Why Britain must finally remember

Today, Britain honours her own who perished in past wars.

From my physical vantage point here in Donegal and my ideological perspective as an Irish Republican, this Poppy thing in Britain becomes stranger by the year.

Of course, that which is cultural is not amenable to reason.

I accept that I don’t get it and that I never will, because this stuff is at the emotional level.

It would be like expecting David Cameron to understand how I feel about the West Mayo Flying Column.

I am not personally connected to any of this. I didn’t lose any family in either of the two world wars in the uniform of Britain.

I did have distant relatives in the US Army in World War II and my paternal grandparents were both active in fighting against the British in Ireland.

Subsequently, I feel somewhat detached from the British remembrance thing in that I have no dead soldier from Ypres, Kenya or Iraq asking me not to forget.

I have different reasons for remembering.

However, if today makes you pause to consider the reality of your genuine loss through war then you have my condolences.

Too many young working class men were thrown into the meat grinder of the battlefield, often for less than honourable reasons.

The Royal British Legion is a fine organisation, but I fear that darker elements within the British ruling class find this remembering of the fallen all rather useful for their current military predicament.

I have noticed that the wearing of the RBL Poppy appears to happen on UK television stations earlier and earlier every year.

I am told by journalist colleagues in Britain that it is a major problem if you want to go in front of the camera without a Poppy.

When I was a child in Scotland I recall that it was something that was only worn on Remembrance Sunday.

It appears to me that the RBL Poppy has now morphed into a quasi-government sponsored marketing campaign to support contemporary military operations.

Rather than a respectful act of commemoration, it is now a campaign rosette for current conflicts.

The Poppy became a sectarian symbol in the North of Ireland long ago and throughout the rest of island it is a problematic emblem.

However, what was once a subtle symbol of respectful remembrance in Britain appears to have become a seasonal badge for a carnival of reaction and revisionism.

I do not doubt the heartfelt emotions of genuine personal loss today from people remembering a father in the Falklands, a son in Iraq or a grandfather that they never knew because he died in the mud of Flanders.

However, I believe that the British ruling elite aren’t really grieving about the machine gun fodder of the Somme, but their own slow burn loss of global status after Versailles.

Only the deluded and the historically illiterate can think that the UK is still a major power in the world today.

Just think of the Suez Crisis of 1956 and what would happen now if something similar were to be attempted.

The British and French were in action in the skies above Libya last year.

Would this have happened without the express approval of President Obama?


The current US President’s paternal grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was imprisoned by the British for political offences, and was tortured in a bid to extract information about the growing insurgency.

The Kenyan was left permanently scarred and debilitated by that torture at the hands of the British, and he was not alone.

In the years of the Mau Mau uprising, Britain ran a gulag in Africa.

As George Monbiot brilliantly outlines here, the British have much to be ashamed of in their imperial days.

He states that:

“The British did not do body counts, and most victims were buried in unmarked graves. But it is clear that tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of Kikuyu died in the camps and during the round-ups.”

As he perceptively points out on his blog, the average British person is rather different to a Holocaust denier.

The neo-Nazis know that they are lying and are aware of the appalling crimes of the Third Reich.

Subsequently, there is a conscious thought process at work.

Many British people simply have no idea of what was inflicted on Britain’s colonial victims within living memory.

Here are some details from Britain’s “peace keeping operation” in Kenya.

“Large numbers of men were castrated with pliers. Others were anally raped, sometimes with the use of knives, broken bottles, rifle barrels and scorpions. Women had similar instruments forced into their vaginas. The guards and officials sliced off ears and fingers, gouged out eyes, mutilated women’s breasts with pliers, poured paraffin over people and set them alight. Untold thousands died.”

The British Army did this, dear reader.

Of course, they also lost soldiers in the war against the Mau Mau.

Some of those squaddies were blameless terrified conscripts, but some were gleeful sociopaths and undoubtedly guilty of war crimes.

One British officer described his actions after capturing three Mau Mau suspects:

I stuck my revolver right in his grinning mouth and I said something, I don’t remember what, and I pulled the trigger. His brains went all over the side of the police station. The other two Mickeys [Mau Mau] were standing there looking blank. I said to them that if they didn’t tell me where to find the rest of the gang I’d kill them too. They didn’t say a word so I shot them both. One wasn’t dead so I shot him in the ear. When the sub-inspector drove up, I told him that the Mickeys tried to escape. He didn’t believe me but all he said was “bury them and see the wall is cleared up.” [Anderson (2005), pp. 299–300.]

I find it interesting that the slang term used by this British officer for the Mau Mau fighters was “Mickeys”.

“Poppy fest” is instructed by a dishonest and dumbed down saccharine narrative that all the British war dead “died for our freedom”.

The subtext is that the conflicts have always been defensive in nature and entirely justifiable.

That could be true of the fallen of Finland, but not Britain.

Given the amount of invading that the UK has indulged in, the characterising of the British body count as a result of protecting the homeland is utterly risible.

Britain was not fighting fascism in Iraq in 1920, but battering the Kurds into submission so that they would not impede oil exploration.

The Kurdish fighters were acting in self-defence and their actions were entirely legitimate. The British were the problem.

Yes, a strange concept I will readily concede, dear reader, the British being the problem.

Since the creation of the RBL Poppy in 1921, the British forces have dropped bombs on defenceless Kurdish villages, ran death camps in Kenya, murdered unarmed demonstrators in Derry and, more recently, tortured innocent men to death in Iraq.

Some of the perpetrators of those appalling war crimes died serving the Crown.

The Poppy is for them too.

Those wearing it today need to acknowledge the fact that across the planet the forces of the Crown brought death and destruction to the innocent and the unprepared.

There is a cherry picking of the history of British military operations, a convenient misremembering of an army that in the imagination was always comprised of hapless, harmless Baldricks rather than the grinning shooters of Bloody Sunday.

Around the world perfectly sane, rational, morally grounded people do not see the British as the good guys and hold to that view with excellent justification.

Perhaps one year the British will truly remember their violent history, peppered as it is with war crimes, and that will mean recalling all of the innocent victims of British state violence.

Until then, these ceremonies are tainted with hypocrisy and the real working class heroes cannot be properly honoured.

Britain has yet to acknowledge and atone for the many crimes against humanity committed by her boys in uniform.

Lest we forget.

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