The Gravity Of Sending Men To War

Peter Anderson takes issue with the paint attack on The Haunting Soldier in Dublin.

The desecration of the Haunting Soldier at the weekend was yet another pathetic republican attempt at attacking the changing narrative on remembering the Great War in Ireland. The sculpture was created to "evoke the fragility and suffering of those who returned to an uncertain future". In no way was this an imperialist piece or a piece glorifying war but that didn't stop the brainless thugs pouring paint over it. They only see the Brit uniform. This brings into sharp focus our culture of remembrance. Why do we remember? And how should we remember?

Remembering is a simple task for me. I eschew the cenotaphs in November and instead visit the grave of my best mate who was murdered in 1990 to lay flowers and let his sons know that he is not forgotten. Watching ranks of old men with medals and the great and the good beside them at cenotaphs doesn't sit well with me. Not all wars are just wars and not all soldiers are good people after all. Not that I am against formal acts of remembrance, its just not for me. But I do believe that it is right that we should remember our war dead. The ordinary soldiers that join up to kill or be killed. War is hell and those that we as a society or country put through that hell deserve to be remembered. It also serves as a reminder to our politicians to think carefully before sending young people to fight.

Anthony McIntyre in a comment under another article made the point that the men of the Great War fought in an imperialist war and that the Dublin government should "state clearly that the war was wrong". This misses the point. It doesn't matter what war it was, hindsight has 20/20 vision, all should be remembered. Was the Falklands war an imperialist war or was it fought to free the islanders from a fascist invasion? It doesn't matter, ordinary working class men died doing their duty. They deserve to be remembered regardless of the rights and wrongs of the war. 

I don't see what problem republicans have with this concept. Republicans believe the Troubles was a just conflict. The Dublin government has repeatedly stated that that "war" was wrong yet they remember all of their war dead. Recently we had the very public remembering of Vol Begley who carried a short fuse smoker into a busy shopping street on a Saturday afternoon. He knew what he was doing, that there would be innocents killed as collateral damage to his intended target and that there would be terrible revenge on his own community yet he still went ahead. He deserves to be remembered by his colleagues (though not so publicly on such a sensitive day) and is remembered. For the vast majority of people that was an evil act in an evil sectarian feud yet Begley still should be remembered by his colleagues and those that sent him.

The Great war was an awful war. Fought for no good reason and with horrific outcomes for all who fought. I studied Wilfred Owen and Seigfried Sassoon for O level and still regularly read their great works like Owen's Dulce et decorum est and Sassoon's beautiful Everyone Sang. I heartily recommend you check them out online. The war poets perfectly capture the futility of war. Owen was killed just hours before the Armistice. This is why we should remember, lest we forget, the gravity of sending men to war and the lives lost.

Peter Anderson is a unionist who frequently comments on TPQ.

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

19 comments to ''The Gravity Of Sending Men To War"

  1. There is a lot of similarities between Thomas 'Bootsy' Begley, who died when he was 22 and Wilfred Owen who died at 25. Both were soldiers in a war following orders.

    If both had known that their leaders were suing for peace, I doubt Thomas Begley would have went to the Shankill Road and I think Wilfred Owen along with his comrades and foes would have put down their guns and asked questions. The Provisional Leadership were talking to both the Irish and British Government's in 1993 and I don't believe the Leadership knew nothing about an attempt to take out certain high ranking Loyalists. We do know Bootsy Begley knew nothing about peace talks. If Wilfred Owen had known on the 3rd November 1918 his Generals and Government were in talks with the Germans to wrap things up before Christmas that he would not have died on the 4th November 1918.

    It also serves as a reminder to our politicians to think carefully before sending young people to fight.

    Maybe the politicians should fight their own wars and they can lead by example for a change by taking their 17,18 or 19 year olds with them to hold the front line.

    In no way was this an imperialist piece or a piece glorifying war but that didn't stop the brainless thugs pouring paint over it.

    I haven't seen the statue (never knew it existed until recently reading aboit it on TPQ). But I do remember seeing the paint work of brainless thugs splattered on a memorial plaque across from where Bootsy Begley once lived. And the plaque listed civillians and Republicans who died in an Imperialist war. And the brainless thugs sported the same kind of uniform you once wore and carried the same type of guns.

  2. Peter - good piece and thanks for publishing it on TQP.

    I think it does matter which war was fought. These people were perpetrators in an unjust war. I don't believe they should be honoured in the way that this statue does. I would feel more sympathy towards a statue that reviled them rather than honoured them. I don't advocate that one of those be built in Stephen's Green. What do you think would happen to a proposal for one to be erected there - say a statue of one of these soldiers bayoneting a child or a defenceless adversary?

    When a statue like this is placed in Stephen's Green rather than elsewhere it tends towards incriminating society in a collective act of honouring which I do not want to be part of.

    Regardless of what I think, there is as you say a change in the way that war is being remembered. And people - unless we hound them with thought police - should be free to remember in a way different from me.

    Arguably, the act of defacing the statue has achieved the opposite of what it intended.

  3. The so called attack on the scrap metal figure of a dummytit was an act of patriotic resistance at the rewriting of history, much in the same vain as blowing up Nelsons pillar, this reformed creeping love for Britishness and all things royal has been living amongst us in a semi dormant state since the formation of the state , with the defeat of militant republicanism and continual pandering to unionism including and especially the orange order has given these west brits and cronies the nerve to push their anti republican agenda , we witnessed the disgraceful Irelands call shit at the rugby,we heard quisling Maryloser D4 the quisling $inn £anny leader stating she would consider a return to the commonwealth,and possibly a new "FLEG" I for one could go with a new flag ,Yeah drop the orange bit it represents nothing but something like 14%of the population and bigoted bastards to boot , temperance society my arse any TWALTH will dispel that, the white is a sign of surrender something we have done enough of , ,yes gives us the green flag of the republic , and as that cunt Dev said burn all things british but their fucking coal,

  4. Peter,

    thanks for your contribution on this. I wonder though does not commemoration, as generally exercised, just further transgress Owen's admonishment that those who had experienced the horrors would not perpetuate the myths of nationalistic nobleness and honour;

    " you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
    Pro patria mori.

    To be true to Owen's lead, artists and commentators ought exorcise, rather than exercise, notions of honour and glory in dying for one's native land.

    Nationalistic fervour lured Irishmen of both traditions into a war which was not primarily of their concern. The casualties borne by those communities of a Unionist mindset deepened and justified their nationalistic tendencies for generations to come. Irish Nationalists who volunteered became an embarrassment after 1916 and the success of Sinn Féin in the 1918 election. As a result they were largely written out of the collective popular history. Ironically, the weight of collective Irish casualties and the threat of conscription being introduced into Ireland probably contributed significantly to the success of Sinn Féin in the 1918 election.

  5. Peter I liked your idea about wars and generally about people remembering the death of their friends and I agree with you that this should be done in a sensitive way. It would be great if these two ideas could be elaborated. In a way you have touched on the essence of the issue.

    Although, in my opinion, it is not relevant who threw paint on the statue, as a republican I take exception to the whole manipulation of the Remembrance Day. I believe it is used politically. To the victors the spoils, I suppose, but I find that the British are using it to justify wars and their participation in atrocity, not least in Ireland. It's a kind of gingoism and they are forcing everyone to fall into line. It is also used as a revisionist tool, pardon the pun, to brush over awful truths, not only about the First World War but all wars. As for our Government and establishment generally, I think they are just downright hypocrites. We deserve the truth and not some sentimental media fiction, not least for the innocent people and I would count a lot of the soldiers in that category. I agree with people, no matter what side your on or what atrocities occurred, should have a right remember the death of their family and friends and I agree with you done in respectful way. I don’t agree that Remembrance Day is respectful after all didn't a lot of soldiers die so it would not happen again.

    Frankie – ‘brainless thugs’ that's kind of like dousing with paint.

  6. AM
    You are judging people in history with your hindsight is 20/20 goggles on. "Perpetrators in an unjust war"? That was a very different time. This was before the advent of socialism and unions when the unwashed still doffed their caps. What did the average tommy know of the reasons for the war? They answered the call as was expected. You were a perpetrator in an unjust "war". What are the average CRNs in Ireland to make of the republican memorials? Many would love to bulldoze them for the shame the Provos heaped on the island and by your logic they would be right to so. What do you think of Provo memorials? How do you remember your friends and colleagues? Surely you don'y think it was a just war given the many war crimes?

    "And the brainless thugs sported the same kind of uniform you once wore and carried the same type of guns." What has that got to do with me? I oppose the damaging of all memorials, don't you get that?

  7. Peter,

    You are judging people in history with your hindsight is 20/20 goggles on.

    And when you judge the Nazis you are not?

    I thought James Connolly had judged the same people in the same way as I have. He was a contemporary so the critique of those who perpetrated the war is not something merely developed after the war. Lots of principled people criticised the war and those who waged it.

    What did the average tommy know of the reasons for the war?

    The average Nazi could argue the same - some of the senior Nazis asked the same question at Nuremburg.

    There are oral histories and other histories of the war which would give you a better insight on that than I could. They lived in Connolly's time - there was an anti-war discourse which they were not immune from. These perpetrators were not some remote Indian tribe that ran out to kill a missionary and of whom it can be said truly did not know.

    By my logic nationalists would be right to bulldoze republican memorials? That is a most twisted and hardly innocent take on my logic. I have expressed a view against defacing the Haunting Soldier. There is nothing in anything I have said which would remotely lend itself to the suggestion that I advocated bulldozing anything.

    The Provo shame that you talked about was among other things a war against British state terrorism, described in a recent documentary as murder on an industrial scale - and that was only Stakeknife's part of it. The Provisional IRA were created and evolved in large part as a response to massacres by the army of which you were a part. People in glass houses ...

    The Provisional IRA response to the violence of the British state was a just one if often unjustly carried out. There is what Nelson Mandela termed the fallibility of the insurgent - but he was labelled a terrorist too by your government. If the Russians walked into the Shankill this afternoon, slaughtered an unarmed civilian population, would you be out condemning the young people of the Shankill for hitting back? I would not be. State violence leads to street violence.

    And if so many war crimes prohibits me from thinking the IRA war was a just one, then for you to avoid double standards and downright hypocrisy, you cannot support the British War effort n the second world war - where British war crimes vastly outnumbered anything the IRA perpetrated. And how can you therefore consider the British state role during the Northern conflict as just given the war crimes like Ballymurphy, Bloody Sunday, torture inter alia?

    After the Massereene attack I commented: So do I think the Provisional IRA campaign was legitimate? I suppose it is a bit like something I read today from Hans Kung – ‘are you for or against France?’ There is no yes or no answer that readily explains everything.

    The IRA street response to the British state violence while just would have been much better if displaced by a peaceful strategy. Ultimately, the IRA campaigned failed and the energy siphoned into the political careers of many, including some who fought the war.

  8. Peter,

    What has that got to do with me? I oppose the damaging of all memorials, don't you get that?

    Honestly I have no idea if you were a brainless thug throwing paint over memorial gardens in Ardoyne or anywhere. You have said at least once on the TPQ that just after you signed up, you witnessed your uniformed friends beat up at least one innocent Catholic (from memory you were not impressed by their actions...But you didn't report it....). That tells me we know, you know some brainless thugs capable of throwing paint bombs at a memorial plaque.

    On the Jim Duffy piece Peter I said this (and it ties up with your school of thought<--probably most rational peoples too if they stop to think for 30secs...)

    Mean while in Belfast ' fringe republicans ' removed a wreath in full view of Divis Tower and instead of inflaming a situation took action that made sure the wreath was handed over to a trade unionist who passed it over to 'who ever' and today the undamaged wreath is in a garden of remembrance on the Shankill Road....Gets my vote. It was the right thing to do.

    IRSP spokesperson said the wreath was removed before it would "inevitably" be vandalised or destroyed by angry residents.

    They insisted everyone has the right to remember their dead in a "dignified and respectful" manner but added: "Putting this wreath in an area where it is not wanted will not pay testimony to that".

  9. I suppose you can refer to me as one of the 'brainless thugs' but such is the feeling it stirs up that the only thing left is the kneejerk reaction. I take the point it can be counter productive or that one wrong does not deserve another. When does it end? It could be argued the biggest wrong is the establishment who is worst of all for it's double standard and it's manipulation. We are constantly being told violence solves nothing but all we see is violence and coercion and it's the state worst of all. The thing is, I know it and so does everyone else, violence works but the question is; is it justified?

  10. James, the Greek Marxist Nicos Poulantzas wrote that ‘if one once starts to use force, the moment eventually comes where no one longer knows whether one will ever stop using it’.

    It is often less a moral question about the justness of violence but the efficacy of it. I think this is the point Poulantzas was seeking to make.

    In any event it should be the last resort rather than the first one, something modern day republican advocates of physical force seem to have inverted.

    The political use of violence at a minimum must be strategic rather than traditional.

  11. AM
    So you don't think the soldiers of the Great War should not be "honoured in the way the statue does" because they fought in an "unjust war". What about Begley? Should he be honoured in the way he is? Let's hypothetically say that at the beginning the Troubles were a just war in terms of republicans, even though the vast majority of your community did not want it nor support it. By the time Begley joined it most certainly was not a just war. He knew the Provo M.O. was to target civilians as they had been doing it his whole life, yet he joined anyway and joined in on the murder of civilians. He did worse than "bayonetting a child". Should he be honoured? Should the good people of the Ardoyne who are disgusted by him have to look at murals, plaques etc?

  12. Peter,

    some people on all sides of any conflict will continue to tell "the old lie" and they'll most likely continue to tell it until they ... stop!

  13. Peter - I love this whataboutery - "what about Begley?"

    Those who are friends of colleagues of Thomas Begley can honour him. I don't feel they should be putting a statue of him in Stephen's Green. Just like you are free to honour your own colleagues many of whom were sectarian bigots. But I don't think there should be a statue of any of them in Stephen's Green.

    The Provisional IRA MO was not for the most part to target civilians, even though they killed quite a few. The most intensive targeting of civilians took place during 1974-76. That the IRA was fighting British state terrorism throughout its entire campaign adds a dimension of justness to its campaign at all points. There is room for a debate on how just.

    What would be unjust about young Shankill Road people taking up arms against Russian state terrorism if the Russians massacred an unarmed civilian population? Would you be out backing the Russians?

    Begley did not do worse than bayonetting a child. The operation was a total cock up. It made no sense for the IRA to slaughter the people of the Shankill. Begley was no where near as culpable as those Paratroopers who murdered Shankill residents in 1971. We know their intent was murder. We don't know that about him - he certainly intended to kill the UDA if they were about and the operation was grossly negligent. I have never believed the intention was to kill the people who died.

    I would imagine the people of Ardoyne would have a more intense animosity towards the RIR/UDR than it would have towards Begley and the IRA. They would regard you as a terrorist but not him.

    I remember talking with a senior PSNI cop at a conference a few years ago. He told me that for years they were fed guff that nobody in the communities supported the IRA. He said at the end only the stupidest still believed it.

    You have completely undermined your own argument - if war crimes should prevent us honouring those who fought in the war that produced war crimes, as you have stated above, then you have no grounds for wearing a poppy or honouring any of those soldiers. You can no longer defend honouring those who fought in WW2 given the horrendous war crimes the British inflicted. Sort of hoist on your own petard with that logic.

    WW1 was an unjust war. Those who fought it were perpetrators. You are free to honour them if you wish. I would not seek to block you. I simply so not believe there should be statues erected in their memory in Stephen's Green.

  14. AM
    As I previously stated I have no problem with Begley being remembered. I was using him to try (crudely it seems) to get from you why you are so against the dead of the Great War being remembered yet presumably have no problem remembering dead IRA men whose war crimes are much greater.

    Owen makes you stop and think about war, no doubt. And you may be right regarding honouring war dead in terms of glorifying it for the young. As I said a lot of it does not sit well with me.

  15. Peter - you should desist from propagandising. It sullies otherwise good points.

    The IRA were responsible for war crimes - Kingsmill is one that leaps to mind. But their war crimes pale into the realm of the miniscule when juxtaposed with those of the British troops. IRA volunteers for all their failings have not traipsed the world leaving massacre and torture in their wake. They were not in India, Aden, Kenya, Iraq, Afghanistan. They were not firebombing the civilians of Dresden and Hamburg.

    We know what the IRA did. We do not need to be told about their actions including atrocities. We most certainly do not need to be spun the falsehood that their war crimes were worse than those of the British.

    Let everyone who wishes to, remember the perpetrators they are most enamoured to. Just don't put them in Stephen's Green in some attempt to minimise their role in prosecuting an unjust war. This is not the outworking of right but of might.

    If people want to revise WW1, fine. They should be free to do so. But those who see it differently must be allowed to make the case.

  16. Why was that attack on that monument a republican attack....did some group, i.e., the Irish Republican Patriot's Fight for the Freedom of Greater Ballymun claim responsibility for it?

    There seems to be a rise in Ireland at the minute of celebrating all things British and requesting forgiveness from them for our past deeds such as 1916....the Great War was a war between two empires...empires by their very nature hardly espouse freedom now do they?

    The statue does not commemorate the dead of the Great War - it commemorates the dead of the British Empire in that war.....subtle difference there Peter...perhaps a statue of a working class man would have been more suitable to reflect all the dead, both ally and foe.....but then that would have have implications for the historical narrative now wouldn't it!

  17. James..

    I suppose you can refer to me as one of the 'brainless thugs'

    I will if you tell me you either beat up innocent Catholics like Peter once witnessed or you painted bombed a memorial garden that remembered people who died in the troubles (or any conflict that this rock has experienced).

    Recently on the Shankill Road at a remembrance service to honour war hero's, there was a cross carrying Lenny Murphy's name.


    Should the good people of the Ardoyne who are disgusted by him have to look at murals, plaques etc?

    Short answer is yes they should and they will...As I said above should the good people on the Shankill Road who were equally disgusted at Murphy and his gang of butchers be allowed to remember him. That is their call.

  18. AM
    At no stage did I say that Begley should not be remembered, it would be disgusting if those that sent him didn't; at no stage did I say the British army are not guilty of war crimes, there are many as you listed. Maybe I am not so skilled at teasing out ideas as you are but I just wanted to know your thoughts on remebering the IRA dead. You have stated clearly your reasons for not wanting public remembrance of war dead, so how do you think republicans should remember IRA dead? In private? Not at all? Publicly? Do you apply the same rules to IRA memorials as you do to war memorials? Are IRA dead more deserving of remembrance by the Irish people?

  19. Peter - like free speech, venue imposes limits. Thomas Begley should be remembered ... but not at the spot where he was killed. Frank Feighan can of course heap praise on the statue but should it be in Stephen's Green rather than in his garden?

    You did not say Begley should not be remembered. You did not say the British Army were innocent of war crimes. You did say there is no just war where there are so many war crimes. Yet you honour those from a war army that perpetrated war crimes by the thousand.

    I believe that the people from WW1 May be honored in private - by that I don't mean hidden. But it should not be a publicly funded or done in a publicly pivotal way. I see no reason why Irish society should stamp its imprimatur on monuments to those who return from waging an unjust war. I am totally opposed to you being prohibited from honouring them.

    I believe IRA memorials should be private affairs as well, something that the friends and colleagues of the IRA should not be prohibited from indulging in.

    Memorials in Ireland are not really or not solely used for remembering the past, but for positioning in the present.


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