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An insult to the war dead

The Paddy McGuffin column

RIDDLE me this: When is a memorial unveiling not a memorial unveiling?

Answer: When it’s a crassly cynical propaganda exercise which sneers at democratic principles and thumbs its nose at international law.

That was exactly the case this week when the new edifice purporting to pay tribute to those British soldiers and civilians killed by political cowardice and imperialist adventurism in Afghanistan and Iraq was revealed at a lavish ceremony in London.

Except it was nothing of the sort.

Oh, I have no doubt that the artist commissioned to make the sculpture had good intentions but, as we all know, the road to the downstairs boiler room is paved with them.

Unfortunately for him he had the misfortune to have his proud moment hijacked in odious fashion in a spectacular demonstration of jingoist revisionism.

Setting aside the question of why we need a new memorial — there’s already quite a big one, it’s called the Cenotaph — let us focus on the specious claim that this was an event to pay tribute to the armed forces and civilian contribution rather than a blatant attempt to give some legitimacy to the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Whatever your view on both the wars and this country’s armed forces — I think I have made my opinion perfectly clear on both subjects over the years — if it truly was about paying respect to those who died you might have thought that, oh, I don’t know, their families would have been invited…

But then, according to the government and event organisers, this was not a memorial to the dead as such, they don’t like to mention that bit for some reason, instead it was a “commemoration” of dutiful service.

Speaking prior to the event Lord Jock Stirrup, chairman of the memorial project’s board of trustees and former head of the armed forces said: “Literally hundreds of thousands of British military personnel and UK civilian citizens served this country in all sorts of various ways in support of those campaigns and we felt that it was extremely important that the way they had conducted themselves, carried out their duties and the service they had given to the nation was honoured and commemorated.

“So the memorial is exactly that, it’s to commemorate duty and service, it’s not about the campaigns themselves per se, it’s about those principles which are important in any civilised society and have always been an integral part of who and what we regard ourselves to be as a nation.

“We wanted to acknowledge the contribution of the many who had served.”

Ah, yes, of course! Because let’s face it, nothing says respect and acknowledgement like not telling the bereaved that there was even going to be an event and then, when they find out by other means, blithely telling them they can turn up if they want but they’ll have to pay their own way there and stand with everyone else.

Then we turn to the grotesque spectacle itself and those who were invited. There were more bogus gongs in evidence than at a rigged talent competition. The Windsor parasites were of course there in force, each sporting more medals than Usain Bolt, except he earned his.

Even arch-ligger Airmiles Andy turned up. He must have thought there was a free buffet.

This is a scumbag whose sole contribution in life has been to further the noble tradition of selling eye-wateringly expensive weaponry to despotic regimes and schmoozing mass murderers at the taxpayer’s expense.

And speaking of scumbags, Tony Blair was there of course showing yet again that his hypocrisy and arrogance know no bounds, probably squeezing out a few crocodile tears when he thought anyone might be looking.

In a highly surreal moment the army’s most senior chaplain — or head hypocrite as I prefer to think of him — led the proceedings, also gonged up to the nines and flanked bizarrely by a phalanx of uniformed female police officers who then proceeded to sing, conjuring up the image in this column’s mind of an edition of Songs of Praise where the entire choir had taken the sick notion to dress up as murdered police officer PC Yvonne Fletcher.

Quite what the Met was doing there I am not sure unless it was in recognition of their continued and determined work in the field of persecuting and harassing people from ethnic minority backgrounds and a bodycount that would rival that of some battalions.

It can’t have been for their role in combatting the increased terror threat because, as we are constantly told, that has absolutely nothing to do with Iraq or Afghanistan…

And then came the unveiling of the memorial itself.

The sculpture, by artist Paul Day which consists of two slabs of rock bracketing an engraved bronze disc, is apparently meant to represent Afghanistan and Iraq and a medal of honour for all those who served.

The space between the two obelisks could easily however represent the gulf between the government’s claims and reality in the run-up to the conflagrations which cost up to a million lives, not just the 600-plus deceased British personnel “honoured” along with their surviving colleagues on Thursday.

Perhaps a more appropriate representation would have been be two burning cauldrons of shit on either side of a bloodstained flag.

Somehow I don’t think he’d have won the commission with that however.


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