Jelly-bellied flag-flappers and self-appointed Wilfred Owens

Over at ‘Blood and Treasure’, Jamie Kenny declares himself disgusted by the attempts by the likes of Michael Gove to use the 1914 commemorations as an excuse for idiotic smear campaigns and jingoistic rhetoric. I agree, very strongly.

Gove’s rhetoric is based, in part, on a not-even-quarter-digested reading of recent scholarship on the war. And it’s based, in part, on Gove’s apparent need to establish himself as the resident intellectual, and possible leadership candidate, of the Tory Right. Yes, Mr Gove, why not use the death of millions of people as a career opportunity? Borrowing a splendid phrase from one of Kipling’s ‘Stalky’ stories, Jamie denounces Gove and other jingoists as ‘jelly-bellied flag-flappers’.

But then, alas, Jamie links to an article by Solomon Hughes, which is not merely stupid but genuinely contemptible. It has an awful lot in common with Gove’s anonymous smear campaign about the commemoration plans.

Hughes informs us: ‘The only way to properly reflect the feelings of those who lived through the first world war is to ignore Gove and sign up to the No Glory campaign at http://www.noglory.org.’

Click on the link, and one finds that ‘noglory.org’ wants us to sign a petition already signed by a collection of luvvies and fashionistas (the late Roger Lloyd Pack, Simon Callow, Vivienne Westwood ad hoc genus) leavened by one or two genuine wankers (Tony Benn, Billy ‘Not Even Unintentionally Funny Anymore’ Bragg). And it thinks we must read a bunch of articles on the war by such towering historians as Mark Steel.

So, Solomon thinks that we don’t properly respect the sufferings of those who fought in the Great War unless we do as he bids and sign up to the dozy and ignorant rhetoric peddled by the normal collection of ‘politically aware’ minor celebrities, stand-up comics and op-ed writers?

Since I have no intention of signing the ‘No Glory’ petition, I guess that I am refusing to ‘properly reflect’ on, say, my paternal grandfather, who fought on the Western Front and in Italy and who lived the rest of his life, in my father’s sad memory, as a broken man.

Thanks for the lecture, Solomon, but if you imagine you have even the slightest authority to tell me that there is only one way to ‘properly reflect’ the tragedy of the Great War, and that that way involves signing some dumb online petition got up by a bunch of geniuses who don’t seem to have read a single serious book on the war between them, then you know what you can do to yourself.

Both the grotesque, and borderline racist, Gove briefings, and the Solomon Hughes/Billy Bragg/Tony Benn/other-assorted-cretins campaign are doing the same thing. To borrow Dan Davies’s brilliant satire of some of the more exploitative reactions to 9/11, all these fools are saying is ‘Why the death of several million people in the Great War means we must support my politics’. Jelly-bellied flag-flappers are indeed revolting specimens, but then so are self-appointed Wilfred Owens.

I’ll be commemorating the Great War this year as I always do in November, by reading about it, and thinking about what I’ve learned from my reading, and hoping that I might possibly act more honestly and intelligently as a result.

But if this doesn’t appeal to anyone, you can go and sign a petition endorsed by Tony Benn and Billy Bragg. It’s the only way to properly reflect on the carnage, I hear.

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