Springingtiger's Blog

Known To God


Yestereven I watched a documentary about the Battle of the Somme, whose Centenary begins next month. The documentary, drawing on accounts by some of the participants, focused on just the first couple of days of the battle. The Battle of the Somme lasted into November and had implications for the Battle of Verdun and the Russian Brusilov offensive by tying up vast numbers of German troops. However the program just looked at the first offensive and the nearly sixty thousand British casualties incurred, many within the first few hours. The men who died were buried largely close to where they fell and today their graves are marked by long rows of white markers. Thousands of graves in each of several grave yards and among those thousands many hundreds of graves without a name merely the inscription ‘A Soldier of The Great War: Known To God’.

A couple of years after the Great War ended the Paris Peace Conference established The League of Nations to preserve world peace, but it had no real powers and no means to bind its members into any sort of union. It depended upon the goodwill of the Great Powers to preserve peace and the Powers had their own prorities. The Great War was ended by the German surrender and their humiliation in the Treaty of Versailles. It left Germany not only resentful of the allies but in economic chaos. Adolf Hitler directly blamed the Treaty for the state of the German economy and we all know what followed.

After the Second World War with its millions of dead, not only combatants, but civilians some politicians sought to bind European nations particularly France and Germany into alliances of mutual interest beginning in 1951 by another Treaty of Paris that established the European Coal and Steel Community which had been proposed by the French Foreign Minister specifically as a means to prevent war between France and Germany to “make war not only unthinkable, but materially impossible”. The ECSC was followed by other institutions each designed to bind Europe more closely. The primary purpose of the ECSC and its development ultimately into the European Union has always been to preserve peace in Europe and to avoid the sort of economic conditions in any nation that brought about the rise of Hitler and the Second World War.

It has been sad seeing the glee with which politicians of the Right like Liam Fox and Marine Le Pen have welcomed the possibility that Britain’s leaving the EU may cause other nations to follow suit and bring about the end of the EU. We know from the collapse of Yugoslavia that there are historic grudges within Europe that can easily lead to violence, even war. Drawing into the Union the countries that had been satellites of the former Soviet Union gave them stability and aspiration and a new identity as European countries. Within the EU it is true that some nations subsidised others however it generally has prevented the sort of economic collapse seen in the Weimar Republic. Yes there have been serious problems such as the treatment of Greece, but the overall impetus has been to contain crises and prevent the circumstances that cause war.

The Brexit vote in the UK has encouraged the extreme right with their racist thugs to come crawling out of their holes and make their presence felt once more. I take no comfort in the argument that they are a small minority, so were the Nazis in Germany, the Fascists in Italy and the Falangists in Spain. Given a collapsing economy and suitable scapegoats like foreigners, Jews (or Muslims), Socialists, and Trades Unions a previously ridiculed minority political party can rise to power. It has happened before. Without a shared vision of peace it could happen again. I hope that those negotiating for the UK in the Brexit negotiations are not driven by jingoism and that the EU negotiators do not decide to make an example of the UK to discourage others from leaving. The times are sensitive and I hope before anyone decides to rattle a sabre they take a long hard look at those rows of white grave markers and remember the millions of men some known only to God and realise that nothing in the EU is as bad as war.


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