Ours not to reason why?
Newspapers, globally, appear to be swamped by pretty disturbing, distressing news. India too, has also had its share of horrible headlines. I’ve heard many people say they can’t take it. I find myself often reading the headlines, then can’t go further whether it’s Brexit, Trump or our own stomach churning reports and graphic images depicting last week’s ghastly attack in which 40 vulnerable, young Indian soldiers were blown up in a terrorist bombing. To make it even more macabre, on Valentine’s Day.
I salute our soldiers who guard those borders in hostile territory. My heart goes out to the families who have lost their beloved sons, husbands, brothers and fathers. Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp are overflowing with tributes from distinguished army officers and civilians alike. Most are moving. They make your heart ache with sadness and despair. The sheer futility of their deaths is unbearable.
For centuries, we’ve witnessed the horrors of war. Poets have talked about the blood and gore. Those poems continue to move us. From ‘Theirs not to make reply, theirs but to do and die,’ to the more vivid and disturbing ones of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and other lesser well known poets. Behind it all is the senselessness of war. Yet, a century after World War One, little has changed.
Even in the throes of despair and sorrow, even when my heart weeps, for 40 soldiers blown up, behind the patriotic and often jingoistic rhetoric, when the body bags reach the relatives, the biggest question remains, ‘Why?’ Why, such an utter, pointless waste of precious lives? After two World Wars and millions senselessly slain, people said ‘Never again!’ Yet all over the world, countries continue to allow the killing and maiming of their bravest and their best.
Often, the young men and women who join the army come from very poor families. Those who gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan or the Siachen glacier in our Himalayas, whose bodies came back draped in the national flag to their grieving families, are honoured. But why did they have to die in the first place? Why, in this day and age can we not make a Herculean effort to stop wars?
The Peace movement and Peaceniks are derided and ridiculed as unrealistic, as feckless romantics. The 2003 war in Iraq was evil. I met a UN official who resigned in disgust as both Blair and Bush’s intelligence people had been repeatedly told there were no weapons of destruction in Iraq. They wanted the war at any cost. And they went ahead though unprecedented numbers protested on the streets of London and in other parts of the UK.
French academic Dominique Reynié estimated that around 36 million people from almost every corner of the earth went out on the streets from January 3rd to April 12th 2003 to protest the unjust attack on Iraq. These were not ‘mere hippy peaceniks.’ They were ordinary citizens outraged at an unjustified attack on a country not involved in the evil 9\11 bombing of the New York twin towers. These ordinary people took part in almost 3,000 anti-war protests. They ranged from schoolchildren to old people, to parents carrying babies and toddlers. They screamed, ‘Not in my Name.’
The coordinated, global demonstrations on 15 February 2003 – described as ‘the largest protest event in human history,’ showed that people cared. There was commitment and almost desperation, about the injustice of the imminent war. Yet, the invasion of Iraq went ahead a month later, on 20th March 2003. A Swedish protestor who flew back from a holiday in India to join the demonstration told The Guardian, ‘I was hugely optimistic that we could avert the war ... nobody seemed to want it apart from Bush and Blair.’ It was a heady feeling to have more than a million people passionate about peace, to avert an unjust war.
The Chilcot Report eventually vindicated the protestors. Cold comfort for the millions of Iraqis decimated by the war, their homes and lives, their entire country reduced to rubble. Collateral damage, the governments glibly conclude. Human lives, of course, don’t matter.
Serious peace movements abound. Learning from the UK children’s climate strike who recently marched for their planet to be saved, we need to talk about effectively ending war and destruction. It’s as important an issue as saving the planet. What good will fighting global warming be, if we obliterate vast populations in another human holocaust? Beyond any doubt we need to save our planet and our society. This should be numero uno in the priorities of our schools, universities, research institutes, and the entire social sector. Can we, as concerned and thinking citizens, unite for this?
The real question however, is ‘Will we?’