Saturday, 12 November 2016

A refusal to mourn


This week we remember in particular the dead from the two World Wars. It is right and proper that we should do so. We must always remember that they died for Britain. If we do not remember what they fought for how can we really remember them. If we know nothing of the conflicts in which they fought how also can we remember? Where then would be the substance of our memory? We would not really then be remembering them, but rather indulging in something that was merely about us. Please wear a poppy with pride, but it would be better to read a book about the First World War than to wear a poppy commemorating a conflict you know nothing about except clichés.




I remember, but I refuse to mourn. Every soldier who took part in the First World War would be dead now anyway.  What have they lost? They lost some years of life. But are those years of real consequence? Does it really matter if a soldier died when he was twenty or survived and lived to be ninety? The result is the same.

I have followed the anniversaries of the First World War in real time. In 2014 I went through the July Crisis. In September I reflected on the Marne and how the Germans just might have won if they had gone for it. In 2015 I paused at Neuve Chapelle and then again at Loos. This year I spent time thinking about Verdun and on July 1st I found myself crying because of the Newfoundland Regiment and how there were no more young men left in Newfoundland after that day. But still I refuse to mourn.




There is a difference between how those young men died and how most of us die today. There is a difference between the morality of today and that morality that nearly every soldier took for granted one hundred years ago. The way they fought and the sacrifice they made depended on what they believed. But most of us no longer believe.

Faith in Britain has collapsed and has been replaced with a new religion. We worship in surgeries and in hospitals and our gods are called doctors. What matters to us is longevity. If only I can put off death for as long as possible. I will do exercises. I will have check-ups. I will not smoke nor will I drink to excess. By giving up everything I may live to be one hundred. But for what? For pleasure? Simply for the years stretching ahead? Just to avoid the alternative?

In 1950 medicine was not so accomplished. I may have smoked and drunk, I may have eat pretty much what I wanted. With luck I would have lived to be seventy. On average I could have expected those years. But lots of people still lived to be eighty or ninety, some even more. So with all our advances in medicine since 1950, what really have I gained? A few more years. Those years I may spend alone, or in a nursing home or having lost my mind to Alzheimer’s. Our new religion gives us longevity. The high priests tell us what to give up and what to do, so that we can dribble while not even being aware of who we are. This is a religion without a purpose and without a point.

No-one wants to die. The soldiers of the Great War did not want to die, but they were willing to make their sacrifice because in the end there was no loss.

Now when someone loses their life they lose everything. Clint Eastwood puts it well “It's a hell of a thing, ain't it, killin' a man. You take everything he's got... and everything he's ever gonna have...” No wonder then that we treat death with such hysteria, while during the First World War our country took huge numbers of casualties in their stride, with grief that lasted a lifetime, but with dignity and with peace and with quiet.




But a wife in 1916 on hearing that her husband had been killed regretted the years they would have spent together and the children they may have had.  Still, although she would regret that she could no longer see her husband, no longer meet and no longer touch him, she would not have thought that he had ceased to exist. This is why I too refuse to mourn.

There is a sure and certain hope. It may be a belief despite all of the evidence. It may be contrary to reason, but without it all I can ever do is mourn and above all else I refuse to mourn.

I think it is for this reason also that First World War soldiers could mock death.

Oh! Death, where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling?
Oh! Grave, thy victory?
The Bells of Hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling
For you but not for me.

Which soldiers of today could sing such a song? They wouldn’t even get the reference.

The horror of the First World War is not death. “Death comes equally to us all, and makes us all equal when it comes.” It doesn’t matter in itself whether life is long or short. It is all chance anyway. Each of us could have caught a disease in childhood. Each of us could have had some accident or other. If one hundred years of life is without meaning it won’t gain meaning because it is long. Longevity in itself is of no consequence.

It is for this reason above all that fussy attempts to make us live more healthily are so without purpose. The SNP first made it impossible for us to smoke. They next will make it impossible for us to drink and after that they will make it impossible for us to eat sugar or fry food in fat. What is achieved by this? What purpose does it have? Why do you want more Scots to live to be one hundred? So they can fill up still more old folks homes? Because you will conquer death that way and take away it’s sting-a-ling-a-ling?

Socrates when he was about to drink some hemlock was asked about what he wanted done with his body. He replied that you can do what you want with it, even put it on the rubbish heap. Why was he so unconcerned about the fate of his body? The reason he answered is that it won’t be me.

The bodies that we buried on the Western Front are not the people who died. You may think all that you are is a collection of atoms and molecules subject to decay and disease and death, but what dies is not you.

Everything in your life tells you that you are distinct from matter. Every choice you make is free. You do not feel as if you are subject to the laws of physics and that determinism determines what you think and what you feel and what you do.  You are not a thing. I therefore refuse to mourn your death or the death of anyone. What I regret is only that I can no longer see you, touch you, talk to you. But then I am really regretting something about myself not you.

Death on the scale of the First of Second World War fills us with horror. We should remember the lives cut short. But there is the same tragedy in the death of just one of London’s daughters.

I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.

There is a moment in Schinlder’s list when Itzhak Stern says “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire” and he is right, but the converse is that each death destroys the world entire at least for the one who dies. The death of one soldier in the First World War is not less tragic than the death of millions or indeed all the deaths that have occurred in all of the wars put together. For this reason the poet is right to conclude “After the first death, there is no other.”



And still I refuse to mourn. I remember. I grieve. I miss. But I don’t mourn. For there is the sure and certain hope that almost all of those we remember felt before they died. There is no sting, because there is no death. This is why I will never mourn. This refusal to mourn saves the whole world entire and means that there never was any loss and never will be.



44 comments:

  1. Why do you turn everything you write into pot shots against the SNP? I get it that you don't like the SNP, but it's also a bit disingenuous to phrase this essay as though it were only the SNP passing laws to help people live longer. Labour raised the smoking age limit from 16 to 18 in 2007 and the Conservatives recently announced a tax on fizzy drinks. Both parties have raised taxes on tobacco. It's a recent trend for governments worldwide to pass health-related laws like these.

    Furthermore, you'd have been marked down for using the word "impossible" (in reference to SNP restrictions) in a university essay when the correct term is "harder". The British Medical Association wants to make tobacco illegal to sell*, but the SNP hasn't done that.

    *http://www.bbc.com/news/health-27992686

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I don't think there's much of an SNP angle here. It only is a passing reference in the wider line on "worshiping longevity"; she's writing in Scotland so it's to be expected that the government in question is mentioned.

      What comes across is the astonishing anti-human element. One which led to the rise of Bolshevism and the Holodomor. Social catastrophes in which flesh and blood humans became entries on a ledger which you could rub out, reasoning that it all will be the same in a hundred years.

      The idea that people then were more sanguine about death is arrant nonsense. You only need to consider the rise of spiritualism after the War in which distraught relations tried anything to speak to their loved ones again. The myth of the long hot summers - 1912 was the wettest summer until 2012 - based on that when your husband, son, brother, father were there it *was* a glorious summer.

      Go to any graveyard and look at graves of the young. See the epitaphs from grieving parents. Consider their hanging onto the notion their children now were in a better place. For Christ sake, open a ****ing diary from the time and see how frantically people attended doctors to ward off what now are minor ailments.

      People *were* praying for life back then.

      My grandfather's first wife died of rheumatic fever, which now could have been treated with simple antiobiotics. Seventy five years on, her daughters still weep.

      Ugly ugly crap.

      Delete
    2. Also note her question begging and the fallacy of low expectations. "A conflict you know nothing about except clichés".

      How does she know this? What makes her think that others have no interest in acquiring knowledge of the period? It just is saying "I don't care, and if you say you do you're lying because mine is the only conceivable opinion".

      And, even if an individual has a patchy knowledge, so what? As long as they don't hector others for not conforming to their low standards, so what?

      Delete
  2. Could be because they currently govern Scotland's health service and have done for ten years?

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  3. A blog which I read and with which sone points I agree and others I don't. "Read a book about the first world war" definitely, too many people post things on social media of which they have absolutely no background knowledge.

    "Does it matter if a soldier dies at twenty", well if he dies in agony and his Wife and family are left to fend for themselves because someone else has sent him to that fate from a position of safety, then yes it does.

    I enjoyed the blog, really made me think.

    David

    Www.new-model-tours.com

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  4. A blog which I read and with which sone points I agree and others I don't. "Read a book about the first world war" definitely, too many people post things on social media of which they have absolutely no background knowledge.

    "Does it matter if a soldier dies at twenty", well if he dies in agony and his Wife and family are left to fend for themselves because someone else has sent him to that fate from a position of safety, then yes it does.

    I enjoyed the blog, really made me think.

    David

    Www.new-model-tours.com

    ReplyDelete
  5. Do you have children?
    Or just a cold heart.....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why comment when you are obviously incapable of understanding the nature of the article.

      Delete
    2. Yes, that's right, you are much more intelligent and insightful than everyone else. Anyone who disagrees with you isn't just wrong, but morally reprehensible.

      Has it occurred to you that we *have* understood the article, and are appalled?

      Delete
  6. You're so weird.
    I assume, based on this, that it doesn't matter to you whether you or your loved ones die tomorrow or in 20 or 50 years. It's all the same.

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  7. You're so weird.
    I assume, based on this, that it doesn't matter to you whether you or your loved ones die tomorrow or in 20 or 50 years. It's all the same.

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  8. What absolute presumptive tosh. Howling madness. Bereaved wives suffer a bit of regret about their loved ones and Governments castigated for trying to improve the health of the general public.

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  9. Started as a decent read, but spiralled into insanity!

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  10. Why castigate the SNP for trying to improve healthcare???

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  11. The second paragraph. Ayn Rand on speed. That's not a compliment.

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  12. Death does not come equally to us all. The idea that dying at 19 in shattered agony in a wood or mud quagmire is the same as dying at 90 in bed after a long life of love, and children is false. There may be good reasons not to mourn those crushed by the Empire and human meat grinder of WWI but nothing you have written above is amongst them. I will mourn them because they were my family, and I recognise that others also suffered the same way.

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  13. When you say that the SNP made it impossible to smoke, are you referring to the ban on smoking in public places?
    If so, you do know that legislation was brought in by McConnell's Labour in 2006?

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  14. This feels like one of the most bizarre, convoluted efforts to find a new 'SNP Bad' angle that I've ever seen. Essentially: that we should be angry with the SNP for trying to support the good health of us and our families.

    Blinkers, eh?

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  15. Your profoundness is brilliant , keep it raised on its pinnacle.

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  16. My dear young woman/man I really feel your pain. I think you should contact your doctor and get a referral for some psychiatric help. I understand it's difficult for you to admit but these ramblings are obviously a cry for help,please take the advice of well wisher

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  17. Only someone who has not seen soldiers and civilians die horribly in battle, as I have, could write such an odious article devoid of the least shred of empathy and compassion.

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  18. You seem to be suggesting that the only thing that makes life worth living is for misery and death. What a cheery thought! God forbid living because we can bring good to people and live without fearing a simple" bacterial infection will kill us.

    And how DID you manage the SNP into this? So, a government who tries to help by improving our health and not forcing people to die prematurely through war is a bad thing, as you seem to be inferring? By the way, Westminster wants to control sugar levels in food. Either way, would you prefer to be surrounded by people suffering from diabetes and/or obesity?

    The article sounds like a script Scrooge would be happy with but maybe that's the idea in the run up to Christmas.

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  19. Somebody get this poor woman some psychiatric help. She obviously needs it.

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  20. Does this poor person not have any family who can do an intervention so she receives much needed psychiatric help?

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  21. Having professionally stood at the head of the grave of a soldier whose funeral I was conducting, why did I mourn while you appear are incapable of feeling for other people? I suspect that your lack of empathy is what advises all your writing. Thank you for exposing yourself in this piece. I will understand your ill informed diatribes far better. I would suggest that your parallel with preventative health care today where people are discouraged from such unhealthy behaviour as smoking and drinking is totally false. There is all the difference between people who put themselves in harms way answering the call of their national leaders and someone who puts themselves in harms way to enrich the tobacco and Drinks industry. I suggest that you make use of the excellent community Psychiatric services before the tendencies which you are demonstrating lead you to doing something sociopathic rather than just writing it.

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  22. The Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act 2005. Note the date. The SNP didn't form a government until 2007.

    And that, believe it or not, is the least of the ignorance and derangement in this article.

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  23. It is very sad that so many , younger people I guess , can not read your blog in it's entirety without focusing on minor points . As one who has lived over seventy years and seen death come to the most loved in my life , I understand where you are coming from ,the horror of the shade looms , time becomes irrelevant .

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    Replies
    1. Time may now be irrelevant when you’ve had yours but to some young 19 year old soldier maybe not so irrelevant.

      Delete
  24. Не бросайте псам ничего, что свято, не бросайте перед свиньями жемчуг ваш. Иначе свиньи затопчут его, а псы повернутся и набросятся на вас

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    Replies
    1. So this display of complete nonsense by you is, by your own deluded response, casting pearls before unappreciating swine.
      That really has brought a smile to me.

      Delete
  25. Ha ha ha! Your Russian quote above is about not throwing pearls before swine! You think you are a refined intellectual of the highest order and your critics are uneducated swine, don't you? Your writing is just pseudo-intellectual fascist claptrap and you have absolutely no moral compass. Stop publishing this terrible, terrible, ill-thought out bilge and take a long, hard look at yourself.

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  26. Are you the renowned britnat history teacher at a certain Perthshire secondary?Her propaganda efforts are certainly as woeful as yours.Can't believe someone would be arrogantly ignorant enough to publish this crap.

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    Replies
    1. There are plenty of what you "BritNats" aghast at this. Your trying to make it into a political point is boring.

      Delete
    2. Perhaps you should realise Effie hates being called a Nationalist.She regards it as an insult to be directed at anyone she disagrees with.And as for me making it political.
      Y're a bit late.

      Delete
    3. Perhaps you think you're an unknown commodity to me.

      I am well aware of were ED comes from. And what she's displaying here is not nationalism. In any case, you didn't call her any sort of nationalist. You droned on and on about the SNP.

      As I said, boring.

      Delete
  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  28. Effie Deans, I believe you have been outed as working at Aberdeen University, which, if true, is really quite scary. You ought to read Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. That also deals with the subject of an educated and cultured Scottish lady with a distorted moral compass and delusions of elitist superiority who worships Mussolini and Franco's fascist ideology. Jean Brodie was deluded and dangerous, sending a young girl to her death in Franco's Spain because of placing ideology over humanity. The novel was set in the 1930s but it accurately describes an archetype. Effie,I see you as the 21st Miss Jean Brodie - can you please enlighten us about which contemporary fascist leader you subscribe to? But then, you probably won't and know deep in your heart of hearts that what you are peddling is morally unacceptable - otherwise you would not be hiding your identity behind a pseudonym. [Previous comment deleted due to typos]

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    1. I really don't think we should get into tracking down people's workplaces because of berkish online comments. It maps into the YeSNP ultras who formed their "boycott lists".

      Especially, as by all accounts, ED no longer is in a position of responsibility. I've known academics who are solicitude itself towards students with opposing politics, or are not very good academics... I have known mercifully few who let their personal opinions influence students showing academic awareness.

      There there's whether this is fascism or the anti-human Communism favoured by George Bernard Shaw. I'm sure ED would have felt the same intellectual disagreement at Emily Joyce's fate just as she showed to those killed in Flanders: it's her emotional disconnect which is under scrutiny.

      Of course, there were both fascists and Communists who delighted in violence; and Miss Jean Brodie's touting around for the new flavour of the day is reminscent of the Red Dean of Canterbury going for consecutive Soviet figures.

      Delete
  29. Replies
    1. What's Russian for "pretentious? Moi?".

      Delete
  30. Effie - never stop being afraid to voice your thoughts. Some of us do understand.


    Do not stand at my grave and weep
    I am not there. I do not sleep.
    I am a thousand winds that blow.
    I am the diamond glints on snow.
    I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
    I am the gentle autumn rain.
    When you awaken in the morning's hush
    I am the swift uplifting rush
    Of quiet birds in circled flight.
    I am the soft stars that shine at night.
    Do not stand at my grave and cry;
    I am not there. I did not die.

    ReplyDelete
  31. "Only sovereign states can engage in international relations"... ha ha ha. Best tell provinces like Ontario who send trade teams all over the world.

    You're so thick it hurts.

    ReplyDelete