Joe Tibbetts is the publisher and managing editor of I-D Information Daily; Public Service Digital and Healthcare Innovation Monitor. He has advised numerous public sector organisations on their communications.@joe_tibbetts
People die in war because they go to war. They go to war because of the criminal stupidity, deluded vanity, weakness, moral vacuity, selfishness and psychopathic lack of empathy exhibited by national leaders.
Our 'leaders’ have taken the 70th anniversary of D-Day as a god-sent photo opportunity, and the broadcasters have lined up on the beach to give them airtime to deploy their soundbites.
In 1966 most of our school teachers had lived through the second world war, many had fought and one or two showed clear evidence of wear and tear. I was sixteen and one of my teachers had lost the front of his head in a bomb disposal accident that peeled off the palms (but not the backs) of both his hands and neatly removed his face above the jaw.
The reconstructive surgery must have been unimaginably painful. The result was a jumble of diced facial remnants, arranged on a large flattish area of skin (clearly harvested from a different part of his anatomy) and stretched over a steel plate set in the front of his skull. A face, in fact, straight out of a horror movie, though I don’t remember anyone - boys or masters - ever remarking on this.
He was a difficult man. How could he have been anything else? We schoolboys mocked him as we mocked all our teachers but in his case there was a gentle, affectionate admiration to our cruelty. He was a hero and we knew it. A hero not because he went to war but because he could mock himself for the circumstances of the accident that had destroyed his face and who refused to let a small problem like blindness and a “stop you in your tracks” disfigurement destroy his life.
In 1966, the Oxford and Cambridge examination board set-texts for English Literature were Goodbye To All That – Robert Graves, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer – Siegfried Sassoon, The Poems of Wilfred Owen, and Henry V. The first three bravely pin their anti-war medals to the breast of their battledress blouse, and we students and our teachers soon found a clear anti-war reading of the Shakespeare play.
In the fifties and sixties our parents and grandparents talked about both the “world” wars regularly. And what they spoke of was rarely anything but misery. Some of my friend’s families had large bits missing; an older brother, a father, a whole family on the mother’s side. For my generation, the immediate post WWII generation, being anti-war was a given.
A couple of years after reading Owen at school, I wrote a dramatization of his life. I cast myself in the lead role and off we went to the Edinburgh Festival, funded by a prize from the National Union of Students. The finale to this work of borrowed genius was a rendering of Dulce et Decorum est given down-stage centre within spitting distance of the first of the three short rows that made up the audience.
I delivered the last fourteen lines of the double sonnet as a piece of tub-thumping demagoguery. The old theatre trope not a dry eye in the house was, for once, a simple statement of fact. It is difficult to imagine anything having a similar effect on a Fringe audience today. For anyone born between, say, 1930 and 1950, both world wars were very real - even though they were not old enough to take part in either.
Most of the acts of remembrance marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings have talked about the terrible losses and the suffering and the reasons why people died. They died for freedom, we are told: for France, for England, in defence of a principle, in defence of homeland and hearth, to aid their allies, to save the world for civilization but never the truth - "to serve some politician's agenda".
It would be all too easy to look at the morally flabby line-up of Cameron, Merkel, Hollande, Putin, Obama et al and pick Putin as the hypocrite du jour. But which of those leaders lining up for the cameras, on the beach in more ways than one, could claim that they have not already or will not in the future speak, with such high zest, to children ardent for some desperate glory, the old lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.