I’m sure we have all had moments of shocked incredulity at a situation seemingly accepted by others but which seems totally incomprehensible to ourselves. But the acceptance of others might ask us to question whether this really is a mad situation or whether it is in fact us. When confronted with this madness what do we do: do we protest in the bewildered face of others or simply keep our heads down and wonder in silence?
This is a bit different to my usual postings (if after two months of blogging you’ve identified a trend) and it’s not really about me but is inspired by three men unable to accept the madness of the world around them and in protesting this perceived insanity earned the ridicule of others.
This week, whilst undertaking a spot of filing, I came across a number of letters from a Mr Garry Davis. He was a very public and active promoter of his cause, that died around this time last year, so I think it’s okay to reference him by name.
At first glimpse I thought these are just the ramblings of your average fruitloop. There was an excessive use of capitalization and exclamation marks, which I tend to interpret as a mark of crazy. (Let me just re-type that last sentence and you’ll see what I mean. There was an EXCESSIVE use of CAPITALIZATION and exclamation marks, which I tend to INTERPRET as a mark of CRAZY!!!!!)
But then I started to read his correspondence more carefully and did a bit of research (for ‘research’ read ‘I Googled him’) and what I discovered wasn’t as mad as I had first thought. In a nutshell Mr Davis was an American World War 2 veteran who, disgusted by the senseless killing he himself participated in, decided to renounce his US citizenship and declare himself a citizen of the world. He believed that lasting peace could only be obtained if nationhood and the accompanying violence of territorial wars ceased to exist.
Mr Davis was committed to his cause for which he was arrested, deported and probably subjected to more assumptions of crazy than just mine up until his death at the age of 91. He promoted world citizenship and produced world passports in the belief that there should be no borders and people should be free to come and go as they pleased. For many stateless refugees he was an inspiration and to this day the One World Vision has many hundreds of thousands of followers. He was a man committed to his visions in a world that didn’t want to listen to him.
Will there ever come a time a century or two from now when all the world citizens, devoid of nationality, look back at this part of history and question why everyone else was so happy to accept what is patently a very bizarre set-up in the form of statehood?
Next on my list of uncompromising protestors is Mr Brian Haw. I used to work at Parliament and as someone frequently subjected to the torrent of words spilling forth from Mr Haw’s megaphone it was easy to dismiss him as a nutter and nothing more than a nuisance.
In 2001 he set up camp on Parliament Square in London protesting against US and UK foreign policy in relation to the situation in Iraq. Parliament tried to get rid of him by enacting new legislation to prevent permanent protests in that area, but as Mr Haw’s protest was ongoing and established prior to legislation he became the only person legitimately entitled to camp outside Parliament. And camp there he did, through all weather extremes, until his death in 2011.
Mr Haw claimed he was protesting for a better future for his children. That’s probably not the only reason behind his actions and how happy his children, who he left behind to undertake the protest, were with this argument is another matter. But if Mr Haw genuinely believed his protest was the only means he had at his disposal to ensure a better future for his children, that it wasn’t possible for him to be quiet and accept the reality of war, was he really as mad as so many dismissed him to be?
Finally I come to my last of those champions of lost causes and my personal favourite: Mr Siegfried Sassoon. Siegfried Sassoon real life fox-hunter, poet and Great War Veteran reached a point when he could no longer not protest at the futility of war and the waste of life he saw all around him. Knowing full well the futility of his actions he threw away his medals and wrote a letter to a national newspaper protesting against the war. His actions earned him a spell in a mental hospital for shell-shocked officers.
(Regeneration by Pat Barker is a great book that blends history and fiction in exploring the madness of war and will tell this part of Sassoon’s story better than I can.)
In the mental hospital Sassoon encountered Wilfred Owen and encouraged him to express more forcefully the horrors of war in his poetry. So he may have failed to stop the madness of war but at least through his own poetry and through the encouragement of better-known Great War poet Owen, he managed to communicate the madness to others despite the heavy censorship both poets were subjected to. (Interesting piece on BBC news about censorship of Sassoon here)
Whilst the wastefulness of young lives during the Great War is now widely accepted, at the time Sassoon’s protest was not. Far easier to dismiss him as mad than accept the truth of what he had to say. Time has vindicated Mr Sassoon and perhaps it will also vindicate Mr Davis and Mr Haw in the future? Undoubtedly there will be many things we accept now that future generations will consider utter madness.