London Letter

Brits remember start of ‘war to end all wars’

From Tom Aitken in London

WW! deathsWhen, some time ago, the Coalition Government announced that it intended to spend considerable sums of money on remembering (a word that usually means celebrating) Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in 1914, public response mixed puzzlement and outrage.

Puzzlement, since it is most usual to remember the triumphant conclusion of a war rather than the risks and fears surrounding its declaration.

Anger, because essential services such as the National Health Service were being subjected to what were admitted to be damaging cuts. The cuts were driven by necessity. What was the driving motive behind the proposed remembrance and celebration?

The obvious, almost glib answer was that the Government knew that it was doing badly and needed something, anything! to celebrate.

A few historians, some perhaps rather reluctantly, feel that the Government had historical justifications for its action. The 1914-18 War, it could be argued, set Europe and the world on course for the whole of the century to come.

No WWI, no Hitler or Holocaust?

HitlerWithout the slaughter of the trenches and remoter outposts like Gallipoli, there would arguably have been no Hitler, no Nazis, no Holocaust, no Second World War. Instead, that second festival of slaughter extended inexorably over most of the world, thus justifying its name.

And without all that, quite probably, there would have been no imposed establishment of the State of Israel, which would have made the Middle East a very different region, less complicated, since whatever happened would have been, broadly, Arab versus Arab, Islamic state versus Islamic state.

HolocaustIn the event, to return to London now, the plans of the Conservative propagandists, were overtaken by more immediately pressing matters.

What we saw on Monday evening was, admittedly, a sequence of very moving Western European memorial gatherings in beautiful garden cemeteries. There was a team of British Royals doing what they do best, uttering commonplace sentiments exactly fitted to the needs of the event, with a dignity lightened by their evident likeability but, sadly, no glimpses of Prince George!


What we also saw, however, was an almost Churchillian inspirational defence and celebration of an institution which has lately been under more or less continuous attack, from enemies with mixed gripes and grudges.

European UnionI refer, of course to the European Union. I had better qualify that immediately by saying that what was celebrated and defended was the Union of the original small club of western European States, plus the United Kingdom.

We did not hear, I need hardly say, one peep fromto list a few random absentees: Poland, the Balkans, or Greece.

In other words, this was an attempt to redefine ‘Europe’ as those bits of it that the Conservatives and the clownish UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party, in case you¹ve forgotten) find easiest to tolerate. Will this manipulation lead to its desired result?

Shake-up in attitudes to the European Union

We shall see. Clearly some sort of shake up of British attitudes to the EU is under way. Two results are looked for, by both pro- and anti-Europeans.

  • One is a halt and reversal of the deterioration of the euro as a convincing and strong communal currency, something that affects everybody, rich and poor alike.
  • The other is an attempt to create tighter controls on the movement of non-English speaking Eastern and Southern Europeans into London, and Britain generally, to take up jobs which (it must be said) few Britons actually want, except as a last resort.

GazaBut there is too much going on for any of these matters to continue for very long as issues of the moment in the public consciousness. The most immediate question, therefore, is whether the government’s evident desire to become Roman in its provision of circuses can be equalled by its provision of bread and its solutions for other problems.

The commemoration of the First World War took place on August 4.

On August 5, Baroness Warsi, former Conservative Party Chairman, resigned as Foreign Office Minister in protest at David Cameron’s failure (as she sees it) to condemn Israel¹s airstrikes on Gaza.

Battles long ago can be commemorated, of course. But those that are occurring at this moment are more pressing and troublesome.