While I’ve covered nuclear war (Tuesday Ten: 109), various other parts of past history (Tuesday Ten: 047), not to mention American Politics (Tuesday Ten: 056), I’ve never looked directly at war (although judging on my notes I’ve certainly looked at the idea in the past). And in this week of Remembrance Day, it is maybe time to do so at last in more detail.
I come from a military family. My uncle served in the Falklands in the early eighties, both my grandfathers were in the Royal Artillery (which, needless to say, is how my parents met, as I understand it), and research further back has suggested a number of my ancestors on my mother’s side also served in the Royal Artillery (including one in Lucknow, India in the 1870s) – not to mention Daisy’s grandfather having fought in what was Yugoslavia in the second world war. It’s in my blood, whether I like it or not, but like my father I decided this was absolutely not something I ever wanted to get involved in, and I’ve frankly remained staunchly anti-war in many ways for more years than I can remember, being of the political mindset that would always prefer dialogue and diplomacy over sabre-rattling and waging of war.
This is, I appreciate, an exceptionally emotive subject. We’ve no doubt all got members of our families who have fought, sadly it is likely a few of those family members lost their lives in conflict somewhere. But we must reflect, we must question, we cannot blindly allow for wars to be fought where there is little or no need.
And this is what this week’s Tuesday Ten is about. This is music that questions the push for war, questions the motives behind why our leaders invade other nations and meddle in their affairs, and in at least one case questions the commemorations and the twisting of the intentions there (also eloquently discussed by Harry Leslie Smith this week, see also other comment on the automatic “hero” status of those in the military, not to mention one story this past week reminding us not all are heroes, but can instead be little better than murderers).
Yes, we can remember and honour those who lost their lives fighting, but also never forget to question what it was they were fighting for. Those who make that decision in the first place (Blair, Thatcher, George W. Bush in the US too, to name a few), have blood their hands in their decisions go to war, and the sight of people like them solemnly laying wreaths for the cameras is an insult to the memories those who died fighting and those that they were aiming to “liberate” (see the sectarian carnage unleashed in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan) – not to mention their habit of selling arms and other military hardware overseas to so-called “unfriendly” countries.
A final note. I have my views here, you as the reader have yours (and I’ll confess that I’ve thought long and hard about whether to post this or not). Feel free to engage, to discuss, to remember. But please do not insult or accuse.
The Great War
Cupid Is A Drunkard
A seething polemic that examines revisionism and how we approach commemoration, this song beautifully helps to articulate better than I ever could the reasons why I don’t wear a poppy (the distinction is important) each November. Every year this becomes more politicised, and if a poppy is not worn, I find myself fielding questions as to why I don’t. It is a matter of personal choice, not an obligation. Not only (as noted above) do I not agree with what the annual commemoration has become, I also see the whole idea of the commemoration of those who fought for (insert cause here) as a private and personal matter – one of reflection for the past and of hope for a potentially better future. Not to mention what came out of the second world war, too – the NHS, the welfare state, as part of a social contract ensuring that those who fought actually had the better life to come back to. Something now being systematically dismantled. They fought for this to happen? But as well as this, I’ve never quite understood why it falls to a charitable organisation to assist ex-soldiers, whom we are told constantly by the media and Government are so important to this country. While the cost overruns on the new aircraft carriers gets ever more extreme (and with the possibility that one may never sail under the British flag), and Trident’s replacement is apparently now costed at £25 billion, surely we can afford to provide some dignity to people who put their lives on the line for their country?
Rather more heartwarming yesterday was the large number of people who attended the funeral of a lonely, family-less ex-soldier that they didn’t know.
War & Peace
One of the most iconic soul songs, and indeed protest songs, ever written, Edwin Starr’s finest three minutes bristle with anger at the waste of war. The context of the song is vitally important, of course – in the years prior to this song being released, many thousands of his countrymen were being sent to fight the other side of the world in a war in Vietnam that many of them never returned from, and by 1970 and the release of this song, increasingly large numbers of Americans were questioning why exactly they were still fighting there.
System of a Down
Certainly in their earlier days, System of a Down were a band consumed with fury at politics, nodding to their tubulent Armenian heritage in particular, but they didn’t shirk at criticising the US way of doing things, either – and this rampaging track takes aim at the Christian-centric justifications for war in certain cases, something the roared chorus of “WE WILL FIGHT THE HEATHENS” makes explicitly clear. That this pre-dated George W. Bush and his not-far-off Christian crusade into Afghanistan and Iraq by a few years makes it all the more remarkable, and the carnage that resulted from that venture into Iraq is detailed here in numerical terms.
Bricks Are Heavy
A few years before SOAD’s song, L7 released this in the aftermath of the Gulf War commenting on the vicarious nature of the war – with much of America commenting and watching their forces fight Iraqi forces live on TV (this was the first TV-saturated war, really – I remember seeing an awful lot of it myself on TV as a entered my teens), gaining their opinions on a faraway war covered with the maximum of Government propaganda. Sadly, this kind of coverage has perpetuated since, and even sports have got involved.
Another Man’s Cause
Levelling The Land
Hardly the only song to question the British ideal of the brave soldier, this one deals with one of the questions I mentioned in my preamble: the idea of what exactly “our” soldiers are fighting for. Needless to say, the Levellers are and were hardly fans of Thatcher and the Tories, so this takes the Falklands War as it’s starting point (“Fighting for another man’s cause“), but from the point of view of a dead soldier’s children, who decide that they want to become soldiers themselves to honour his memory – “it’s what he would have wanted” – to the horror of the widow.
Especially in their early days, Clawfinger could be extremely blunt in their politics in song, with numerous examples on their debut album of a band who were not backward in coming forward. Needless to say, their take on soldiers going to war was not a particularly complimentary one, one seething at the injustice of soldiers being sent to fight for some political whim and coming back humiliated, injured, incapacitated or worse, dead. It’s sheer rage, Edwin Starr aside, in this list, is perhaps hard to top.
Another visit to the American hell that was the aftermath of Vietnam, in the form of Jerry Cantrell’s intensely personal song about his own father’s experiences as a soldier in that war (the song is named after his nickname as a soldier), a history that clearly caused a fair amount of mental distress to his father, and to this family as he tried to deal with what he experienced. It’s anthemic, raw qualities and perhaps unexpected accessibility have resulted it being something of a fan favourite, too – in the three times I’ve seen AiC live in recent years (including a quite brilliant show in London at the weekend), they’ve closed the night off with it every time, with the crowd bellowing every word (and wordless melody), despite, I suspect, few of us there having experienced the hell that Cantrell’s father did.
Honour 2003 EP
It isn’t often you’ll find me including this band here, but somehow this song fits. An eloquent anti-war anthem, that questions what exactly is being honoured, and who – and more to the point, what happens in the future when the war is over, when those who fought have to go back and re-adjust to normal life, and the victims sift through the wreckage of war. And while both sides are picking up the pieces, our (or any other) Government reminds us again of the glory of war, bask in the victory…and plan the next war, and the cycle begins again.
White People for Peace
After all this seriousness, perhaps a little more lightheartedness is needed, and this arrives in the form of US punk band Against Me!, whose deliciously sly humour here disguises a perhaps serious debate. In short, the western world watches in horror as a war in a faraway land is unleashed, many die…and over in the west, protest songs are sung with – predictably enough – no effect whatsoever on what is going on. Perhaps more can be taken from this, as slacktivism is so often the answer nowadays in this Internet World, sharing a post on Facebook, changing your icon to something “appropriate” or something similar. In short, if you want change, do something more. I’m as guilty as anyone else, I guess.
All Together Now
Finally, perhaps, a more upbeat song in some respects, about an event which shows that even amidst the most terrible of bloodshed, there can be a glint of humanity. That occasion was Christmas Day 1914, where hostilities were all-but-suspended in the trenches, and the opposing soldiers exchanged small gifts and played football against each other – an extraordinary event that perhaps has no parallel anywhere in war. And a reminder, perhaps, that even in war, there are shared values that should never be forgotten.