doctor very quickly.
Which brings me to the despicable Donald Trump. What on earth is he for, apart from spewing out bile and hatred, devoid of empathy or any concept of the effect he is having, insulting anyone who doesn’t fit his fantasy world and generally making his (great?) country a laughing stock? How can anyone, free of his delusions, possibly think it acceptable to attack a couple of ordinary respectable Americans, bereaved parents of a dead serviceman who happen not to think like him and, perfectly reasonably, took the opportunity to tell him off in public?
When will this overgrown schoolboy notice that the needs of the world as a whole are not identical to his own needs? When will he discover that his cesspit of a mouth has upset one person too many? When will he accept that the best of Hillary Clinton might – just might – occasionally be better than the worst of him? When will he listen to wiser members of ‘his’ party such as the honest, decent, independent John McCain – a man with whose politics, I may say, I disagree profoundly? Don’t trouble to reply. The answer is never.
Bullies, even ones who spout jejeune trailer trash rubbish, are often very clever. They’re also usually quite scared, hence the bombast, the evasion of blame, and the need to put down others. The trouble is, clever scared people are quite dangerous. Please, my American friends, think about who you want as a role model for your children. Think about what you want your country to look like, and the damage that’s already been done. And, come November, please be careful. You are better than this.