From WWI to Gaza: War is organized murder

| November 16, 2012
Harry Patch

It's been an emotional week for me as Remembrance Day was again marked and we march towards the 100-year anniversary of the slaughter of the first World War.

I remember the hours I spent as a skinny teenager in the Air Cadets, standing guard at the cenotaph at the ceremonies in my hometown of Sudbury, Ontario. Had I been the same age during WWI there would have been a decent chance that I would have ended up a child-soldier, as many young boys of that era did, foolishly volunteering for the front and the supposed honour and glory of war.

I would have been in for a rude awakening. As Harry Patch, one of World War One's last surviving veterans, famously put it, "War is organized murder, and nothing else."

I went on to join the local militia unit at 17 and saw a few more years in uniform for Remembrance Day. I also started to know people who had done tours in the meat-grinder of the Croatian and Bosnian wars as UN "peacekeepers."

I remember a few faces such as John Tescione from the 48th Highlanders whose Iltis jeep was ambushed as they tried to roll through a hostile checkpoint with dozens of armed men raking them with automatic weapons at point-blank range. I remember Tescione's scars from where he had been shot in the back of his head and how he had difficulty hearing after the attack but remained on military duty when I was a young reservist learning to soldier.

I also remember a guy from my home unit who made it through his tour in the former Yugoslavia without being shot, but in no way escaped unscathed by his experience. Looking back, he clearly showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and had a lot of difficulty re-integrating back into civilian life in northern Ontario. He was chronically unemployed and didn't get the help that he needed. As a reservist he didn't even have access to the military's medical system, woefully inadequate as it was, that regular force soldiers had. Once his contract was over he simply wasn't the army's problem anymore and found himself kicked to the curb to try and survive as Ontario's conservative premier Mike Harris slashed his welfare.

I was lucky, when it looked like the war in Bosnia was going to escalate into a full-fledged NATO invasion and I was keen to volunteer -- peace broke out.

This week, what can only be described as industrial murder broke out along a densely-populated area near the Mediterranean Sea known as the Gaza Strip. As of this writing there have been over 200 bombardments in Gaza by modern Israeli air and naval forces and about 250 crude rockets and mortars launched into Israel by militants in Gaza.

This violence has seen 16 people killed, three Israelis and 13 Palestinians including the 11 month-old baby Omar Misharawi -- the son of a BBC journalist in Gaza, and things look like they will escalate from bad to worse in the coming days. There is a palpable fear that we will see a repeat of the 2008-2009 "Operation Cast Lead" by the Israeli Defense Forces that saw approximately 1400 Palestinians, and 13 Israelis, killed.

Four years later, with another election cycle over in the United States and one underway in Israel, we are seeing a new round of killing. It is a cynical and disgusting dance that sees the predicable buzzwords of "self-defense" and "resistance" spewed by political and military leaders of both sides, while the people of Gaza, and to a much lesser extent of Israel, pay the price of militaristic jingoism.

If we want to remember something, let's remember the lasting truth of Patch's words in his auto-biography, The Last Fighting Tommy, "politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder."


Mick Sweetman is the managing editor of The Dialog and a former news intern at 

This article was originally published in The Dialog and is reprinted here with permission.  



"Resistance" is no mere "predictable buzzword...spewed by political and military leaders" of Gaza (not to mention their supporters around the world). It is an accurate term for the necessary and horrific task facing the people of Gaza in their quest for peace and social justice.

Mick Sweetman would recognize this if he weren't so keen to assign equal measures of blame to both the oppressed and the oppressors, out of some misguided sense of faux journalistic neutrality.

M. Spector, I'll once again ask you to keep your comments to substantive argument, and avoid the ad hominem. This is an opinion piece; there is no need to claim the writer is arguing in bad faith. 

The idea that the almost totally inaccurate rockets with no substantial warheads launched into Israel by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups amounts to "resistance" is a sick joke. They usually fall harmlessly into the desert or the sea and only by a fluke of luck did they manage to kill three Israeli civilians, two of whom were watching "the fireworks" by their window.

They pose absolutely no military threat to the state of Israel but are effective at providing a cover that Hamas is "resisting" Israel and producing thousands of "martyrs” and recruits when the militarists of the Israeli state attack with hugely disproportionate force.

I don’t assign equal measures of blame, Israel is the ultimately responsible for the bloodshed that is happening, but the militarists of Hamas et. al  are leading Palestinians to slaughter in the name of a “resistance” that is better understood as militant propaganda than a real strategy for liberation.

Resistance is resistance, whether you think it's an effective strategy or not. Casting aspersions equally on both Israel's aggression and Gaza's resistance is not the kind of commentary I would expect to see on a progressive website.

The fact that Gaza's resistance to Israeli oppression and aggression is pitifully weak in comparison to the savagery of Israel's military attacks is all the more reason why a blanket condemnation of both sides is inappropriate.

Mick Sweetman wrote:
It is a cynical and disgusting dance that sees the predicable buzzwords of "self-defense" and "resistance" spewed by political and military leaders of both sides, while the people of Gaza, and to a much lesser extent of Israel, pay the price of militaristic jingoism. [my emphasis]

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