I had my mother on the ‘phone today to give me her shopping list but, once finished with that, she told me what was on her mind in respect of the civilian aircraft downed over the Ukraine.
You don’t know who or what to believe, she said.
It wasn’t the way it was in the war….though I know that there was propaganda then too: wouldn’t do to let the people know how their pre war governments had left Britain powerless…how the war effort was directed by people with connections rather than by people with brains…but here they are treating the deaths of some three hundred people as pawns in a power game. You can’t have any respect for politicians who do that.
She grew up in the aftermath of the first World War, seeing the men in the invalid carriages, some choking up their lungs after gassings – the smell of the rooms in which they were immured.
As a girl she saw wartime aces earning a living from offering rides in the biplanes which had brought death to so many and were then turned into attractions – the circuit and bump rides in areas which might provide a clientele with enough money to keep the man and aircraft paying their way.
Not much of a home for heroes.
She remembers the rise of Hitler…..she heard him on the radio from Nuremburg, with the masses singing ‘Wir fahren gegen Engeland’…and the Mosleyites in Britain.
She had knitted herself a black jersey with red and white bands at the sleeves and was surprised to be greeted as a comrade by the followers of Mosely when she went to do her mother’s shopping in Kingston market. The jersey was swiftly discarded.
She was an athlete, a sprinter and hurdler, hoping to qualify for the team for the Helsinki Olympics planned for 1940…
But along came the second World War.
She could not, as she said, have given a thought for other countries; sod Poland if you hadn’t gone in to protect Chzechoslovakia…her effort was to prevent her own from being invaded and to beat the hell out of Germany.
She joined the army…..the Auxiliary Terrioral Service…and found herself meeting David Niven at Winchester; trainee tank drivers at Castle Barnard; ghosts – and my father – at Naworth Castle and working under continual bombardment at Park Royal, Wembley, assembling radios for the use of the Resistance in France and in the Dutch East Indies.
But through it all, she said, she knew what she was fighting for. Not just the survival of the U.K. as an independent country…but the transformation of the U.K. into a country where privilege no longer ruled supreme.
She had been sent to a farm in Suffolk for a break from the bombing in London and, brought up on a farm herself, noted how the country folk lived much better than the people in the towns; but not far from the farm was an airfield housing bomber squadrons…flying Avro Lancasters.
She watched the ‘planes taking off on their night bombing raids…and watched the returns, the rows of ambulances lined up to take off the surviving crews…from those aircraft, running blood as the doors were opened, which managed to return.
The rate of attrition in Bomber Command was phenomenal…and she determined that, nomatter how misguided the strategies which had sent those young men – not only of the U.K. but also of Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa – into hell, their monument would be a better society.
She thought it was on the way to being achieved in the post war settlement….but the Thatcher and Blair years have left her wondering whether it was worth resisting Hitler at such a cost.
She might not have the fear of the Gestapo at her door in the early hours…but the policy of recent U.K. governments, brown nosing those of the U.S., has left so many others open to not only that risk, but the risk of violent death at the hands of fanatics financed by these governments…and to what end?
Certainly not that of life, liberty and the pursuit of
54 thoughts on “Who is the enemy?”
All of the current leaders are simply playing “pass the parcel.” And that parcel is humanity.
Increasingly, I find myself lying awake, in my (so far, relatively safe) bed, wondering which idiot will be the next to make things worse.
Your mother is right.
It strikes me that the real masters are the banks…and they don’t give a damn for any person and certainly not for any moral principle. Politicians are just their puppets.
Sums up all that has gone wrong in the last 50 years perfectly and succinctly. What scares me the most is the fact newspapers are no longer concerned with selling information but moulding public opinion in the image of themselves.
And watch politicians kow towing to Murdoch…..having allowed him to build a press quasi monopoly in the first place…
Money, Money, Money. The cause of and answer to everything these days.
And they’re printing it wholesale – in the interests of the banks.
Wilfred Owen came to mind on reading about the First World War, invalid carriages and gassing. A vicious war.
Watching the vid reminded me of the targeting of cities and the civilian population. And that ghastly term collateral damage. Newscasters put on serious face and sombre voice to announce ‘…causing some collateral damage’. Why can’t they say hundreds of civilians were killed in the attack? Very Orwellian 😦 Bet he’s laughing in his grave.
And friendly fire. No our armed forces were not killed by friendly fire. In fact it was most unfriendly. They were killed by our allies who made a mistake, however unintentional.
Having read a couple of books about WW2 and the RAF recently, I am totally in awe of the very young people who contributed in whatever way to that war. The books describe the endless waiting the ground staff go through until the bombers start to return. And then it’s a question of how many return, and what condition people are in. Makes you wonder how much PTSD there was after both WWs.
All one sees in politicians these days is sheer self-aggrandisement. It’s very sad. Perhaps we should just save ourselves some money. Sack them, let the banks and civil service run the state, or just sign up to being part of the USA? (Bye bye health care). The UK could elect one senator.
Sadly the people who go into politics aren’t the ones interested in improving life. I have met some decent people in both the civil service and the NHS who were committed to their jobs and the public sector ethos. I even met a decent politician, but as he was a local councillor in the opposition his sphere of influence was somewhat limited.
Why is your mother giving you her shopping list? Are you nipping over from CR to go to Tesco for her?
I think decent, competent people are excluded from politics by the modern party system where the central party machine imposes candidates on local associations – who don’t have the guts to put up two fingers!
The shopping list? I Skype mother, she gives me her list. I put it on the Tesco website, they deliver it. She can get out and about, but can’t carry heavy stuff.
Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon should be mandatory reading to any world leader contemplating war. Your comment on PTSD reminds of something I read about the world wars. WWI called it “shell shock” and WWII “battle fatigue.” By any name, still a horror.
And with the Iraq war vaccination programme add widespread attacks of Guillain-Barre syndrome to the mix….and what was it called after Vietnam…I forget, while I don’t forget the mistreatment meted out to those men.
Our current leaders…our leaders for the past thirty years…. could read Owen and Sassoon without it penetrating their minds for one moment that those words could have any application to their proposed actions.
After all, it won’t be their kids going to war with useless equipment and rules of engagement that wouldn’t let them win a game if tiddlywinks…
Agreed. Have you ever read “Flashman?” Fictional farce on a grand scale however set in the very real Afghanistan during the time of Britain’s Raj years. A book critic remarked that the book should have been required reading in the Pentagon before ever contemplating a war. Which, as you say, would never have penetrated their minds as applicable. Tragic how we don’t learn from history. Is it Agent Orange you’re thinking of perhaps?
It could well be…and yes, I’ve certainly read Flashman! The same authior wrote a book called ‘Quartered Safe Out Here’ about his experiences of the Burma campaign…and that should certainly be required reading!
Excellent as always. And I love that your mother rings Costa Rica for her shopping home delivery 🙂
No fool, mother….
What a remarkable lady your mother is – surely there’s a wonderful biography just waiting to be written?
What a waste of tens of millions of innocent lives when you see the way the Western world has gone. It makes you wonder how much worse it can get. More than a little ironic that Britain fought against German enslavement and ended up selling the country into slavery to the US.
She’s seen a lot in her time – and thinks things through.
She too thinks that the U.K. has become a colony of the U.S. – one without rights…just look at the extradition scandals…
I second merewoman re:biography of your mum! Love the fact that your mum phones you in Costa Rica to pass on her shopping order 🙂
What i have always wanted to know is how she knew that Polish servicemen wore silk stocking and hairnets….but she remains as tight lipped as Ron Knee on that subject….
I agree with your mother about the way Europe in particular, and the West in general has gone. Finance seems to be the root of the problem leading to the eroding of democracy bit by bit. An impoverished majority kept cowed by the ‘fear of terrorism’ is a much easier population to control. Our leaders have been abusing their power and betraying our trust for the last 50 years.
The terrorists are at the top.
Every generation that loses as much as your mother’s generation has done must believe that it was the war to end all wars….. we never learn do we ? I was born 10 years after the end of WW2……and know how lucky I have been to not have been invaded, or even threatened with it during my lifetime. But what we have been involved with, mainly through supporting the US, has been horrific. Your mum must despair, wondering what on earth the last 100 years have been about.
This is another incredibly thought provoking post Helen….depressing, and has certainly got me thinking particularly about older people’s feelings and fears as we embark on yet more horror.
What hurts her is a system that sends poor peoples’ children to risk their lives in wars that further the interests of big business…..and which ruin the lives of the countless helpless people who ‘get in the way’ of those interests. Just to contemplate the depleted uranium lying around in Iraq….
What were the crimes of Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi…not the ones we would think of as important – the treatment of their own people – but the risk that they would start a movement to overthrow the monopoly of the petrodollar….
How on earth have our politicians become so perverted!
As always, so succinctly well put, Helen, depressing as the picture painted is. Why you and your mother are not ‘in power’, with your common sense and thought for fellow men (and women) is puzzling. Methinks it is probably just because of that. Too caring, too thoughtful and unselfish. But if so many of us around the world think the way you do, that governments cannot be trusted out of our sight, that most banks and monopolies are in ‘it’ for everything they can get and that no price is too high to pay, no matter what the cost in human terms, that self interest rules the day…every day, why are we not joining together and turning away from these things? Creating our own ‘life, in liberty and with a better chance of happiness’? It only takes one small action from all of us to create a great big wave of change…!
i think that you are right…we can make a difference in our own surroundings….and eventually that will prevail – but not any day soon.
i look at our new President, battling the vast net of corruption built up by his predeccessors: the press is on his back…he is labelled a ‘Red’…people are encouraged to think that he is breaking hsi election promises – after less than six months in office – it’s hard to stand up against the machine.
That is so, so sad too that good people when elected are virtually ‘smothered at birth’. Is there any hope at all?
If we stand up for them in our own communities…yes, some hope.
Given the events of the last century it becomes apparent the nature of mankind does not change. Once it was castles and treasuries, now it’s banks that own the “tenants” of the world. Masters with armies and servants.
But we got out from under in the post war settlement….chances of education, a programme to improve housing stock…a National Health Service….and by giving in to the tempation of the fools’ gold offered in the Thatcher era have let it all go….
I have some of the same wonderings as your mother, and that is without the perspective of having witnessed the two world wars. When I get up in the morning the first thing I do after making a cup of tea is check the world news headlines. I now find that I am bracing myself, trying to prepare for yet another onslaught of horrific news.
Then I have a look at the blogs I read, and they bring me back to a kinder, more hopeful planet. One where people care about each other and exhibit basic human kindness and compassion. Reading this morning that your mom gives you her grocery order and you complete it for her from Costa Rica is the story I want to carry with me through today, not the horrors of what is happening in the Ukraine or the Mideast or Africa.
I firmly believe that most people are good hearted…..but most people can do nothing to influence how our countries are directed, except by talking about what worries us, what disturbs us, how unacceptable we find the actions of our governments in our own communities – but the mantra of ‘no politics, no religion’ dissuades both from speaking and listening.
The horrors of the Ukraione, Gaza and Africa are not going to go away.
I hope I didn’t leave the impression I’m advocating for burying our collective heads in the sand. Far from it! I think what I was trying to say is I think it is very important to balance out the constant stream of horrid news with reminders that there is also goodness in the world. If I didn’t do so I think I would become horribly depressed.
That wasn’t the impression I gained from what you said….sorry if the reply read that way. I was working out in my own mind why we don’t talk about what bothers us.
My parents grew up in the time your mother did. Yes, there’s always been the political mind games, but back then there was also civility or the appearance of more of it. The debacle of power plays and CYA over the cold bodies of children and innocent people… I’m at a loss for words. May they all RIP and their families find a way back to normalcy with relative ease.
One’s first thoughts are, as they should be, with those families….but the lack of respect for the dead, using them as part of a powerplay, is, or shoud be, unthinkable.
Completely agree with you.
I would clarify to say that it is big banks and big corporations who have much to do with the way things are. I don’t know how old I was – 18, perhaps – when I first read that ITT orchestrated the 1973 coup in Chile that resulted in the assassination of Allende, but I was astounded that a business could have a government overthrown and, directly or indirectly, have someone, anyone, killed, never mind the leader of a country. Now, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
I was somewhat older when Allende was overthrown…and after the U.S.’s history of murky dealings in Central America it didn’t surprise me at all.
I didn’t learn the details until nearly a decade after it happened, so I was certainly a little more naive. The US certainly has enjoyed playing around in the Western hemisphere over the past 100-plus years, hasn’t it?
Certainly has, while claiming it eschews imperialism and colonialism….well, all I can say is
Up to a point, Lord Copper.
My mother grew up in wartime Germany. My father served in Korea and Vietnam in the US Army. Both watch world developments with growing fear and concern and I am growing edgy myself. They know what many of my generation can’t possibly really grasp: war is real and freedom can’t be taken for granted.
On another note, these old films of wartime aviators break my heart. My husband, small plane pilot, has trained for hours and hours just to earn his instrument rating. These young boys, British and American, were given minimal training and sent up to their deaths in many cases, not by enemy fire but by lack of training. The statistics are appalling.
When I hear the cries to protect the ‘freedom’ of the Ukraine I ask myself what that means for the man on the street and the answers have very little to do with what is being spouted by the politicians, both of the Ukraine and elsewhere….it tends to end up with the man in the street being pushed into uniform and sent to be killed.
Yes, those wartime airmen…just poor bloody kids, poor bloody kids….tossed into combat half baked, as long as the production of aircraft could keep up with the losses in material….
Your mother had an interesting life and it is great that at her age it is still all so clear in her mind.
I hate it when planes carrying innocent people are brought down, what for, war was war in the early days but now it is slaughter. This brings back memories to me in 1979, ZIPRA shot down Air Rhodesia Flight 827, …. The survivors were found over the following days by the Rhodesian Army and … that the killers had raped the female passengers before massacring them. They would have been far better to have been killed in the accident. I write this with rears running down my face, I will never forget or forgive.
I have this speech on record, it is worth reading. http://www.rhodesia.nl/silence.htm
Hope you are both well, Diane
I remember that atrocity well ( was there not another ‘plane downed arouind that time)…and the deafening silence of the world – and more importantly in that context- Britain’s politicians…particularly that obnoxious individual Doctor Death. But you were so close to it….
I’ve copied the address on your link …it it as relevent today as then – and a pointer to the hypocrisy and laxity of those who call themselves leaders.
The Silence is Deafening
Sermon by Very Rev. John da Costa, Anglican Dean of Salisbury
Clergymen, I am frequently told, should keep out of politics. I thoroughly agree. For this reason, I will not allow politics to be preached in this cathedral. Clergy have to be reconcilers. That is no easy job. A minister of religion who has well-known political views, and allows them to come to the fore, cannot reconcile, but will alienate others, and fail in the chief part of his ministry.
For this reason, I personally am surprised at there being two clergymen in the Executive Council. It is my sincere prayer that they can act as Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation.
My own ministry began in Ghana, where Kwame Nkrumah preached: “Seek ye first the political kingdom and all these things will be added to you.” We know what became of Kwame Nkrumah. We are not to preach a political kingdom, but the kingdom of God.
Clergy are usually in the middle, shot at from both sides. It is not an enviable role. Yet times come when it is necessary to speak out, and in direct and forthright terms, like trumpets with unmistakable notes. I believe that this is one such time.
Nobody who holds sacred the dignity of human life can be anything but sickened at the events attending the crash of the Viscount Hunyani. Survivors have the greatest call on the sympathy and assistance of every other human being. The horror of the crash was bad enough, but that this should have been compounded by murder of the most savage and treacherous sort leaves us stunned with disbelief and brings revulsion in the minds of anyone deserving the name “human.”
This bestiality, worse than anything in recent history, stinks in the nostrils of Heaven. But are we deafened with the voice of protest from nations which call themselves “civilised”? We are not. Like men in the story of the Good Samaritan, they “pass by, on the other side.”
One listens for loud condemnation by Dr. David Owen, himself a medical doctor, trained to extend mercy and help to all in need.
One listens and the silence is deafening.
One listens for loud condemnation by the President of the United States, himself a man from the Bible-Baptist belt, and again the silence is deafening.
One listens for loud condemnation by the Pope, by the Chief Rabbi, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, by all who love the name of God.
Again the silence is deafening.
I do not believe in white supremacy. I do not believe in black supremacy either. I do not believe that anyone is better than another, until he has proved himself to be so. I believe that those who govern or who seek to govern must prove themselves worthy of the trust that will be placed in them.
One looks for real leadership One finds little in the Western world: how much less in Africa?
Who is to be blamed for this ghastly episode?
Like Pontius Pilate, the world may ask “What is truth?” What is to be believed? That depends on what your prejudices will allow you to believe, for then no evidence will convince you otherwise.
So who is to be blamed?
First, those who fired the guns. Who were they? Youths and men who, as likely as not, were until recently in church schools. This is the first terrible fact. Men who went over to the other side in a few months were so indoctrinated that all they had previously learned was obliterated. How could this happen if they had been given a truly Christian education?
Second, it is common knowledge that in large parts of the world violence is paraded on TV and cinema screens as entertainment. Films about war, murder, violence, rape devil-possession and the like are “good box-office”. Peak viewing time is set aside for murderers from Belfast,, Palestine, Europe, Africa and the rest, to speak before an audience of tens of millions. Thugs are given full treatment, as if deserving of respect.
Not so the victims’ relations.
Who else is to be blamed?
The United Nations and their church equivalent, the WCC. I am sure they both bear blame in this. Each parade a pseudo-morality which, like all half-truths, is more dangerous than the lie direct. From the safety and comfort of New York and Geneva, high moral attitudes can safely be struck. For us in the sweat, the blood, the suffering, it is somewhat different.
Who else? The churches? Oh yes, I fear so.
For too long, too many people have been allowed to call themselves “believers” when they have been nothing of the kind. Those who believe must act. If you believe the car is going to crash, you attempt to get out. If you believe the house is on fire, you try to get help and move things quickly. If you believe a child has drunk poison, you rush him to the doctor. Belief must bring about action.
Yet churches, even in our own dangerous times, are more than half-empty all the time. We are surrounded by heathens who equate belief in God with the Western way of life. In many war areas, Africans are told to “burn their Bibles”. If this call was made to us, what sort of Bibles would be handed in? Would they be dog-eared from constant use; well-thumbed and marked? Would they be pristine in their virgin loveliness, in the same box in which they were first received?
There are tens of millions of all races who call themselves believers, who never enter any house of prayer and praise. Many are folk who scream loudest against communism, yet do not themselves help to defeat these Satanic forces by means of prayer, and praise and religious witness.
For, make no mistake, if our witness were as it ought to be, men would flock to join our ranks. As it is, we are by-passed by the world, as if irrelevant.
Is anyone else to be blamed for this ghastly episode near Kariba? I think so.
Politicians throughout the world have made opportunist speeches from time to time. These add to the heap of blameworthiness, for a speech can cause wounds which may take years to heal.
The ghastliness of this ill-fated flight from Kariba will be burned upon our memories for years to come. For others, far from our borders, it is an intellectual matter, not one which affects them deeply. Here is the tragedy!
The especial danger of Marxism is its teaching that human life is cheap, expendable, of less importance than the well-being of the State. But there are men who call themselves Christians who have the same contempt for other human beings, and who treat them as being expendable.
Had we, who claim to love God, shown more real love and understanding, more patience, more trust of others, the churches would not be vilified as they are today. I have nothing but sympathy with those who are here today and whose grief we share. I have nothing but revulsion for the less-than-human act of murder which has so horrified us all.
I have nothing but amazement at the silence of so many of the political leaders of the world. I have nothing but sadness that our churches have failed so badly to practise what we preach. May God forgive us all, and may he bring all those who died so suddenly and unprepared into the light of His glorious presence.
Thanks Helen, yes you are right there were two planes brought down, but the first plane all were killed and did not suffer as the second one did. D
An atrocity…but neither the first nor the last that passes uncondemned by world leaders, obsessed by their own economic ends.
You mum is right to be worried about how Britain is turning out, after all the regressive policies of Thatcher, Blair and Cameron. All the freedoms and democratic rights that were fought for in two world wars are rapidly being undermined, and Britain is becoming a more and more unequal society.
It upsets her a great deal…..the closing of opportunities for those deliberately rendered poor by the economic policies of successive governments….the surveillance….the manipulation by a media hand in glove with politicians….
By the way, I was trying to comment on your blog and failed…must be a glitch so I’ll try again.
Got your comment okay. You must have tried again!
Did indeed! I’m having trouble with comments on Blogger…so i’m glad it worked this time.
As a matter of fact, though, the post war generation of children did have a better life and more chances and more equality of opportunity. If that has got less, then that is the generation which felt it necessary to make those changes, not your mother’s generation.
For what it’s worth, I I think things are actually a lot better than they were before the war, not that I lived then, mind..
I agree with you….people with no clue as to what life was like before did not value what they had.
Clearly in material terms life for most is better than before the war…just listening to mother talking about housework is enough to convince me of that…..but the number of people obliged to take on more than one low paying job to make ends meet is an ominous remionder of the past..
To read your mother’s thoughts on what she has seen and experienced in her very long life is deeply thought-provoking and sobering, Helen. She has what is so frighteningly lacking in almost all politicians and commentators – perspective. She knows that our planning and actions have long-term consequences and yet the besetting sin of politics and business nowadays is short-termism – horrible neologism for a very destructive attitude. The next election, the end-of-year bottom-line – that’s all that seems to matter, rather than the health and well-being of the ordinary people who do the world and keep society ticking over. I could cry!
And so could I….the sheer waste of it all, the misery, pushed aside in the interests of those who want to win the next election, corner the market….she and my father thought that the post war settlement came about in the way it did, not only because of an altruistic element on the part of government but because the country was full of people back from war, fed up with inept leadership and used to bearing arms – very different to the post WWI situation where the returnees were crushed by their experiences.
My father thought that the end of National Service was a tragedy – not for the way in which it was organised – but because it kept in being a population able to bear arms, able to act……and since then continual restrictions on normal people being able to have weapons have closed off the chances of armed revolt – and the habits of mind that might enable it to succeed.
Scargill’s insane refusal to go for a strike ballot led to the downfall of Trade Union power – another blow at habits of solidarity – with the result that government is no longer frightened of ‘the people’.
Education was supposed to give us a sense of perspective…..with its downgrading into a channel for finding a job it no longer does this in the main…with the current situation in Gaza how many people have any idea of the background, the founding and recognition of the state of Israel?
They needn’t look to the media for context either…
I despair, i really do, that all the people who are rightly horrified by the state of the world can do nothing to force their governments to act morally.
They don’t have to listen to us…