Helen Martin: This year we’ve crossed the line

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FOR Sixth Year Studies English at school (circa 1970) my dissertation was based on a comparison of the ­poetry of the First and Second World Wars. I immersed myself in it.

While many of the recognised poets of 1914-18 acknowledged, in their own way, the horrors of war, much of their work was still bathed in the ideals of the day, patriotism, bravery, duty and stoicism. Their words painted idyllic pictures of a leafy, perfect, England for which they longed; they wrote nobly if sadly of their possible and imminent death; and of God’s will.

Fifty-something years later that sad inevitability and their conviction that, however bad it got, they were fighting for the glory of King and country and had right on their side, seemed naïve and gullible. At least Wilfred Owen pointed out that the notion of “honour” in fighting and dying for one’s country was balderdash.

Second World War poets such as Keith Douglas took a different tack. Coming across a dead, young, German soldier whose gut was now home to flies and maggots, he found a picture of a young girl in the corpse’s breast pocket with “Steffi, don’t forget me” written carefully in teenage, Gothic script on the back. Douglas died in action himself, aged just 24.He had seen no glory in killing the enemy . . . just a disgust at having to kill anyone.

My father won the Distinguished Conduct Medal during WWII. He was Edinburgh’s first young conscript and wound up behind enemy lines in ­special services. He always refused to talk about it, how he got the bullet scars and lost a lung, or his time as a prisoner of war.

Remembrance Sunday used to be a quiet, dignified, private, procedure following worship in church, a day when a two-minute silence said more than any words could. Then it was over. Discretion is the better part of valour. War is after all, shameful, not something to be celebrated, but regretted. It is a failure of mankind.

This year’s Remembrance services, moats of poppies, endless TV and radio documentaries, and innumerable events marking the centenary of WWI let alone the withdrawal from Afghanistan, were all excessive and over militarised for me. But I am repulsed that WWI has been hijacked as a supermarket’s Christmas sales ad campaign.

After all the activity in the middle East, the UK is becoming more used to conflict. Dragged in, usually by the US in its ignorance of other cultures, we make the extraordinary distinction between “good” drones that can kill without risking our soldiers’ or pilots’ lives, and “bad” boots on the ground . . . as if our side is the only one that matters.

I didn’t buy or wear a poppy this year because as well as being militarised, I feel we are being politicised in order to accept increasing conflicts. It is one thing to “never forget”, quite another to use the past to justify the wrongs of the present and future. Of course I feel for anyone who has lost a son, brother, husband or father and nowadays, a daughter, sister, wife or mother. Every loss is tragic. The difference today is that joining the army is a matter of choice, not conscription. In 1914-18 and 1939-45 many were forced to fight.

Today the public is as likely to be against action as the government (for whatever spurious reason) is for it. We shouldn’t be sucked in.

War disgusts me. The pain it causes disgusts me. It holds no honour or glory. I will pray for the fallen and pay for the maimed. But there’s a thin line between commemoration and glorification and this year, we crossed it.

Brits don’t give a fig

ACCORDING to a Bird’s Eye survey, three million Britons admit to not having consumed any vegetables at all for a week. I find that incredible. And if that’s the case I’m looking for shares in Syrup of Figs.

Rapist Evans is a symptom ofa sick society

THERE’S little argument from sane folk that Sheffield United’s rapist footballer Ched Evans should be banned for life.

A good example he is not. But neither are the many footballers who have been done for assault, sexual assault, sexual offences including under-age sex and pornography, wife-beating, drunk or dangerous driving, death by dangerous driving, match fixing, murder, fraud, counterfeiting, drug offences and urinating in public.

Players are hardly known for honour and sophistication and football clubs would field Auld Nick himself if he was a good striker. Most sports aren’t much better. Some women might try to fight it all from within. They’d have more chance of turning Hannibal Lecter vegan.

We need living wage schemes

THE numbers of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance in Edinburgh has fallen. But in the same period the number claiming other benefits went up. The simple deduction from this is that despite the Capital being one of the wealthiest cities in the UK, people are not being paid enough. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to have Living Wage badges like the “Investors in People” stamp so that the public can choose to pay for products and services from companies who pay staff decent rates?

And if Fairtrade is such an alluring concept, shouldn’t we be ensuring workers here aren’t exploited?