Growing up in the 70s amid the Troubles, I was constantly bombarded with the lyrics of every Republican song known in the Irish canon. My brothers would blast out Roddy McCorley, 4 Green Fields etc. with the sole purpose of indoctrinating the rest of us or, as they would see it, educating the uninformed of our blind servitude to the English Crown.
There was one song that seemed to grab my attention more than the rest and that was The Green Fields of France. Written by Eric Bogle, a Scottish/Australian songwriter, the song is often mistaken to be a rebel song, whereas in fact, it’s the complete opposite.
Bogle’s reflection on the first world war and the death of so many young men is quite daunting. Willy McBride is a 19-year-old willing volunteer who dies serving his country’s interest. Just what that interest is remains unknown.
We know that there were many Irish volunteers who served in that war believing that England would honour their enlistment by relinquishing control of Ireland, while Protestants in the north fought in that same war believing England would protect them from a nationalist outcome. For Bogle, Willy McBride is simply one of the thousands of young men who naively believed that this war that would end all wars.
History has since shown how the war-mongering propaganda of McBride’s time was proven to be false. We have learned nothing about the futility of war, and as Bogle puts it,‘ ….the killing and dying, it was all done in vain, Oh Willy McBride, it happened again, and again, and again and again.’
So, while the song celebrates the naïve enthusiasm of the young idealist who is willing to give his life for the cause, the sacrifice is deftly undercut by the larger sense of fatalism that such martyrdom is in vain. Humanity has learned nothing from war, except that violence has become a part of who we are as a species.
The more sophisticated our weaponry is, the more likely we are to press the button and eradicate ourselves. We move from one cold war standoff to another, with one superpower nation facing off the other, daring one another to do the deed and to hell with the consequences.
Our preoccupation with our own annihilation is frightening, especially since we as a species have managed to evolve from our primitive state to become technologically accomplished. Besides our need to develop weapons, biological and hardware, we have seen tremendous advancements in so many areas that benefit our humanity.
Democracy or Dictatorship
A large portion of the western world has enjoyed a system of democracy that has for years ensured that we as individuals choose who governs us. Politically, this system, like most political systems, is flawed, but given the alternative, a dictatorship, we believe it’s worth preserving.
However, in recent times, we are allowing ourselves to be bullied out of believing in the merits of this system.
The rise of belligerent political candidates who disregard the will of the people and who flaunt racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic intolerance is alarming. Yet, we are not as alarmed as we should be. The eradication of the cultural norms that should celebrate diversity has been transformed into bigotry and hatred.
We have allowed those fearmongers to demonize our fellow human beings by presenting them to us as a legitimate threat. Instead of promoting tolerance, and dispelling fear, these candidates make their mark by pushing us further away from being civil to becoming uncivil. They show no qualms for their blatant disregard for truth and seek instead to persuade us with unfounded lies.
If Bogle questions McBride’s sacrifice in the first world war, he does not question the young man’s loyalty or willingness to die. He questions whether the cause the young man died for was a truthful one.
The War to End All Wars
The war to end all wars was far from the truth. It was simply a tagline to pull on the heartstrings of those who lacked the critical skills to question such a mantra. Things have not changed since then.
The mantra of the far right is equally unfounded. They exploit our freedom of speech to incite violence, enhance sectarianism and venerate the lack of civility. These same people use religion to justify their arrogance and ignorance.
If we continue to allow people to promote values that divide us, we are moving closer and closer towards the precipice of our own undoing. The United States no longer exists, apart from a legal standpoint, as a united entity.
Since 2016, the election of Donald Trump, the voter has elected a man with no principles, who is not prepared to put his country before himself, and who is happy to promote acts of violence to ensure he remains in power. The decision to put such a man into a powerful position was, in part, due to the disillusionment of the many with those who are in power. While I can understand this disappointment with the usual politicians, it’s another thing to jump from the frying pan into the fire.
Electing such an irresponsible candidate into leadership has opened the floodgate to the present lack of civility. If your president reflects who you want to be as a nation, Trump doesn’t reflect well.
Now, belligerence is seen as a virtue, political violence is viewed as fighting for a just cause, and freedom of speech has become an excuse to incite violence towards Jews, gays, and ethnicity that is not white. With such a credo of incivility, there will never be peace. The divide will continue to widen until we see that the very system of democracy that we valued so little becomes nothing more than another dictatorship.
This movement towards the uncivil war is not exclusive to the United States. Recent elections in France, Hungary and other European countries demonstrate how fragile our democracies are. The war against civility continues.
If we allow it to win, then all of those who have lost their lives to preserve democracy will have died in vain. So, let’s not turn on ourselves by listening to those who promote violence and intolerance, but aim to create an environment we can be proud of.