There was a minute’s silence at the football on Saturday. I was there with my youngest. He’s old enough to have figured out for himself how he feels about it, but even so I felt like maybe I should explain to him why it mattered to me. He’s used to me talking rubbish, spouting controversial opinions for comedic effect, so I thought I should say why observing a minute’s silence was important.
It seemed quite straightforward at first. It’s to acknowledge the sacrifice of people who gave their lives to protect our freedom. People who died for what is just and proper. I’ve been watching the 1980s documentary series The Nazis: A Warning From History with my kids (that’s right, I’m a fun Dad), and it’s very easy to understand that the men who fought the Nazis in the Second World War were doing the right thing. They really did exactly what I wrote above – protect our freedom and die for what is just.
The problem is, not every conflict into which our young men have been thrust can make the same claim. It’s hard to say that the invasion of Iraq effected by Tony Blair was anything other than political, not to say cynical and profoundly misguided. A cold analysis from outside the partisan hotbed of Northern Ireland itself would struggle to find a straightforward right or wrong viewpoint. This is not, let me make explicitly clear, any comment on the bravery or sacrifice of the men and women who fought in these wars. It is a comment on the muddier ethical and moral imperatives behind them.
Well, I reasoned, if it’s complicated to use the wars themselves as the rationale for the minute’s silence, it’s easy to use the character of the people who died in them. Courageous, patriotic men and women who were willing to pay the ultimate price for what they believed in. That’s what we are respecting, people who adhered to the old Zapata quote, it is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees. Job done.
What about the people on the other side who were exactly the same? If we’re respecting people solely on the grounds of their bravery, doesn’t that apply to all soldiers, whatever their nationality or belief system? What about the three men who attacked Borough Market when my eldest was working there in the summer? They knew they were going to die, but they did what they did anyway in the name of what they believed. Am I supposed to respect them? I’d rather not, if I’m honest, but that’s where the logic takes me. Just because I disagree profoundly with their motivation, shouldn’t I acknowledge their courage?
So, like the snowflake libtard that apparently I am, I ended up standing in a silence full of confusion. I spent my minute reflecting on the futility of nationalist expansionism and religious dogma, of conflicts in which passionate, committed young men and women are exploited and sent to their deaths by jaundiced leaders, with little or no regard for the lives they will ruin with their politicking.
I’m sorry if this seems controversial. I would genuinely love to be a Daily Mail reader and labour under the simplistic delusion that everything is black and white. Unfortunately, it isn’t.