‘A military parade is a kind of ritual dance...’

LEP Columnist Barry Freeman
LEP Columnist Barry Freeman
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“A military parade is really a kind of ritual dance, something like a ballet,
expressing a certain philosophy of life.”

Apt, to kick off a column on Armed Forces Day with a thought from George Orwell, who was born 100 years ago last Thursday.

The quote comes from his 1940 essay ‘England Your England’, both a portrait of the English at war and an attempt to dig down and define the national character.

This beautifully written piece is still relevant on numerous levels, but of note today are observations on the military, its role in national life, “the English hatred of war and militarism”.

“It is rooted deep in history, and is strong in the lower-middle class as well as the working class. In peace time, even when there are 2m unemployed, it is difficult to fill the ranks of the tiny standing army, which is officered by the country gentry and a specialised stratum of the middle class, manned by farm labourers and slum proletarians.”

What would this forensic mind make of Armed Forces Day where it still at work – if only – today? Would he – as does this humble student of his work – regard this and several other recent cultural phenomena (notably Help For Heroes and the scores of similar new charities) as a bid to change this worldview?

Unlike Poppy Day and The Haig Fund, Armed Forces Day, Help For Heroes, et al, lack nuance. Seem based on blanket assumptions of merit, to the extent certain Armed Forces Day events come across as unambiguous celebrations of the state’s ability to project violence.

Put otherwise, the poppy on my lapel marks the horror, tragedy, futility of war. That my cash goes to help men and women who in many cases joined up and went to war of their own free will troubles me not one bit. Like life, shades of grey.

And should all this sound like mere peacenik hot air, ask yourself this; if the offices of state behind Armed Forces Day care so much about servicemen and women, why do they let so many veterans die in drink or drug infused squalor?

They don’t care at all. Never have.

So they chuck a few quid at this in the hope of nudging you, me and sundry corporate sponsors to chuck a few quid at cleaning up the human mess left by their actions, particularly, of late, their ruinous foreign policy decisions.

Should it also serve to diminish long-held wariness of that “certain philosophy of life,” all the better.