Written on: 11. 11. 2011 in the category: news

The Armistice might not have ended war, but let’s not forget that most of the world is now free

A day like today comes but once a century: 11/11/11. Add in the moment that the guns ceased firing, and it becomes: 11/11/11/11. What a strange verticality, a picket-fence through which to view history.

Of course, like most historical events, the 1918 Armistice was not really how the popular imagination has painted it, for it certainly did not bring a universal peace. Instead of the Ottoman Empire being treated with wise civility, it was brutally and ruinously dismembered. Civil war wracked Turkey, and huge population exchanges between it and Greece followed. Hundreds of thousands died in massacres across Anatolia.

Another Civil War continued in Russia, with soldiers from many countries dying in a vain-attempt to stem the tide of Bolshevism. Mesopotamia, which had effectively been annexed to the British Empire in just about the last, sublimely idiotic fling of imperial folly, soon rose in insurrection, and 2,000 British conscript soldiers were killed or injured.

The British were also spread thin across their new and similarly insane possession of Palestine, and in the occupation of Istanbul. The “peace dividend” was in fact more war: in 1920, British military expenditure for the Middle East alone was an astonishing £50m. And that was the reason for the Black and Tans: there were not enough soldiers to enforce martial law in Ireland. At least, no-one proposed using mustard gas on the Irish, as Churchill suggested for the Iraqis: “(to) inflict punishment upon recalcitrant natives without inflicting grave punishment on them.” Burnt lungs for life did not, apparently, constitute “grave punishment”.

So, no, only a childish view of the world would maintain that universal peace followed 11/11/11/18. And the same can be said about 1945. Fresh wars were soon under way along the new borders of the two Pakistans and India, and in China, Vietnam, Malaya and Korea. And there was of course the Cold War, which lasted another 44 years.

Moreover the second war had unleashed some fearsome technologies: in 1939, a bomber could drop a ton of bombs from 15,000 feet on a target one thousand miles from its base. By 1945, a single B29 could fly 2,300 miles, deliver the equivalent of 125,000 tons of TNT from 35,000 feet and then return home.

Meanwhile, the country for which the Second World War was fought, Poland, lay bloodied, raped, violated and betrayed.

Now I know enough about war-leaders like Churchill and Harris and Montgomery and Patton to argue vehemently against any of them ever being allowed to have power over the uniformed slaves that are conscripted soldiery. But that argument then hits the Atlantic Wall which Hitler raised to defend his empire, 1,700 miles and 17 million cubic tons of concrete, built by tens of thousands of slaves. Beyond that wall lay the charnel houses of Auschwitz, Belsen, Chelmno and Dachau, plus their master, Eichmann; the alphabet of the Final Solution whose scientific barbarism could, unchecked, have ended civilisation across the entire Eurasian landmass. Indeed, the world was lucky that Hitler abhorred nuclear science as a Jewish deviancy. Had Nazi Germany chosen to make an atom bomb, instead of those damn-fool rockets and doodlebugs, the consequences do not bear contemplation.

Anyway, ordinary people in the English-speaking democracies around the world decided to do something about this Hitler fellow. Hundreds of thousands of Australians, New Zealanders, Indians and Canadians freely enlisted: thousands of Americans crossed the border into Canada to do the same — some 500 Americans died with the RAF/RCAF alone.

And also in Ireland. Good men, small men, invisible men, around 100,000 of them from this haven of neutrality, and thousands of women, slipped up to Belfast, or over the Irish Sea, to take their place in the line. Though they could not possibly have known of the detailed depravity of the Third Reich, they had grasped a plain man’s truth of the world: that Hitler was an evil monster who had to be confronted by main force and defeated. Whereas Irish neutrality was 100pc right, ran the logic (with which I 100pc agree), their own personal neutrality was not.

Thus the figures: 27pc of all enlisted Irish soldiers in the British army were made NCOs, and the SAS was 10pc Irish. The record of soldiers from neutral Ireland is especially striking. Of the four Irish-born brigadiers killed, all were from here. Of the 33 Irish lieutenant colonels who died on active service, 30 were from neutral Ireland. Ten Irish chaplains died: eight from the south. Fifty southerners died with the Royal Army Medical Corps, and 28 Northerners. In all, from North and South, around 10,000 Irish volunteers lost their lives in the war against the Axis powers. And those who survived and returned to a post-war Ireland were never properly appreciated by this Republic until it was far too late. Irish Army soldiers who had deserted to join the allies, instead of having their martial crimes judiciously filed and forgotten, were barred from state employment or any state benefits, for life.

In the North, Catholic ex-servicemen were similarly marginalised. Happily, however, after much bitterness and bloodshed, those days are largely over. And of course, most of the world is now free: lest we forget.