Henry Hill studies Journalism in Manchester and is a Contributor at TSJ. He is the 8th ranked Conservative blogger in the UK.
In the week leading up to Remembrance Sunday, I got into an argument when a friend of mine invited me to ‘honour our veterans’ by liking Pacifism on Facebook. Earlier that week, as part of my placement at a local paper, I had researched a row in the Eighties between the local Royal British Legion and CND chapters after the latter had laid a wreath of white poppies at the town cenotaph.
This was the first I’d ever heard of the white poppy. Apparently they are still sold today, as a pacifist symbol. The organisation that sells them is known as the Peace Pledge Union. I don’t know if the modern-day organisers know the history of the original PPU, an Interbellum organisation that was linked to both communist and fascist organisations, fiercely supported appeasement and was described by Orwell as anti-Semitic, but I’m going to imagine not.
Personally, I share the view of the RBL veterans in the town where I work that pacifism has no place in Armistice ceremonies. Not the ‘I don’t like war very much’ pacifism shared by most people, but the real ‘war under no circumstances’ variety.
I think it is impossible to ‘honour’ those who fell in war by liking an ideology like pacifism, because pacifism holds that there is no greater moral harm than war. One only has to think through the full implications of such a belief to realise that it has no place in a Remembrance ceremony.
For the logic of pacifism to work, one has to believe that going to war is morally worse than any crime that war might prevent. This is an obvious invitation to the worst tyranny, because no crime perpetrated by a government or movement would be morally worse than the crime of active resistance. In the context of the Second World War, pacifism held (and logically, must continue to hold) that going to war against Nazism was worse than Nazism itself.
One could make the purely mathematical case that this was so. After all, the vast majority of the sixty million who died in that war fell on the Eastern Front or died in battle elsewhere, compared to roughly 10% who died in concentration or death camps.
But the cold arithmetic misses the obvious point that a world in which we had not fought World War Two would be more populous but fundamentally worse. We would be living in what Sir Winston Churchill called “the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”
This is why I get so riled when I hear people trotting out that most trite of lines about the fallen: “They died for peace.” No they didn’t. No soldier does. Wars are fought for many reasons, but never to my knowledge out of an ideological belief that they will never happen again.
Those who died in WWI fought to prevent the German Empire achieving what Britain perceived to be a dangerous hegemony over continental Europe. Those who fell in WWII fought to protect what Churchill called ‘Christian civilisation’ from the monstrous totalitarianism that was swamping it. Those who died in the Falklands were fighting to defend the Falklander’s right to self-determination in the face of Argentine irredentism. In all cases, they fought for British or human interests, not peace.
That we live our lives today free of totalitarianism, that Jews and homosexuals continue to enjoy their rights as human beings in a free society, is due to the heroic sacrifices made by our soldiers and the courageous, difficult decision of the British government to face down a militarily superior Germany. Every liberty we enjoy today is ours because our forebears throughout the generations have fought to defend it. Our freedom is the legacy of war.
If soldiers died for anything, it is that. But I do not believe it fair to say that soldiers actively die for something. Soldiers fight, soldiers serve. Death is a risk taken and sometimes a price paid in the line of one’s duty, but it is not a duty of itself. Precious few soldiers could be said to have given their lives on the battlefield out of a pacifist instinct.
This is why pacifism has no place in Remembrance. It goes beyond simply mourning the fallen, and far from honouring the sacrifices of servicemen, it defiles them. It is quite possible to be sad that all those young men died without thinking their struggle wrong, but that is a distinction pacifism cannot make.
To lay a white wreath on a cenotaph is thus at best a symbol of profound ingratitude to those who gave their lives defending the liberties we hold dear. At worst, it is a monstrous and mocking act on behalf of an ideology that equates soldiers with the worst of humanity’s monsters.
The white poppy symbolises pacifism, a refusal to partake in any war regardless of the stakes or circumstances. Such peace, without condition or honour, is simple surrender. Whether or not someone is a pacifist is a matter for their conscience – but they should not wear a white flag on their lapel while paying lip service to those who died that they might exercise that freedom.