Lest we forget


by Rev. Frank Julian Gelli

‘Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it’ wrote Communist playwright Bertold Brecht. Right. Lest we forget:

The Two Opium Wars.  Britain fought the first in 1839 to force the opium trade on the unwilling Chinese. The drug was smuggled from India – then under the control of the rapacious East India Company – into China on British ships. A lucrative trade. Imperial China resisted it - they knew the debilitating effects of opium on their people and seized the smuggling ships. British gunboats swung into action. They bombarded Canton. The Chinese had to surrender, paying a heavy indemnity and handing over Hong-Kong and other cities to Britain. A ‘peace treaty’, the Brits called it.

The second opium war drove the Chinese further under Western yoke. In reprisal for ill-treatment of diplomats, the British, joined by the French, proposed to destroy the whole city of Peking. Lord Elgin advised ‘moderation’. So the Peking Summer Palace, a wonderful set of royal gardens and pavilions, another Versailles, was sacked, looted and burnt down. (Imagine invading Germans in WWI doing that to Buckingham Palace.) A deed truly worthy of ‘civilised’ nations, no? Needless to say, opium trade was legalised and the Chinese compelled to sign another humiliating treaty.

Lest we forget…Dresden. Let’s do this by the statue of Bomber Harris, before the Church of St Clement Danes near the Strand. Harris, the Air Marshal in charge of Bomber Command in WWII. His bombing strategy was not so much aimed at military and industrial targets but at killing civilians. Non-combatants. Women, children, babes at arms, old people. Harris turned German cities, along with their inhabitants, into heaps of blood-drenched rubble. Kurt Vonnegut’s book, Slaughterhouse Five, talks about Dresden. A Jewish-American POW in the splendid Baroque city, Vonnegut had no particular reason to feel sorry for the Germans, you can’t accuse him of Nazi sympathies.

The total casualty figures for the apocalyptic bombing of Dresden are disputed but Vonnegut mentions 135.000. Still, Slaughterhouse Five says that more people were incinerated by the firestorm following the air raid than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Note that Dresden was filled with refugees from other parts of Germany. It was February 1945 and the ruined nation was on her knees. Allied Armies were pushing in – the war was drawing to a close. What was the purpose of the obliteration?

‘Sir Arthur’, the priest addresses the stolid statue, ‘There was no military advantage in targeting Dresden. It was annihilation, pure and simple. Any comments?’

Statues keep mum, naturally. Perhaps if he could Harris would complain about being scapegoated for a policy originating from the PM. Especially from Churchill’s sinister adviser, the racist, German-born weirdo, Lord Lindemann. Significantly, Churchill in April 1945 argued it was no longer ‘in our interests’ to go on with the terror on civilians. Belated moral scruples? Nope. He said the Allies did not wish to take over ‘an utterly ruined land’. Pity he did not mention the mountains of corpses under the ruins. Time for Dresden red poppies by St Clement Danes maybe?

Lest we forget…Afghanistan. In 2001 America and Britain invaded that Muslim land. Ostensibly to drive out Bin Laden and his followers. The Taleban had offered to ask Bin Laden to leave the country but Bush and Blair were not interested in peace. There are no figures for the total human cost. Well, the Afghanis are a fighting lot, it is their way of life, cynics say. The Brits ought to know. They undertook not one but three Afghan military campaigns, from 1839 to 1919. None was quite a victory. Nonetheless Bush and Blair bombed away. Poor, sad country!

Lest we forget…Iraq. Why was the country attacked? It happened on a Western lie. Pure and simple. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found. Was it personal? Did Bush wish to avenge himself on Saddam Hussein, ‘the man who tried to kill my dad’, as he is alleged to have said?

Casualties? How do you reckon them? Again, there is dispute. A million dead? Half a million? Fewer? Certainly the Western sanctions prior to 2003 caused the deaths of thousands and thousands of Iraqi children. Iraq is a martyr nation. Even many who hated Saddam’s regime say that life was better in his days than under the present chaos, lawlessness and mayhem. War goes on. The bitter fruits of US and UK’s illegal intervention in 2003. Plenty of poppies to be displayed…where? Westminster? Lest we forget, indeed.

Libya. All right, you can’t miss Gaddafi. He was a nasty piece of work. Yet that son of the desert had his moments. ‘You too will hang if you don’t do America’s bidding’ he presciently warned one of the useless Arab Summits. Actually, for once America followed Britain and France’s bidding. NATO bombed successfully. Gaddafi got lynched by a mob and ‘democracy’ installed. Happy ending? Look at the state of Libya now – enough to make you cry - they even slaughtered a US Ambassador. How many have died in the civil war after 2011? Hard to say. A tiny wave of red poppies in Whitehall, maybe? Lest we forget.

Patriots’ time. Under the cloak of remembering the dead, of not forgetting their sacrifice, patriotism is being whipped up. Nothing wrong with loving your country, sure, but it is also good not to forget the words of that hero of mine, that great Englishman and Christian, Dr Samuel Johnson: ‘Patriotism’, he warned, ‘is the last refuge of the scoundrels’.

FATHER FRANK’S RANTS   Rant Number 608     13 November 2014   .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)