New opera on World War I butchery


This video series from Wales is about the new opera In Parenthesis.

By David Nicholson in Britain:

Superb commemoration of Somme slaughter

Thursday 19th May 2016

In Parenthesis
Millennium Centre, Cardiff
4/5

NEW operas are rare events and even rarer are ones that are as good as In Parenthesis.

Eagerly anticipated, it’s being staged both to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Welsh National Opera and mark the centenary of the slaughter at the Battle of the Somme.

Iain Bell’s moving and visceral new opera about the great war, based on Welsh poet David Jones’s epic poem, is an ambitious project, with WNO director David Pountney, Emma Jenkins and David Antrobus’s libretto combining to brilliant effect with Bell’s music.

Through the eyes of tenor Andrew Bidlack’s Private John Ball, we watch a band of Welsh soldiers embark for France, journey to the horror of the trenches and perish in the final bloody battle at Mametz Wood.

Under the assured direction of David Pountney, aided by set designer Robert Innes Hopkins, this is a brilliantly staged production that captures the terror and claustrophobic atmosphere of a troop ship and the trenches of northern France.

But, as ever with the WNO, it is the sublime choral singing that pulls all the strands together. They are a perfect match for the drama of the reckless death of young men, in which Mark Le Brocq as a convincingly gruff sergeant and George Humphreys as a sensitive and caring young lieutenant take the acting honours.

The cafe scene before the men move off to the Somme is a thrilling highlight as the brilliant Welsh song Sosban Fach is sung with all the power at the disposal of the WNO.

The mythic return to the earth of the slaughtered band of Royal Welsh Fusiliers is touchingly realised by the nymphs who haunt Mametz Wood.

It’s a superb rendition by the women’s chorus who, dressed in an abundance of foliage and twigs, return the torn and bloodied bodies of Ball’s fallen comrades to the earth. Their heavenly singing moved many of the opening night audience to tears.

In Parenthesis ticks every box when it comes to music, acting and production values, though whether Bell’s opera will still be performed in years to come is the real acid test.

But this is a production to go and see now. As a sensitive, moving and visceral portrayal of the horror of war, it is a superb evening of pure theatre.

At the Millennium Centre until June 3, then tours until July 1, box office: wno.org.uk.

Refusal to wage wars takes courage


This music video from the USA is called Edwin Starr – War (What is it good for) + Lycris HQ.

The lyrics are:

War…huh…yeah
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Uh ha haa ha
War…huh…yeah
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing…say it again y’all
War..huh…look out…
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing…listen to me ohhhhh

WAR! I despise,
‘cos it means destruction of innocent lives,
War means tears to thousands of mother’s eyes,
When their sons gone to fight and lose their lives.

I said WAR!…huh…good God y’all,
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing…say it again
War! Huh…What is it good for (Edwin sings ‘Wohh oh Lord’ over the top)
Absolutely nothing…listen to me

WAR! It ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker,
War. Friend only to the undertaker.
Ohhh! War is an enemy to all mankind,
The thought of war blows my mind.
War has caused unrest within the younger generation
Induction then destruction…who wants to die? Ohhh

WAR! good God y’all huh
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing…say it say it SAY IT!
WAR!…uh huh yeah hu!
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing…listen to me

WAR! It ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker,
War! It’s got one friend that’s the undertaker.
Ohhhh! War has shattered many a young man’s dream,
Made him disabled, bitter and mean,
Life is much too short and precious to spend fighting wars these days.
War can’t give life, it can only take it away!

Ohhh WAR! huh…good God y’all
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing…say it again
War!…huh…woh oh oh Lord
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing…listen to me

War! It ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker,
War. Friend only to the undertaker…woo
Peace lovin’ understand then tell me,
Is there no place for them today?
They say we must fight to keep our freedom,
But Lord knows there’s got to be a better way.

Ohhhhhhh WAR! huh…good God y’all…
What is it good for?…you tell me!
Say it say it say it saaaay it!
War! good God now…huh
What is it good for?
Stand up and shout it…NOTHING

By Symon Hill in Britain:

Refusing to fight is an act of resistance

Saturday 14th may 2016

On International Conscientious Objectors’ Day we should remember those who bravely refused to wage wars and destruction, writes SYMON HILL

EIGHTEEN-year-old Israeli woman Omri Baranes was last week sentenced to 30 days in a military prison. Her “crime” is a refusal to fight for the euphemistically named Israeli Defence Force.

“The military creates a cycle of violence while claiming to the defend the country,” says Omri. “Public leaders are responsible for the creation of this criminal institution and our country is militaristic as a result.”

On the same day, the Israeli courts sentenced 19-year-old Tair Kaminer to her fifth prison sentence, as she repeatedly refuses to fight and insists that violence cannot solve the problems of Israel and Palestine.

Omri and Tair are among the hundreds of people around the world who are in prison for refusing to join armed forces. Over a hundred are locked up in South Korea alone.

This weekend, International Conscientious Objectors’ Day (CO Day) will be marked around the world. It is observed every year on May 15.

Conscientious objection is sometimes misrepresented as an individualistic attitude. In reality, COs do not generally demand exemption from the armed forces simply as a matter of personal choice. Refusal to fight is an act of resistance.

In Britain, mass conscription was first introduced 100 years ago, in 1916. Under pressure, the government offered exemption to those with a conscientious objection to killing. This clause of the Bill was openly jeered by Tory MPs when it was presented in the House of Commons. Nonetheless, it was passed. In the vast majority of cases, however, it was not honoured.

The reality of conscientious objection in WWI is revealed in stark form on the walls of Richmond Castle. The stones still display the graffiti of the COs who were imprisoned there in 1916. On one wall you can read the words: “The only war which is worth fighting is the class war. The working class of this country have no quarrel with the working class of Germany or any other country.”

The unnamed conscientious objector added: “Socialism stands for internationalism. If the workers of all countries united and refused to fight, there would be no war.”

This message remains just as relevant today.

In Britain, we no longer face physical conscription. Militarisation is now more subtle — but no less deadly.

We are taught from an early age that violence is the solution to conflict and that our first loyalty should be to the nation state in which we happen to have been born. The unquestioning obedience that is required of soldiers is held up as something to be admired rather than an assault on human dignity. The promotion of these attitudes from childhood is a form of mental conscription. Our bodies are not conscripted, but our minds are.

Our taxes are used to fund the fifth-highest military budget in the world (though you wouldn’t know it from the way the right-wing media talks about “defence cuts”). Even our language is conscripted, with preparations for war described inaccurately as “defence” and “security.”

Ever since the invasion of Iraq, politicians and generals have been unable to rely on the support of the British public when going to war. They have responded to anti-war feeling by whipping up support for the armed forces. Initiatives such as Armed Forces Day portray all forces personnel as heroes and present any questioning of their role as unpatriotic. Meanwhile, research reveals that armed forces visits to schools are more common in poorer areas, as the army attempts to recruit vulnerable young people with few options in life.

In one of the most absurd examples of everyday militarism, the RAF are planning a “flypast” over London LGBT Pride. Thus a human rights march is co-opted to promote militarism — the very opposite of human rights.

As everyday militarism becomes more and more visible, we need to resist it with everyday objection.

Ahead of CO Day, the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) has called for critics of warfare to become “conscientious objectors” in everyday life.

This sort of resistance can take many forms: there are engineers who refuse to work in the arms industry, self-employed people who withhold tax in protest against military spending, teachers who object to the army cadets, LGBT people who speak out against the militarisation of Pride.

Everyday objection can be as simple as refusing to use the language of “defence” and “heroes.”

Resistance is varied. We are compiling examples of ways in which people are resisting everyday militarism — whether big or small, common or unusual. We would love to hear your own examples (contact coordinator@ppu.org.uk).

Conscientious objection is both a personal commitment and part of a wider struggle against war and exploitation. The socialist journalist Will Chamberlain, imprisoned for much of WWI, wrote that conscientious objection “is an active protest against what we consider the greatest evil in the world, and our method of protesting is to refuse to acquiesce by a single act or deed in a system which is indescribably evil, both in origin and purpose.”

Symon Hill is co-ordinator of the Peace Pledge Union.

German Liebknecht’s anti-World War I speech


This video says about itself:

14 January 2016

On the 15th January 1919, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were killed by members of the [extreme right paramilitary] Freikorps. The two German socialists were joint-founders of the Spartacist League and the Communist Party of Germany, and were captured following the Spartacist uprising that began on the 4th January.

Luxemburg and Liebknecht were members of the Social Democratic Party of Germany when Germany declared war in 1914. Frustrated by the wider SPD’s support for Germany’s declaration of war, they and other leftists created a separate organisation known as the Spartakusbund or Spartacus League. Named after the leader of the Roman Republic’s largest slave rebellion, the Spartacus League actively opposed the ongoing war. In 1916, both Luxemburg and Liebknecht were found guilty of high treason and imprisoned after they organised an anti-war demonstration.

From the World Socialist Web Site, 14 March 2016:

100 years ago: German revolutionary Karl Liebknecht denounces militarization of education

On March 18, 1916, Karl Liebknecht, the German revolutionary socialist and opponent of World War I, delivered a series of remarks in the German Reichstag, or parliament, denouncing the militarization of education and the glorification of war taking place in schools across the country. Liebknecht’s speech was one of a series in which he defied the Social Democratic majority, which had betrayed socialist internationalism by supporting the German war effort, and spoke out against the imperialist slaughter.

Liebknecht stated, “The ideal of classical education lies in the spirit of independence and humanity.” Addressing the government, and all of the pro-war parties, he said, “Your ideal of classical education is the ideal of the bayonet, of the bombshell, of poison gas and grenades, which are hurled down on peaceful cities, and the ideal of submarine warfare.”

He declared, “The higher schools are also used as practical helpers in the service of the present war. A systematic propaganda is conducted in them for the war loans, and gold is collected in them. … The schools are converted into training stables for the war. The physical upbuilding of the youth is encouraged now to attract new material for the Moloch, Militarism. Strengthening especially human health has thus as its aim the destruction of human life.”

He denounced the war propaganda promoted in schools, which focused exclusively on the crimes committed by Britain, France and the other Allied powers, and painted the actions of German imperialism in the brightest colors.

“In school must be taught, how this war arose, not only that the abominable murder of Sarajevo was an incident to inspire horror, but also the fact that the crime of Sarajevo was looked upon in many circles as a gift from Heaven, serving them as a war pretext,” he said. His reference to the fact that sections of the ruling elite had welcomed the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian nationalist, seeing it as an opportunity to launch longstanding military plans, provoked outraged howls from the Conservative and opportunist Social Democratic deputies to the Reichstag.

Amid repeated interruptions, Liebknecht concluded with a call for a revolutionary struggle against the German government and the imperialist war, declaring, “To action! Those in the trenches, as well as those here at home, should put down their arms and turn against the common enemy, which takes from them light and air.” The president of the Reichstag called Liebknecht “to order” for the third time, and asked the deputies whether he should be allowed to continue to speak. Only a handful of socialist opponents of the war voted in favor.

World War I and poetry


This video from Britain about World War I says about itself:

The Somme – Lions Led By Donkeys

Documentary about the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. A number of excellent interviews from old soldiers.

By John Green in Britain:

Well versed in the realities of first world war

Monday 25th January 2016

Everything to Nothing: A History of the Great War, Revolution and the Birth of Europe by Geert Buelens (Verso, £20)

EUROPEANS plunged like lemmings into the engulfing abyss of WWI under the influence of “the massage of propaganda, the gospel of terror,” as Polish poet Anatol Stern observed in 1914.

That perception is typical of this very different and fascinating take on the conflict, reflected in the outpouring of writing amid the tumult and chaos.

The war opened up new imaginative possibilities for exploring personal tragedy and the extremes of human experience.

Poetry, particularly, took centre stage, both as a means of propaganda and for manipulating sentiments but also as a means of portraying a scarcely communicable horror.

Buelens undertakes a cultural history of the war through the writings of those caught up in the maelstrom, from the point of view of poets from all the European countries involved, including Anna Akhmatova, Rupert Brooke, Guillaume Apollinaire and many less well-known writers.

He provides a panorama of those short but intensive four years from 1914-18 through the eyes of those poets who charted its course but also imagined its aftermath and encapsulated the human Calvary in a way that no traditional history, however good, could do.

The author draws on an amazing range of poets to weave a comprehensive picture of the psychology of the immediate pre-war period and the premonition of the chaos, nihilism and nationalism as well as a yearning for change.

These poets, in the main, were actual participants and describe the war’s raw reality, unlike the onlookers and outsiders who could afford to squander their patriotic rhetoric and appeals to romantic sacrifice while others were obliged to squander their blood.

The French poet Paul Valery wrote: “The illusion of a European culture has been lost.” How right he was.

Despite the ideals of pre-war socialists throughout Europe that working men and women of all nations would stand together and refuse to slaughter each other, a short time later they followed their governments like lambs to the abattoir, cocooned in the heady patriotic fervour of national anthems and swirling banners.

This book undoubtedly represents a unique approach to the history of the war but without a political and economic context it can of course provide only a literary reflection on it, without offering any analysis.

Welsh opposition to World War I


This video says about itself:

8 August 2014

Anti-NATO protesters begin 192-mile march on NATO SUMMIT to WALES, UK.

“Peace activists have set out on a three-week ‘Long March on Newport’ to protest against September’s NATO Summit. Police say they have drafted in 9,000 officers to face the protesters in one of the UK’s biggest ever police operations. More than 20,000 activists from around the world are expected to take part in demonstrations during the summit, where a week-long peace camp and a counter summit are among some of the events planned in what has been billed as Wales’ largest protest in a generation.

Sixty world leaders from the 28-nation military bloc will meet at the Celtic Manor in Newport for the NATO summit on September 4 and 5. Previous NATO summits in Chicago and Strasbourg saw thousands protest war, austerity and global inequality.”

By Phil Broadhurst in Britain:

Timely tribute to Welsh heroes who resisted war

Monday 11th January 2016

Not in our Name: War Dissent in a Welsh Town
by Philip Adams
(Briton Ferry Books, £15)

PHILIP ADAMS’S book is not only an important addition to local history in the area of south Wales it covers, it’s also an appeal to people in towns and cities across Britain to dig deep into their own local history and bring alive the long-lost stories of opposition to the first world war.

It was inspired by two simple family heirlooms, autograph books filled with signatures, quotes, sketches and sayings, given to the author’s aunt at Christmas 1914 and to his father at Christmas 1918.

These small pieces of contemporary personal history, in a family which included two conscientious objectors, provided a hidden history of vibrant peace activism in a small town in Wales during and after the first world war.

Briton Ferry, one of several towns across south Wales to earn the label “Little Moscow,” had 33 conscientious objectors and many more anti-war campaigners, who came from both political and religious backgrounds.

This was a time when, particularly in south Wales, lines between politics and religion were blurring and preachers and politicians were standing next to each other declaring their shared belief in socialism.

By researching the names in the autograph books, Adams has produced a roll of honour recognising and remembering the work for peace and justice of both the famous and the forgotten.

The autographs belong not only to locals but also to many national leaders, speakers and campaigners who came to speak in Briton Ferry at the time.

But it is not the pages on the likes of Bertrand Russell, Fenner Brockway, Sylvia Pankhurst or any of the other well documented signatories which are the most interesting or most important.

Names like dockworker Ernest Gething, railway shunter William Meyrick Davies, tinplate worker Ivor Johns and student teacher Brynley Griffiths will mean nothing to most people outside their families.

But now, thanks to Adams, their actions in resisting war are finally documented in a way their courage merits.

Jeremy Corbyn recites pro-peace poem to remember World War I


This music video from London, England says about itself:

Remembering World War One in Music and Words. St James’s Church London, 25 October 2013. Filmed by Fourman Films.

For more info on the No Glory in War campaign see here.

PROGRAMME:

1 Introduction by Lindsey German, convener of Stop the War Coalition

2 The Lark Ascending, played by i Maestri conducted by John Landor. Solo violin George Hlawiczka

3 Kika Markham reads Last Post by Carol Ann Duffy and A War Film by Teresa Hooley

4 Elvis McGonigle reads Strange Meeting By Wilfred Owen and Matey by Patrick MacGill

5 Music by Sally Davies, Matthew Crampton, Abbie Coppard and Tim Coppard

6 Jeremy Corbyn MP

7 Elvis McGonaggall

8 Kate Hudson, chair of CND

9 Music by Sally Davies, Matthew Crampton, Abbie Coppard and Tim Coppard

10 Matthew Crampton reads My Dad and My Uncle were in World War One by Heathcote Williams

11 Kika and Jehane Markham

12 Billy Bragg sings: Last Night I had the Strangest Dream, My Youngest Son Came Home Today, Like Soldiers Do, The Man He Killed, Between the Wars, Where Have All the Flowers Gone

From daily The Independent in Britain today:

Jeremy Corbyn to recite Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘Futility’ in Remembrance Sunday memorial service

Jeremy Corbyn will be laying a wreath at the Cenotaph and will then attend the ceremony in his constituency of Islington North

Shehab Khan

Jeremy Corbyn will recite a poem about the futility of war at a memorial service on Remembrance Sunday in his constituency.

Mr Corbyn will join the other party leaders to lay a wreath bearing his own message at the Cenotaph and will then attend the ceremony in Islington North.

There, he will recite “Futility” by the First World War solider poet Wilfred Owen at memorial service in his constituency.

The poem tells of a fallen soldier and concentrates on the meaning of existence, the pointlessness of war and inevitability of death.

This is what the poem says:

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds,—
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved—still warm—too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

Jeremy Corbyn accuses UK military chief of ‘breaching’ constitutional principle with Trident comments: here.

SKY NEWS bosses refused to apologise last night for referring to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as “Jihadi Jez” despite thousands of complaints: here.

World War I and poppies today


This video says about itself:

All Quiet on the Western Front – Trailer [1930] [3rd Oscar Best Picture]

This is an English language film (made in America) adapted from a novel by German author Erich Maria Remarque. The film follows a group of German schoolboys, talked into enlisting at the beginning of World War 1 by their jingoistic teacher. The story is told entirely through the experiences of the young German recruits and highlights the tragedy of war through the eyes of individuals.

As the boys witness death and mutilation all around them, any preconceptions about “the enemy” and the “rights and wrongs” of the conflict disappear, leaving them angry and bewildered. This is highlighted in the scene where Paul mortally wounds a French soldier and then weeps bitterly as he fights to save his life while trapped in a shell crater with the body. The film is not about heroism but about drudgery and futility and the gulf between the concept of war and the actuality. Written by Michele Wilkinson.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Red or white, let poppies be a mark of respect

Friday 30th October 2015

Both kinds of poppy should be about the respect each of us feels for those who paid the greatest price in the futility of war, not for glorifying war and militarism, argues PETER FROST

During WWI 10 million soldiers were killed. As the men — and the brave women who nursed them at the front — slowly returned home from war, many had shell-shock or what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder. They all had stories to tell.

Those who had seen such horrors in the blood and mud of the trenches in Belgium and northern France also would tell a much brighter story of the extraordinary beauty, persistence and profusion of the fragile but defiant flower — the blood-red corn poppy.

Strangely it was returning North American soldiers who first adopted the red poppy as an emblem. The Canadian doctor John McCrae had captured the beauty, symbolism and pathos of the poppy in a poem: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row.”

US organisations first arranged for artificial poppies to be made by women in war-torn France. The money raised went to children who had been orphaned by the war.

British soldiers too came back from the grimness of war to find that life wasn’t “fit for heroes” as they had been promised. Just like today, returning heroes found the government off-hand and tardy dealing with their problems.

As so often Rudyard Kipling summed it up in a couple of lines: “If any question why we died/Tell them, because our fathers lied.” Kipling’s lines have taken on a new amazingly contemporary relevance as Tony Blair is forced to tell the truth about his war crimes.

Some of the returning WWI soldiers organised themselves into ex-servicemen’s societies of various political opinions and of varying degrees of militancy. In 1921 many of these organisations united to form the British Legion.

Its noble purpose was to provide support and to fight for the rights of ex-servicemen, especially the disabled and their families.

In fact what actually happened was it became run by the officer class, “the donkeys that had led the lions in the trenches.” They paid themselves good salaries as the charity became one of the richest in Britain.

The Legion bought 1.5 million of those French-made artificial poppies and sold them to the British public, raising over £10,000. Poppy day had been invented.

Soon the British Legion set up its own poppy factory, with disabled ex-servicemen making the poppies and today they produce and sell over 45 million lapel poppies, 120,000 wreaths and one million small wooden remembrance crosses. It also adopted as its slogan: “Honour the dead, care for the living.”

Today David Cameron and his fellow Tories may wear the poppy but claims for benefits for recently serving military personnel are taking longer and longer and becoming harder and harder as a result of their spending cuts.

One in 10 of Britain’s homeless rough sleepers is an ex-soldier.

Not everyone is happy to wear the red poppy. Some see them as glorifying war and militaristic thinking. In many people’s eyes they have become a badge of jingoism and a justification of recent wars.

In some quarters the poppy has become a more blatant political label. In Northern Ireland it became a Protestant loyalist symbol because of its connection with British imperialism.

In 1926 the No More War Movement suggested that the British Legion should be asked to put “No More War” in the centre of the red poppies instead of “Haig Fund.”

Haig was “Butcher Haig” — the British general who had ordered so many of his troops to their death at the Battle of the Somme — one of the worst bloodbaths in British military history.

When it came to “lions led by donkeys,” Haig was certainly our biggest donkey. Two million brave lions died under his orders.

The officer class running the British Legion choose to keep Haig’s name on their poppies until 1994.

In 1933 the first white poppies appeared on Armistice Day, mostly home-made and worn mainly by members of the Co-operative Women’s Guild. Just a year later the Peace Pledge Union was formed and it began widespread distribution of white peace poppies in November each year.

Just as today, it took real courage and real commitment to wear the white peace poppy.

So which will you wear? My wife Ann always wears a red poppy. The flower has a strong personal family connection. She wears it in proud memory of her dad Fred who always wore his red poppy in memory of his own father, another Fred, Ann’s grandfather.

Grandfather Fred died in France in 1917 — he had been in France just days and his body was never found. He left a widow and four children including young Fred then aged just six.

Fred hated war as much as anybody but his red poppy was the only memorial to his dad he ever had. No wonder he wore it with pride and encouraged his young daughter to wear it too.

So wear your poppy, red or white or both with pride. Don’t let anyone hijack the red poppy as a symbol glorifying war and militarism.

Both poppies red and white are about the respect each of us feels for those who paid the greatest price in the futility of war. Sadly young soldiers are still dying.