What I have to say here is nothing new, and I have written about it before, but the world has gone so crazy that it is essential that it is constantly repeated. The great publicity given to the funeral of Henry Allingham, and the death of Harry Patch, is a moment in history. And now the Mantle of Henry Allingham, who was a great preacher to young and old, of the futility of war is passed to my generation, and there are not so many of us left. Fighting, on the scale of World War I, or the Falklands, is still a barbaric, pointless waste of life, materials and money, and at the end of the day nothing is achieved that is worth all that loss of life and destruction.
In my view there are two prongs on the anti-war front. One is to persuade the man in the street to refuse to go to war at the behest of what he thinks are his betters, but proved in the end to be stupid and wrong. The second approach is to bring to people’s attention that these alleged betters are only interested in their own aggrandisement, with little respect for the welfare of the people for whom they are responsible. While Hitler was an obvious example, these people range from government ministers right down to horrible little thugs having a street war in a built up area. Although I didn’t know at the time, Henry Allingham was going round schools preaching about the futility of war and using his own miserable experiences to make a point.
There is no gain in trying to deflect the people who want war for their own reasons, so it is up to the rest of us, who have seen the destruction, the misery, the waste and the terror at first hand, to take on the mantle of Henry Allingham and preach his gospel to the young. The problem is that this is not easy, our parents couldn’t wait to get into the First World War as teenagers and 20-year-olds, and the same applies to my generation, and I remember some people saying that they were worried that the war would be over before they got into it. This is purely the excitement of an adventure, of which the participants know nothing until they join up and then it’s too late. Television, novels and history applaud acts of war and make heroes of those who participated, and glide over the fact that they, the heroes of the stories, are only one of hundreds or thousands who have been left dead, face down in the mud, or maimed for life, physically or mentally. The only way we can combat this idiocy is to show it in all its ghastliness time and time again, and face up to the fact that at the end of the day this waste will achieve nothing. Old sailors and old soldiers tell stories of their experiences of War, because they came out of it relatively unscathed, and it was an extraordinary experience. They should not be believed, for the sake of those hundreds and thousands of civilians as well as the services, who were left behind drowned or mangled and very dead – for a worst environment, and loss of beauty, than before it all started.