The tale is told of a propaganda film where Stalin, wandering along a country lane enjoying the sunshine, comes across a peasant with a broken down tractor. Bizarrely he rolls up his sleeves, inspects the engine and soon it is up and running again. The intention of the propagandist is clear but, as Zizek has pointed out, what the film ends up provoking us to wonder is what kind of system is this that is so broken that the head of state needs to roam the countryside replacing spark plugs and getting cats out of trees.
I recall this story today hearing the news about ‘the Brown blur’, our PM, who has failed to get the facts straight in a hand-written note of condolence to a mother whose son was killed in Afghanistan. But of course the story as reported misses the point, merely describing his ineptitude and provoking a debate over whether he really cares or not. What we should be asking is how a PM should demonstrate his care. He should certainly not be writing little notes. How about forming a war cabinet? Or describing more specific and achievable war aims? How about withdrawing from the process of corrupt ‘State Building’? More troops and equipment would go down well with all service families.
What the row does successfully suggest, though, is that Brown’s focus is on scoring political points with the war instead of winning it. Each decision is weighed against electoral concerns rather than facing up to the cost of securing one’s borders. What enrages me on another Remembrance Day is that we persist in the nineteenth century practice of recruiting the economically disadvantaged, preferably from the North, so Middle Class w***ers can get on with selling houses to each other blissfully ignorant of the process by which we remain safe in our beds. This leads to a situation where war aims are not realised because they make the voters uncomfortable. The (next) PM must redefine war aims immediately, decide if we can afford to pull out on the basis of the international risks, and then put in place the resources to win.
The poppy has become an increasingly ironic symbol. A reminder of the waste of a generation in the trenches, it has now come full circle to Afghanistan, where, as in India, the British government in collaboration with the East India Co. cultivated an illegal Opium Trade designed to bypass Chinese sovereignty and make lots of money. The poppy fields there were part of the deliberate destabilisation of the region for profit. And indeed the country was also the buffer zone between the Raj and the Russian Empire. May the poppy serve not only as a reminder of the government’s failure to remember not to waste young lives for the sake of votes, but also a reminder that we are are literally and metaphorically reaping what they sowed over a hundred years ago.