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My Name is Legion: The British Legion and the Control of Remembrance – Rod Tweedy

November 11, 2015

MNILIs the British Legion fit to be the “national custodian of Remembrance”? The author, who is a veteran, doesn’t think so.

There’s a link between the British Legion and the British arms trade in its relationship with BAE Systems, who in 2003 not only funded sales of weaponry to Saudi Arabia, Libya, and the Middle East, but also the RBL’s annual Remembrance events. As the Telegraph noted, “a decision by British defence manufacturer BAE Systems to sponsor this year’s Poppy Day has been likened to ‘King Herod sponsoring a special day reserved to prevent child cruelty’”….. Despite the “King Herod” associations, the Legion has continued and even strengthened its relations with arms traders. This year

(2015), for example, the British Legion’s annual ‘Poppy Rocks Ball’ is being sponsored by Lockheed Martin UK, the subsidiary of the world’s largest arms supplier, Lockheed Martin … Richard Bingley, the spokesman for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), added that: BAE is the country’s largest arms exporter. Its weapons recently have ended up in Israel, Zimbabwe, India, Pakistan. But its main function is to produce massive weapons systems which are designed to kill, often as many people as possible. I think that just contradicts completely the aims of Remembrance Sunday. Taking money from those profiting from war does not seem to be a “contradiction” to the new British Legion though, who have massively extended their collaborations with arms traders over recent years. In 2003 Richard Coltart, head of news at BAE Systems, disclosed that the arms company had a “three-year, £100,000 sponsorship of the British Legion”. He proudly added that “the extent of the arms manufacturer’s support meant it was a platinum corporate member of the British Legion.” The Legion’s new “platinum corporate member”, BAE Systems, is however not only one of the world’s most successful and profitable arms companies, but also one of its most controversial. As the world’s third largest arms producer, its revenue in 2013 was $26.82 billion, 94% of which was earned from arms sales. One of its main markets is Saudi Arabia, which the British Intelligence Unit ranked 163rd out of 167 countries in its “democracy index” – just above North Korea and Syria A recent article in the Independent described Saudi Arabia as “the nerve-centre of international terrorism” (most of the 9/11 killers were Saudi, so was the al-Qaeda hierarchy). Amnesty International has called Saudi Arabia “a major violator of human rights” (it lists “torture used as a punishment”, “no free speech”, discrimination against women, torture in police custody, and being “among the world’s top executions, many of them public beheadings”). Many of these policies are enabled by the weaponry that BAE Systems, the platinum sponsor of the British Legion Poppy Appeal, supplies. As CAAT research shows, “Saudi Arabia is the largest buyer of UK weapons in the world.” It adds, “It is also one of the worst human rights abusers.” BAE Systems armoured vehicles were used by Saudi troops to suppress pro-democracy protests in Bahrain in 2011; in 1995, a Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ documentary revealed that BAE (then British Aerospace) tried to sell electric shock batons to Saudi Arabia, which could be used for the torture of prisoners.

The ‘revolving door’ nature of the intimate working relationship between the British Legion, the British Army, the British Arms Trade, and the British Government was brought to the fore in 2012, when the President of the Royal British Legion, Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely, was forced to resign after boasting that he could use the Legion to help firms lobby for arms deals.

He also claimed that through the Legion he could help defence companies lobby ministers and senior figures in the UK military, and to push his clients’ agenda with the prime minister and other senior figures at Remembrance Day events. Kiszely had told reporters posing as representatives of a South Korean arms company that his role at the Legion gave him access to important figures in defence, and described the

annual Remembrance Day events as a “tremendous networking opportunity”….. The Royal British Legion’s choice of Lt General Kiszely as president is itself indicative of its close connections with the military (he was Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff at the MoD, Deputy Commander of NATO Forces in Bosnia, Commander of Regional Forces in the UK, and Deputy Commander of Coalition Forces in Iraq), and also with the arms trade: whilst President of the Royal British Legion he was also military advisor to Babcock International, the world’s 26th largest arms-producing and military services company.

Babcock’s services help equip armies throughout the world, including South Korea, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Middle East, providing launch systems, helicopters, nuclear-armed submarines, aircraft, armoured vehicles, and warships. The soldiers blown up, bombed, maimed, or disabled, that we remember on Armistice Day, may well therefore have been on the receiving end of the products that the President of the British Legion helped advise on….. As Mary Reader remarks, one of the ironies of our “remembrance” is that, despite our sentimentality, we are forgetting one of the major drivers of the First World War, and indeed of all wars: the arms market. “The British arms company Vickers-Armstrong, later to become BAE, sold arms to the Ottoman Empire that were used later against British troops,” she notes.

This points us again to the curious process through which poppies are worn to commemorate soldiers killed by weapons made by arms companies which sponsor the manufacture of poppies which are worn to commemorate….

One veteran and former SAS soldier commented, “The use of the word ‘hero’ glorifies war and glosses over the ugly reality. War is nothing like a John Wayne movie. There is nothing heroic about being blown up in a vehicle, there is nothing heroic about being shot in an ambush and there is nothing heroic about the deaths of countless civilians.”

The alchemy of words such as “hero” and “the fallen” transmutes our way of thinking about how soldiers do actually die, and why they die, and turns a possible revulsion and rejection of warfare into its mirror opposite: into a business that needs to be supported and glorified.

Referring to all soldiers as “heroes” not only dramatically devalues the currency of actual bravery (if everyone is a hero then effectively no one is), but also serves to conceal the reality of the nature of combat and death in contemporary conflicts: the vast majority of those who die in modern wars are civilians: are they “heroes”?

Drone planes are increasingly being used as a form of military engagement:

are drone pilots, safely ensconced in airforce bases many thousands of miles away, “heroes”? Are those soldiers involved in extraordinary rendition and torture of detainees “heroes”? As Keith Hebden notes, “The jingoist ‘Help for heroes’ approach to remembering, favoured by the British Legion and much of our media, is getting harder to maintain in the face of repeated allegations of war crimes

committed by both UK and US troops, news that class is the biggest indicator of chance of death in combat, the effect of armed drones on civilian populations, and the increased risk of psychological trauma or even suicide among returning veterans.”

The author points to: The recent “poppification” of remembrance is part of a growing commercialisation and corporatisation of remembrance that is being increasingly pushed by the Royal British Legion. On the main page of their recently revamped website, for example, there are two main choices: “donate” or “shop”. There are thirty pages of “The Poppy Shop”, selling you everything from poppy ceramic stud earrings and poppy swing dresses, to poppy golfing umbrellas, poppy dog name tags, poppy beanies, poppy iPhone covers, “I Love Poppy” t-shirts, and poppy sports bottles. Remembrance is big business. … Sainsbury’s, Kleshna, or Hovis, who have all profited from lucrative partnerships with the new corporate-friendly Legion. By linking their own brand products – sliced bread, chocolate, badges and bling – to the Royal British Legion they are simply availing themselves of the Legion’s “pimping” out of the poppy in order to “increase sales, build customer loyalty, retain or recruit customers, and differentiate their brand in a competitive marketplace”.,,, As Mary Reader observed of last year’s controversial Sainsbury’s Christmas advert, made in conjunction with the British Legion, and featuring a bar of chocolate: “Using a war that killed forty million people in order to trump John Lewis’ sale of Christmas paraphernalia is almost as insensitive as Tesco’s’ ‘Poppy Pepperoni Pizzas.”

Poppies, help ensure that wars go on and on: that the Legion will “Live On™”, as the Legion celebrates, and that the production line will continue – to ensure that, just as for Willie McBride, it happens “again, And again, and again, and again, and again.”

Perhaps there is a clue in the Legion’s very name, which is of course a military word (legio), referring to one of the basic units in the Roman military system. That’s also the reason why in the famous passage in the Bible where Jesus casts out the violent spirit, or spirit of violence, that had possessed the poor Gerasene, the spirit declares that his name is “Legion: for we are many” (Mark 5:1-13). As Biblical scholar Alyce M. McKenzie comments, “this strongly suggests that Mark linked the exorcism of the evil powers occupying the demoniac with acts of Roman oppression,” a connection reinforced by the location where this “casting out’ of military occupation and possession took place (in Gerasa, where a famous Jewish revolt was brutally put down by the Roman army).

As McKenzie adds, “here possession is a symbol of the oppression of one culture by another,” an experience perhaps familiar to many people in the world today living under similar military occupation and imperialistic control.

The Legion has trademarked the poppy and the words “Live On”, but perhaps they should also trademark the word “Sacrifice”, to make explicit the connection between this word and the corporate and military world which sponsors its current usage. Sacrifice might remind us that in the context of militarism and corporations it is actually being used as a marketing term, as a way of controlling remembrance.

(Veterans  For  Peace  UK  is  a  voluntary  ex­‐services  organisation  of  men  and women  who  have  served  in  every  war  that  Britain  has  fought  since  the  Second World  War.  The  focus  of  its  work  is  to:  Educate  young  people  on  the  true  nature  of  military  service  and  war;  resist  war  and  militarism  through  non­‐violent  action;  and  stand  in  solidarity  with  people  resisting  militarism  and  war.

“We  hope  to  convince  people  that  war  is  not  the  answer  to  the  problems  of  the  21st  century,” declares  VfPUK.

The  organisation,  which  includes  people  of  different  religious  beliefs  and  none,  is not  new.  It  has  been  active  for  the  past  three  years,  but  has  come  to  achieve greater  profile  in  2015.  Joe  Glenton,  explains:… “For  many  of  the  veterans  of  the  1980s,  1990s  and,  like  myself,  the  9/11  wars,  the  red  poppy  has  fallen  to  the  enemy  −  the  aforementioned  hawks  and  death ­‐dealers  −  and  is  at  best  a  deeply  concerning  symbol.  Many  of  these  veterans  wear  only  the  white  poppy.“ For  years,  I  have  worn  neither  white  nor  red,  though  I  am increasingly  drawn  toward  the  anti­‐imperialist  black  poppy,  which  recalls  the  war  dead  of  all  sides,  slaughtered  civilian  and  the  endless  list  of  military  objectors,  rebels  and mutineers.

You can find the paper here

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