This is our truth, tell us yours
Yesterday there was a protest, largely organised by DPAC against austerity. Given that the first act of the Tories has been to cut the access to work scheme it was no surprise there was anger and fear. Apparently if disabled people don’t work they are scrounging scum, so cutting a benefit that enabled them to work only makes sense when you believe being disabled is of itself something that should be punished. Or as Latent Existence writes here, we are way past worries about Godwin.
In the course of the protest some feckwit spray painted a statue erected to remember the women who served in WW2. Let me say here I think 99% of graffiti is mindless, pointless and an eyesore. Spraypainting “Fuck Tory Scum” on anything is the act of a petulant child, scribbling on walls because they cannot think of anything better to do.
However the reaction this morning, with words such as desecration, defilement, a reaction that treats a statue as a sacred space speaks to the strange obsession with the past some have in the UK. It is an obsession that places things over people, that worships a memory while stepping over the bodies of the poor, the weak, the disadvantage and oppressed.
Which brings me to the ten commandments, ancient rules which are as good a guide to live by as any I have encountered. I was taught that the commandments can be split into 3 broad categories. Your duty to God, your duty to others, and your duty to yourself. There are whole libraries filled with whether they are also in order of importance. (Does honouring your mother and Father matter more than not being envious of the belongings of others, is stealing worse than adultery). I am not qualified to decide either way, however it does seem clear that those about God are first for a reason. The second commandment reads;
What is an idol? It is clearly different to a god, the first commandment says that you shall worship no other gods. Its not a repetition of this, it’s a distinct and separate command. An idol is a lifeless thing which is imbued with personhood, or godhood. One could argue that idolatry is the act of treating things as people, and of course the reverse, of treating people like things. Which is pretty much Granny Weatherwax’s definition of evil. Those claiming that a war memorial is a sacred space, that it can be desecrated or defiled, in the manner of a place of worship are not just being lazy with language. For many in this country both world wars have replaced traditional religious worship. They treat the war dead as martyrs and deny facts such as the ban on reporting of rapes in the black out.
This dehumanises the very real bravery of those who fought, and died. It has been said there are no athiests in foxholes, I don’t know if it is true but the Second World War made my Grandfather an atheist. He always said that he didn’t want to believe in a God who allowed the atrocities of the Japanese prisoner of war camps to exist. He talked to me, joined by a bond that was never really explainable, where he had been unable to talk to his own children. One of the stories he told me was of the shooting of one of his company when the glider crash landed and he broke his back. Not by the Japanese but by a fellow English soldier. I still remember his words, that the injured man died as a person, not the things the Japanese reduced prisoners of war to.
A statue is not a person. Does that really need to be said? Nor is it sacred, possessed of special powers, or magical. A statue cannot be desecrated or defiled, it can simply be damaged, and damaged things, unlike damaged people can be repaired. If your religion is World War 2 this sounds like sacrilege I know, but you are the one reducing the very real stories of suffering, bravery, and sacrifice to myth and legend. One person writing three words cannot affect the reality of those who died. Cast aside your false idols and try to remember people matter more than things.