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Flanders Field doggerel for Brexit Ears

Monday, April 16, 2018

Flanders Field doggerel for Brexit Ears

10th November 2017

My son (10) has been instructed by his primary school to learn for homework ‘In Flanders Fields’, a piece of doggerel that in its final lines incites unspecified present and future soldiers to pursue ‘our quarrel’ against the ‘foe’, saying that not to do so would be to ‘break the faith’ – whatever that is – and somehow to prevent the dead from sleeping. Of course, the nature of the ‘quarrel’ is not specified either.

In other times and places, such piffle, though popular, might be laughed off. But some English [sic] politicians have begun to refer to their fellow Europeans as ‘enemies’ and to those who all too timidly continue to oppose ‘Brexit’ as traitors. At the same time, once respectable albeit rightwing journalists have now taken to calling European politicians and civil servants  ‘EU monkeys’ in mass-circulation newspapers (Rod Liddle in The Sun, 26.10.17).

As an antidote to Flanders-Fields doggerel, my son and I are now reading Wilfred Owen, whose forthright English tones were inflected with a quiet internationalism, quite free of any scoundrel patriotism: ‘I am the enemy you killed, my friend…’ says the narrator at the end of ‘Strange Meeting’. In  ‘The Parable of the Old Man and the Young’, Owen portrays the failure to avoid conflict on the part of European nations, depicted as an old ‘Abram’, as a refusal to sacrifice the ‘Ram of Pride’, opting instead to slay ‘half the seed of Europe one by one.’

On the 11th  November, we shall be making the modest gesture of wearing white rather than red poppies, in order to commemorate those of all nations who were slaughtered in the shameful twilight-imperial bloodbath known as World War One and especially those who stoutly refused to enlist or chose to desert and face certain death rather than to submit to the knaves, fools and asses who bade them kill their brothers and sisters.

Let us celebrate the words of the German anti-militarist Karl Liebknecht who in 1915, in the teeth of nationalistic compatriots and of backsliding fellow socialists, stated: Der Hauptfeind steht im eigenen Land. (The main enemy is in one’s own country). This was also the position of the Scottish Labourite internationalist Keir Hardie, the French pacifist Romain Rolland and many other fine men, women and children across Europe and beyond. These are the people we should honour in such times of dusted-off jingoism and extemporised foe-speak.

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