Saturday, October 14, 2017


This week is one hundred years since the battle of Passchendaele, one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War. Memorial services have been broadcast on our television.

Eight hundred young men from New Zealand died in one day. It is good that the huge numbers of deaths and casualties are being remembered, but I do not like the way it is done. I dislike the way that the media try to ennoble the disaster by describing it as a “sacrifice”.

A true sacrifice is free and costly, but worthwhile because it achieves something beneficial for real people. Jesus death was a real sacrifice, because he saved billions of people free from the power of sin and death and rescued them from the spiritual powers of evil.

The First World War achieved nothing. It was a foolish and pointless war. Historians have difficulty explaining why it was started, apart from the stupidity of political leaders at that time. The war tore apart thousands of families, weakened economies, and destroyed the Christian empires of Europe. It made the second world war inevitable. It was not a true sacrifice, because it achieved nothing for anyone.

Passchendaele was a betrayal, not a sacrifice.

The men who died did not choose the sacrifice their lives. They actually hoped to survive and go back to their homes and families far away. They had been told that the war would only last a few weeks and that it would be a great adventure. They were betrayed by their political leaders, who led them into a long, pointless and ugly war that was none of their business.

They were also betrayed by their commanders and officers who made them get out of their trenches and run across muddy fields and barbed wire, straight into a hail of machine gun bullets, even though the generals new before it started that the attack would probably fail. The generals needed to do be doing something because the stalemate was making them look incompetent. The troops had no choice but to obey the command to attack, because they had seen men shot by a firing squad for disobeying stupid orders.

Passchendaele was a slaughter, not a true sacrifice.

When I was young, we were told that they died fighting for our freedom. No one says that now because it was obviously not true. The people of Europe were freer before the First World War than they are now. Back then you could walk across Europe without a passport. There were no income taxes or GST. The thousands of Africans and Indians (many of them Moslems) from the colonies who fought died for the British were not set free by the war. The British colonies would persist for another 40 years.

I dislike the way that the front seats at the memorial services are filled with politicians, royalty and military people. It would be fine if they politicians came clean and admitted that the First World War was a terrible political mistake; but politicians do not admit mistakes. It would be fine if the generals and military leaders would admit that they were badly underprepared and disorganised at Passchendaele, yet they sent the troops to die anyway; but generals never admit that kind of mistake.

They royals would be entitled to a front row seat if they would admit that their grandparents did not speak up to protect the people who trusted them, because war is good for their brand. Instead, the royals flatter us by talking of the bravery of the colonial troops, as if that makes up for their moral failure.

When remembering Passchendaele, it would be good if people remember the terrible waste and decide to never again trust and believe the political and military leaders urging another war, but that does not happen, because the media spin the tragedy into something glorious.

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