T S Eliot’s April in “The Wasteland,” is the cruellest month as the warmth of northern spring forces painful memories to surface. However cruel memories adhere to the month of March over three major catastrophic events.
March marks the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, based on lies. It is the month of the 1915 defeat of the Allied attempt to invade Turkey in a seaborne invasion through the Gallipoli Strait, a war which ended eventually in the destruction of the Ottomans.
It is also the time of the terrible Battle of Waterloo in 1815, ending the attempt by Napoleon and his cohort to establish the Napoleonic Order in Europe, resulting in the reactionary Congress of Vienna.
One of the great changes in warfare we can see over the last 200 years is in the attitude towards soldiers and civilians. The American allies in 2003 expended much effort in ensuring there were as few allied casualties as possible, knowing that a high death toll, as in the Vietnam War, would cause political chaos at home. Huge demonstrations at home in the Coalition of the Willing did nothing to stop the war, but warned of the potential political cost.
The millions of dead soldiers in the First World War, fought as a struggle between empires, created the Bolshevik Revolution and the death of the Czar, the German Revolution and the removal of the Kaiser, the destruction of the Ottoman Empire and Soviets formed in the British Army and soldiers shot down in Whitehall.
The latter has not been well publicised apart from the brave historians Cole and Postgate.
One response after this war was to see memorials to soldiers spring up all over the British Empire and government departments established to care for the casualties and widows.
A century earlier, soldiers were considered pawns to be used by the officer class.
There was no campaign in 1815 to establish memorials to the fallen all over the empire. Indeed the bodies of the dead, their bones and teeth, were put to use.
Barrels of bones from the battlefield were crushed for fertiliser on British farms and the healthy teeth of the young dead became a great source of dentures for the better-off.
“The prospect of thousands of British, French and Prussian teeth – sitting in the mouths of recently-killed soldiers on the battlefield at Waterloo – was an attractive one for looters. There were lots of bodies in one place and above ground.” [16 June 2015 BBC News Magazine]
In 1815, although civilians suffered, they were not targeted and armies were the focus of destruction.
By 1915 atrocities against civilians were a major issue of propaganda on both sides, but were greeted with shock in the media and public opinion of the time.
After the mass bombings of civilians in World War II, public opinion became hardened.
The massacres in Iraq and then in Syria and Libya and now in Yemen, were met with much less shock and outrage than in previous eras.
As Mehdi Hasan commented about 2003; “In Iraq, the U.S. morphed from heroic liberators into brutal occupiers within a matter of weeks. In Fallujah, which would later become an ISIS stronghold, US troops opened fire on a crowd of peaceful protesters in April 2003, killing and wounding dozens of Iraqis. The shootings, the torture, the general chaos, all helped drive thousands of Iraqis from the minority Sunni community into the arms of radical groups led by brutal gangsters, such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda in Iraq, formed in 2004 to fight U.S. troops and their local allies, was a precursor organization to … ISIS. “ [20 Jan 2018 The Intercept]
We can see in these changing attitudes, growing fear of mass casualties on one’s own side, and the lionising of our combatants, alongside vastly diminished concern for the rights of civilians and of the refugees created by these conflicts.
Hence the increasing jingoism of Australian Anzac Day and the continuation of offshore detention for the victims of war. This highlights the terrible contradiction.