The new £2 coin — such an ugly thing in so many ways. This government glorifies something recognised as a catastrophe, an unprecedented horror where millions of men (lions led by donkeys) died at the Front. World War I wasn't the war to end all wars (otherwise it would just be "the World War") but led to World War II where tens of millions more died.
Lord Herbert Kitchener — whose visage graces the new coin — was an Empire administrator, overseeing the crushing of nations for Britain's wealth, and was in charge while the first concentration camps were used against Boer civilians in southern Africa. (Jamie at Blood & Treasure says second, the first being in Cuba.)
Court martial of Breaker Morant
In the Breaker Morant case several soldiers from Australia were arrested and court-martialled for summarily executing Boer prisoners, and also for the murder of a German missionary believed to be a Boer sympathiser, all allegedly under unwritten orders approved by Kitchener. The celebrated horseman and bush poet Lt. Harry "Breaker" Morant and Lt. Peter Handcock were found guilty, sentenced to death, and shot by firing squad at Pietersburg on 27 February 1902. Their death warrants were personally signed by Kitchener. He reprieved a third soldier, Lt. George Witton, who served 28 months before being released.
Lovely man. Yes, let's have this hero on our cash. Sort of fitting, really.
"Legalised mass murder", said Harry Patch, the last surviving British soldier from WWI. A savage imperial bloodbath, says Seumas Milne:
But it does no service to the memory of the victims to prettify the horrific reality. The war was a vast depraved undertaking of unprecedented savagery, in which the ruling classes of Europe dispatched their people to a senseless slaughter in the struggle for imperial supremacy. As Lenin summed it up to the Romanian poet Valeriu Marcu in early 1917: "One slaveowner, Germany, is fighting another slaveowner, England, for a fairer distribution of the slaves".
Dulce Et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.
GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Let Blackadder have the last word.