November seems to be the month for remembering, perhaps there is a deep association with the Phoenix in November, a mythical creature symbolised on some versions of the €10 coin. Maybe we have to re-member that which has been dis-membered in order to start again. But do we need to put the dismembered bits back together in the same form?
Recently I found myself discussing the origins of WW2 with my mother. She explained that the war came about because Germany had invaded France and attacked Britain. We were just defending ourselves. When I suggested that Britain had declared war on Germany, before Hitler had invaded France she did not believe me!
She pointed out that she should know, she lived through it. Indeed. She was amazed when I played her this clip, from 3rd September 1939, in which the then Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, informs the country that Britain had declared war on Germany. The trigger was Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
With the help of the internet, I was able to take her through the timeline. France had declared war the same day and attacked Saarbrucken two days later. In October Hitler called on Britain and France to cease hostilities and it was not until May 1940 that he attacked the West, ending the ‘phony war‘.
So much for re-membering the past. Clearly my mother had quite naturally bought into a story – a supportive narrative which had become real for her.
Go back further and most people have no idea how WW1 started. They would be shocked to realise that it was the result of a squabble between the in-bred royal familes of europe. There was no noble purpose. Good men died for the vainglory of their rulers.
And it continues. Why have we occupied Afghanistan? Because of Osama Bin Laden? But the Afghan government offered to hand him over to America. Why did the USA want Bin Laden – because of 911? But bin Laden is not wanted for 911!
Why did we attack Iraq? Over 70% of Americans falsely believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the attacks on 911. In 2006 even Bush admitted that he was not, but at the same time 43% of Americans still believed it!
Where do these stories come from, how do they become so real for us? Why are they needed, who benefits?
Perhaps it is because most of us don’t like war, are reluctant to kill. Harry Patch, the last surviving British soldier from WW1, died last year, aged 111. He rarely spoke about the war, until when he turned 100, when he was interviewed by the BBC.
Harry explained that anyone who said he was not afraid in the trenches was a liar. He said: “We never fired to kill. My Number One, Bob, used to keep the gun low and wound them in the legs – bring them down. Never fired to kill them. As far as I know he never killed a German. I never did either. Always kept it low“.
That’s the problem with most people, they are basically decent. You have to give them a good story, a narrative, before they will kill each other and be able to live with the false memories.