November 13, 2011

Brainwashing, said the historian Christopher Hill, is something that happens to Other People. That’s the point, of course. You can’t see it if you’re in it.

Hill was talking about the ideological victory of the Puritan work ethic: a notion that labour, however menial or immoral, is Good, and idleness is Sinful. This idea has stayed with us today. The lazy, the idle, the dole scroungers, benefit cheats, squatters and hippies are Bad and the hard-working nurses, police, internal sales account managers, torturers etc. are Good. It is an idea that ended up emblazoned on top of the gates of Auschwitz – ‘work sets you free’.

We are brainwashed when there is no socially acceptable way of stating an opinion other than the mainstream. The prevailing idea is so protected as The Truth, that any other idea is not just Untrue, but also Immoral.

So, it comes to pass that it is a Morally Bad thing to pitch tents outside a Cathedral, object to injustice and then remain there when that Cathedral holds a Remembrance service to allow the Decent People of Britain to “rightly recall British soldiers, sailors and airmen who have given their lives for their country”[1].

Can’t these demonstrators make their point and allow us to have Remembrance Sunday without THEM there?

And what is it THEY are doing? I thought I’d check the Daily Mail message boards on the ‘St Paul’s May Cancel Remembrance Day’ article to find out:

  • “if they haven’t gone before Rememberence [sic] day, I may consider removing them myself”
  • “for goodness sake just get the pilice [sic] to do their job and move them on/ All these people should be working /// How many of these have nothing better to do???? benefits again”
  • “Water Canon [sic] every hour on the hour … Then the people whose relatives and friends that gave their lives so that this rabble may have the freedom to protest can come and pay their RESPECTS…because these protestors do not know the meaning of the word which sadly is true throughout the fabric of our society now.. This just typifies the sad mess U.K. has become”[2]

It is hard to find in amongst these commentators, an explanation of what exactly Occupy has done that is so Bad, but there is a remarkable conformity of rhetoric. There are solutions: vigilante violence, police violence or water cannons (again, one can detect a common theme). It seems the main issue comes down to RESPECT – in capital letters if possible. In another article, a D-day veteran is wheeled out, asking, ‘Haven’t they got any respect for what happened all those years ago? A million people lost their lives. Can’t they move their tents to allow us to parade?’[3]

The Red Poppy. You can’t appear on the BBC without one. Camilla Parker-Bowles was forced into the kind of weak U-turns and PR charm offensives not normally necessary for the British Royal Family when she appeared without a poppy on a royal publicity outing in Pakistan in 2008. Poppies are more sacred than royalty.

But who do your donations go to? The Royal British Legion (RBL), of course. And what do they do? They take money (£36 million last year) in order to support the army and glorify the dead. I can’t be bothered to go into more details about this, but that’s the main point isn’t it? Does anyone publically ask why so many soldiers end up traumatised, homeless or in prison? The answer is of course that that’s what the army does to people. It also kills and maims. The Legion picks up the pieces and makes us feel RESPECT for war and its actors.

RBL says soldiers “have given their lives for the freedom we enjoy today” (heard that rhetoric somewhere before?). Two points:

a) What freedom? Not the freedom to protest or to discuss alternatives to capitalism, obviously. What about the freedom NOT to wear a poppy on the BBC? The freedom not to describe all military deaths as ‘giving their lives’? The freedom to question whether all wars are “for the freedom we enjoy today”?

b) Anyone with the most basic knowledge of History or International Relations will tell you: Nations do not go to war for freedom. The First World War was not a war for freedom any more than the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. The Second World War wasn’t fought to save Jews, gypsies, communists, or gay people; it wasn’t fought to end Hitler’s rule in Germany. Britain declared war because by invading too many countries Hitler was changing the balance of power in Europe.

Of course it is extremely sad that people have to die in war: mercenaries, soldiers, conscripts or civilians. To mark this, I choose to wear a white poppy. I give my money to the Peace Pledge Union (I already pay taxes for homeless services, benefits, mental health service, housing, war etc.). The PPU is a pacifist organisation started in 1933, who promote education for peace, rather than education of war. And you may have some reasonable quibbles with pacifists, but to me it seems much more respectful to the victims to denounce the wars that killed them than mindlessly to ‘honour’ the ‘Glorious Dead’.

Postscript: according to their website, the Royal British Legion gives “advice about how to maximise your income by claiming the benefits and tax credits you’re entitled to”. Who’d have thought it? You buy a poppy and you help benefit scroungers. What is this country coming to?


By Sam Berkson

[1] http://www.stpauls.co.uk/News-Press/Latest-News/Remembrance-Day-Poppy-Installation

[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2052630/St-Pauls-cancel-Remembrance-Sunday-service-Occupy-London-protests.html

[3] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2058172/St-Pauls-staff-having-clean-human-waste-INSIDE-cathedral-protestors-use-latrine.html