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We are still at war

And I think I forget that.  I say, quite off-hand, “Oh, I’m writing about the war,” as if there is only my war, my book war:  World War 2.  Of course, there is not.  We are at war.

But, no war stands alone.  Each war is the horrible child of a war that came before it, however far back.  There is no egg or chicken.  We have, somehow, always been at war.  As I get to grips with my war history, I am constantly thrust back to WWI, which planted the seeds of resentment alongside the economic environment that made Germany ripe for Nazism and made the British begin to question their “special relationship” with Germany.  When I began this project, writing a community play on the Isle of Man about women’s internment, I was pretty sure how I felt about “the war” – it was a good war that needed fighting.  I was proud that both my home country and my adopted country fought against Nazi Germany, albeit in different years.  The propaganda for WW2 is particularly fantastic.  I adore the artwork and the iconography, though I do giggle a bit at such sentiments as, “Children are safer in the country: Leave them there,” and “To dress extravagantly in war time is worse than Bad Form – it is Unpatriotic.”

The more I learn about “my war” the more I learn that nothing is as simple as I thought.  But then, when we started our current war I still saw things quite simply.  I waited for Hans Blix to tell me what was the right thing to do.  It was never about Tony or George for me, but I did believe that some wars had to be fought and if Hans Blix said we needed to go to war, that was good enough for me.  I can see now that I was blind-sided.  I bought the white wash.  I bought the propaganda.  Shame on me.

If you follow me on Twitter, you will know how struck I was by watching John Pilger’s film, The War You Don’t See.  Truly harrowing viewing, but essential, if only to bear witness.  There were a number of arresting statistics in the film, but this one in particular has stuck with me:  In WWI civilians were 10% of total deaths.  For WW2 it was 50%.  Vietnam, 70%.  This war, now:  90%.  I’m no good at maths, but even I know that figure is obscene.

John Pilger has also been in the news discussing Julian Assange while he was being held in HMP Wandsworth and hoping for bail; Assange features in Pilger’s film as well, for it is Wiki Leaks who is attempting to poke a pin in the rhetoric and justification of this war and to show the truth lurking behind the propaganda.  If there is any form of Wiki Leaks for WW2 it is Nicholson Baker’s “Human Smoke: the Beginnings of World War II/The End of Civilization” published in 2008.  Using primary resources, Baker juxtaposes newspaper and radio propaganda with memoirs and diaries to lay out the arguments for starting the war, both in the UK and the US.  I am using primary resources for my own research, from the Hansard House of Commons sitting notes to interviews made by myself and by the Imperial War Museum, so I am doubly grateful for Baker’s authentic and holistic approach to supplement the history books.  Further, I am grateful for his critical eye.  There is no good war.  That is what I know now.

If you want a better perspective on today’s war, please visit John Pilger’s site, where you can read about The War You Don’t See and find a link to watch it again on itv.com or hear a recent interview on Radio 4 – sorry, UK only.

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