The deaths, within a few days of each other, of the last surviving First World War veterans in Britain, Henry Allingham and Harry Patch, have generated the most enthusiastic tributes from the high and mighty: the Queen, Prince Charles, Gordon Brown, and all the rest of them. In addition to massive media coverage, we will soon be treated to a spectacular service at Westminster Abbey to remember the ‘sacrifice of a generation', who, we are told, laid down their lives in the cause of freedom. And all this pomp and ceremony will be deliberately linked to images of the present generation of servicemen and women who are experiencing the dangers of war in Afghanistan.
Of course veterans like Allingham and Patch - even though for years they refused to talk about the horrible experiences they had been through in the slaughter of 1914-18 - have been caught up in these parades and used as symbols of loyalty and devotion to Queen and country. But Patch actually thought that it was necessary to "free Remembrance services from the bureaucrats" as they had become "just showbusiness". And if you look at what these men said about the First World War, it sheds a very bright light on the disgusting hypocrisy of our rulers and their tame media.
Harry Patch, the last British survivor from the trenches of the Western Front, said that the First World War was "organised murder". He said that "it was not worth it. It was not worth one, let alone all the millions"
How does this square with what the politicians and the royals have said about these men, this generation, sacrificing themselves for our freedom? If it was organised murder, then it was organised precisely by the same institutions who also organise the solemn parades and national services of commemoration - the army, the church, the governments. And if it was sacrifice, it was sacrifice in their interests, the interests of the decrepit capitalist order that they defend. The same order that is sending young people to die in Iraq or Afghanistan today.
Harry Patch also said "remember the Germans. They put up with the same conditions as we did". He said "I met someone from the German side and we both shared the same opinion: we fought, we finished and we were friends. It wasn't worth it."
How does this square with all the waving of national flags, the almost exclusive focus on ‘our' war dead? Harry Patch is giving voice to the fundamental internationalism of the working class, which stands in stark opposition to nationalism of all kinds. The workers in uniform had the same interests, and these were diametrically opposed to the interests of governments and military in both camps. It was this internationalist spirit which gave rise to the Christmas Day fraternisations in 1914, hastily brought to an end by the ‘top brass' of both armies; and later on, it gave rise the revolutionary fraternisations and mutinies which, along with the mass strikes uprisings by the workers on the home fronts in Russia, Germany and elsewhere, compelled the ruling class to put an end to the butchery in 1918.
Henry Allingham expressed this same instinctive internationalism when he was quoted as saying that there will be no end to war until the whole world is one single nation.
The veterans of the First World War, like the veterans of all the other imperialist wars that have littered capitalism's bloody history, do not belong to the nation, that false idol. They belong to the world working class.Amos 27/7/09