Remembrance Sunday

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TRIGGER WARNING: GORE

It’s Remembrance Day, and David Cameron , Ed Miliband and all the rest of Respectable Society are in the midst of some fifty million quid worth of festivities “like the Diamond Jubilee celebrations” (Cameron’s words).

Here are some images from Verdun that Cameron and his ilk will be trying very hard not to remember.

A hellscape where for a kilometre and a half in every direction the shells and mustard gas have shattered every tree to splinters, seared away every seed of grass and churned the earth to mud. No colours remain but brown slurry and black smoke and red streaks of blood and gore where a pack horse has been hit by the blast and its innards smeared over the area. Much of the trench network has been obliterated by shells, leaving craters thirty feet wide which are then blasted with still more shells over and over again until they are no longer bowls but weird, disorienting gouges in the earth. The rain mingles with the mustard gas residue and pools in the bottom of these craters, poisoning the earth and anyone desperate enough to drink from them. Many drink anyway: it has been so long since water arrived from the supply lines. You cower, soaked and shivering, in this fetid ooze because raising yourself up would mean death or injury by bullets or flying shrapnel – perhaps even skewered by a jagged shard of bone hurtling through the air from another blast. The mutilated corpses of soldiers – often partial or pulverised beyond recognition, perhaps your own childhood friends who customarily serve in the same unit – have rolled down the slopes of each crater and come to rest in the water, becoming bloated and rotten and giving the water a greasy texture along with the stench of death. Abandoning this crater for the next would be suicide and the next holds just as many corpses. So many corpses. In many places the living squat or lay atop a carpet of their forebears: their boots sinking into the putrefied bodies, a freezing slush of filth welling up around them. There is nowhere for you to go. All you can do is lay here among the dead and wait to see if you will join them. Your clothes have been clogged with shit and piss for more than a week, but you cannot see it under the mud and the smell is masked at all times by the stink of rotting corpses. And all the while the lice feed on you as you watch the maggots feed on your friends.

You and a million more will strew your guts across this ground because the generals involved explicitly seek to kill as many people as possible in order to demoralise and destabilise each others’ homelands until their enemies’ entire society -ultimately, Germany’s – fell apart: a tactic they called “bleeding” or “attrition”, but known more commonly to us today as “terrorism”. The primary objective was never to seize control of Verdun, or the Somme, or Ypres, or anywhere else. Death and suffering and fear and grief and loss were objectives in themselves.

The class that dreamed up Verdun, and its mouthpieces like Cameron today, will always see the ordinary people of any nation as tools to be used – even when that use is merely to be butchered for political ends. Remember that.

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