The Poppy Appeal has been a bit quieter in London this year. Last year I remember seeing at least one poppy seller in every tube station and in most shops; we even had a little poppy donation box in our office. This year they seem a lot fewer and far between, and due to the fact I only ever seem to see them when I have absolutely no change and/or am running for a train, I only just got mine today. This is only the second year I’ve bought a poppy; I used to be very against any kind of ‘glorification’ of war and treated things like the Poppy Appeal and Help for Hero’s with suspicion and disdain, so I can see where a lot of the negative response comes from, although I no longer agree with it.
I’ve seen a lot of articles, status’s and shares about how bad war is, about how the appeal is being hijacked to create support for unpopular and illegal wars, about how war under any circumstances should be completely avoided. That peace is perfectly possible if people would just stop fighting each other, and that it can start with us on our little Island. And in some respects, I agree with them. War is not pleasant, and the wars we have had so far this millennium have been ridiculous. The war in Iraq was a complete waste of life, money and time. We went into a bad situation, killed a bunch of people and made everything 10x worse for the people who lived there. The war was hasty, it was based on lies and it was utterly hypocritical. America built Saddam Hussein up in the 80’s, supplied him with weapons, and then tried to destroy him all the while dealing with and often funding other tyrannical dictators. Hussein was not a good man, but neither are a lot of the dictators we choose to fund rather than bomb. The Iraq war was terrible, and I see no reason why it is ‘unpatriotic’ not to support every single war the government decides to put us through. You should not support a war without knowing the facts in the same way you should not automatically reject conflict based on over-arching principles that do not take circumstances into account.
It is really important to remember that the army was not responsible for the war in Iraq. The army does not decide of their own accord to invade a country; the government sends them. Soldiers sign up for the army, not for the individual war, and they cannot be blamed for the governments decision. And yes, it is perfectly true that some soldiers are not nice people, that some of them do mistreat prisoners and even civilians. That some do commit cold, brutal murder. But the army, like any other group of people, is not homogeneous and is going to have good, bad and okay people in it, just like any other sector. Some people who join the army would be annoyingly patriotic who really believe in fighting for their country, others may have joined for a variety of reasons. The army itself is a pretty good employer; you can do apprenticeships, you get to travel, you would have chance of promotion based on merit and the army appreciates skills that would not be necessary for many office based jobs, such as physical fitness. It is also a route to gain respect and social status for people with limited options, and the army will actually pay for your education and offer you enrichment courses. You also get to be outside a lot, learn a lot of new skills and be challenged in a way you wouldn’t get from many other jobs. A small number of people probably do join the army because they have violent tendencies, but there are many, many other reasons to join.
Even if I believed world peace was possible, I still think the army should remain intact as to lose it would be to lose a major employer, and even in the event of world peace they should remain to deal with things like disaster relief and potential zombie apocalypses. The Poppy Appeal is not just about soldiers, although it does a lot to help those who have been effected by war. It is also there for their partners, their kids and their loved ones. Ex soldiers are often in a very bad position because it may take a while to become re-adjusted to civilian life even without emotional/physical war scars, and I believe they have just as much right to help as any other vulnerable group. They should not be seen as super human, but they should not be seen as sub-human either. They deserve help if they need it, and that is what the Poppy Appeal does.
I don’t think world peace is possible, at least not at the moment. And whilst some wars are hasty, badly planned and based on invalid reasons, some wars are necessary. That is not to say these wars are not horrible, that people won’t suffer, but that some can, in hindsight, be seen as necessary in the long run and end with a better, or the potential for a better, situation then they started with. The obvious example of this is WWII, and that’s not to say there are not arguments against it. You would be perfectly valid to suggest, for example, that the war pushed the ‘final solution’ forward and that the Nazi’s sped up their death camp plans prematurely in response to the war and the fear that they wouldn’t be able to ‘finish their work’. This can’t be 100% proved, but is likely to be at least partially true. However, the fact is that the Nazi’s were already killing the ‘unfit’, i.e the mentally and physically ill, prior to WWII, and they would have continued this regardless of the war. After failing to find a country that was willing to take all those they found racially abhorrent, it is very likely they would have developed the ‘final solution’ in any case. There is also the fact that eugenics, which includes the belief that those deemed ‘unfit’ based on mental, physical, social or racial basis should not be allowed to breed and therefore further their genes, was not exclusive to Nazi Germany. In fact, it was largely created by Englishman Francis Galton in the early 20th century, and whilst England never tried ‘positive eugenics’ (actively trying to control human breeding), America did. America sterilized thousands of people deemed ‘unfit’ in the 1930s, and whilst there is not much evidence of widespread murder due to eugenics in interwar America, we do know the prominent American eugenicists were in correspondence and agreement with prominent Nazi eugenicists, and we don’t know what would have happened if this had continue for a few more years, let alone another decade. And this American interest in eugenics declined abruptly with WWII and especially with the discovery of the concentration camps. It also obviously put a stop to the Nazi regime.
The cause of WWII was not eugenics, and millions of people were obviously not saved as a result of the war. However, the end of the war also put an end to the eugenics movement in several prominent countries as well as obviously stopping a tyrannical and murderous dictator in Germany. I do believe that if WWII had not happened at the time that it did, it would either have happened at a later date after which even more people may have been killed in Nazi Germany and also potentially in America, or the alternative is that eugenics may have become widely accepted, and the implications of that is chilling. At the very least, many people would have been sterilized and murdered. At the worst, as a result of limiting the human gene pool in the countries that may have implemented a widespread eugenics program, it would have considerably limited the human gene pool in these regions which can give rise to more health issues, which would have fueled more eugenic measures until it is possible we would have changed and inbred the human population in those regions so much you may have ended up with a similar issue that we now have with pedigree dogs, although admittedly that would probably take a hundred years or so to become visibly noticeable.
The point of this little tirade/history lesson is to explain that even though WWII was as horrific as any war, and even though it obviously did not save the 11 million victims of the holocaust, nor the countless others that died in the conflict, I believe it was both inevitable and necessary for the future of Europe, that it would have either happened at a later date, or that in the long run even more people would have suffered. WWII was horrible, but I believe it was necessary.
In regards to disbanding the army, as some people seem to think is a good idea; it is not. And the most convincing argument against that, in my view, is to stop conscription. If you did disband the army, and then at a later date you suddenly needed to use one, without a functioning and trained army you would probably have to use conscription. And conscription is horrible. Conscription is sending untrained and often unwilling people to their deaths, because they don’t have time to be trained sufficiently and they are often ill equipt and and not physically capable of things the trained army are able to do. After reading ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, it has turned me against the idea in any circumstance. And whilst obviously the book is almost 100 years old and refers to a very different time and situation, I maintain that sending people to war against their will is a very immoral thing to do. Even in times of peace, the army can offer employment opportunities and disaster relief, and if a war does come along, it offers trained and willing fighters who have a better chance of survival.
Basically, my point is that whilst some wars were completely unnecessary, you cannot then say that this applies to every single war and conflict. You cannot say that, without question, war should never happen without thinking about the individual war and its lasting implications. This should apply to past and future wars, and you should base your views of these wars on the circumstances itself, not on the philosophy that everyone should be nice and peaceful. Because that is not our reality, and I can’t see it being a reality in our time.
You should not judge the army based on the actions of a few publicized cases, just as you should not do that to any other group. And whilst you are totally within your right to protest and disagree with any individual war, use your voice to protest to the government, and if the government sends our country into a bad war, blame them. The army does not have a say in where they go, the individual soldier does not have much of a say in where they are sent, and as I do not believe the army or joining the army in itself is a bad thing; in fact I believe it is essential both in terms of employment and possible scenarios, I don’t feel it is right to blame them as a whole for this or another countries actions.
You are totally within your right not to wear a poppy, and you are within your right to disagree with the Iraq war, the Vietnam war and all the other pointless and stupid wars that have happened over the years. And you are within your right not to think soldiers are hero’s. Fighting in a war doesn’t make you a hero, but it also doesn’t necessarily make you a monster. You cannot say that all war is unnecessary on principle without thinking of all the scenarios in which that would apply. The fact is that however much we wish it, not everyone is nice and peaceful, and conflict does continue to exist. And yes, we could be the first country to disband the army and give peace a chance. But do you really want to risk that? The world can be a very horrible place, and you need to have the means to defend yourself even whilst being careful of how you use it. We should not sign up for hasty wars, or wars that are based on dubious information. The government under Tony Blair should have to answer and be accountable for the war in Iraq, and the whole ‘war against terror’ seems to have created a lot more terror than it was meant to fight. We should be a lot more careful about going into war, we should not just follow America blindly and war should be one of the final options, not the first one. The last few wars we have entered into have been appalling, and we have every right to protest them. But this does not mean every war in in the past or in the future can or should be avoided. We need to assess a war by what it aims to achieve, and what it will be fighting, and whether on the basis it can be seen as ‘worth it’. And a lot of wars will not pass that test, but some of them will.
So my point is as follows: Blame the government for their decisions, don’t make sweeping statements and whilst you are by no means obliged to wear a poppy, don’t feel like you shouldn’t wear one either. Most soldiers are neither hero’s nor villains, they are people and they should be treated as such.
If anyone is interested in the history of eugenics in America, check out The war against the weak by Edwin Black.