01 October, 2006

Battle hymn

Watching Downfall on More4 last night, I fell to wondering, as I always seem to do when confronting such visceral reminders of global warfare, whether I would, if so called upon to do, bear arms for my country.

Such a notion seems fanciful when viewed as an abstract, of course, because it's not going to happen in my lifetime or, quite possibly, anybody's lifetime given the nature of modern conflict and mechanised armoury. Yet what if it was 65 years ago and I was facing conscription into the army to fight the forces of fascism in some far-flung corner of the world?

The answer is in the question. 65 years ago I would, I'm sure, think nothing of seeking to join the defeat of fascism by any means possible. When your enemy did you the service of so clearly defining himself by way of an aggressive ideological evil sitting on the opposite side of the English Channel, the choice is obvious.

Yet this doesn't clear up the matter of just how I would prefer to contribute to the defeat of fascism. Would I be able to prove myself intelligent enough to spend the war far away behind enemy lines sitting in Bletchley cracking codes in the hope of one day ending up being portrayed in a film produced by Mick Jagger? Or would I feel enough patriotic stirrings to actually happily join the army and fight in the front line?

There are moments, increasingly so as I get older, when I can only conclude the answer to that last question would be yes. It doesn't follow that I consider war to be anything other than abhorrent and good for, to coin a phrase, absoutely nothing, yet one of the values of experience as opposed to youthful innocence is a deepening awareness of the fabric of society and the continuity of history. If the call came...surely, ultimately, honestly, you would have no choice?

Well, perhaps it's more constructive to introduce that woefully pious division between a 'good war' and a 'bad war'.

As helpfully itemised in The Simpsons, 'good wars' include The American Revolution, World War Two, and the Star Wars Trilogy.

'Bad wars', it can safely be stated, include every possible kind of conflict since 1945, including the present stupidly-named 'war on terror' (as if you can fight a war against a noun) and the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Whereas you can see the rationale, I would hope, in taking part in a 'good war', there is assuredly no worth in lending your support, be it physical, vocal or implicit, to a 'bad war'.

As such Hitler embodied the ultimate 'good' baddie: desperately easy to categorise, even simpler to demonise, whose only concern was to spread hate around the planet. Saddam Hussein, on the other hand, while an obvious dictator, did not wish to spread hate around the planet and was not, when leader of Iraq, easy to categorise.

Indeed, we spent most of the 1980s selling him weapons, then spent most of the 1990s trying to make him dismantle them, and look like spending most of this decade trampling round his erstwhile domain turning more and more of his erstwhile citizens into enemies of the West.

It's a singular problem. Fortunately, as I said, there will never be a moment in my lifetime when I have to consider whether I should go and fight in a trench. But spool back three generations and I'm increasingly convinced it wouldn't have been a matter for consideration at all. For lest we forget, as memorably cited in the cartoon series Dungeons And Dragons, "from bad can come good." Although, as memorably retorted in the self-same cartoon series, "try telling that to my math (sic) teacher."


Post a Comment

<< Home