Reasons for mourning

From my vantage point here in the west of Ireland my connection to what happens in Britain is simultaneously both distant and intimate.

It is impossible to watch any British TV programme at this time of year without noticing the ubiquity of the Poppy.

Perhaps I am mistaken, but the wearing of the Poppy by people on British TV seems to be happening earlier and earlier.

Why this is I can only conjecture.

What is it that is being remembered?

Is it the appalling death toll of war?

Or is it also something else?

In psychotherapy there is a well-known phenomenon called “the presenting problem.”

The therapist has to clear away the presenting problem and assist the client in locating the real source of the angst.

In my own clinical practice clients almost always self refer with a “presenting problem”.

Often the real issue is rooted in their childhood. This loss or trauma that they have suffered the client may not be fully aware of, however it generates emotions that mug them in everyday life.

Carl Jung said there is no coming to consciousness without pain.

I watched with interest historian Dan Snow’s own personal journey back to the Somme and the role-played by his great grandfather General Snow.

It was both fascinating and painful to watch the eminently likeable Snow discover his great grandfather’s clear culpability in the biggest loss of British life in any conflict on a single day in history.

Britain marched into the First World War a global superpower. The new Kaiser on the block was challenging Britain’s hegemony in Europe.

Britain limped out of the “war to end all wars” shattered and dependent of aid from the US.

When round two came around in 1939 without Lend Lease then the formal involvement of the USA Britain could not have survived the onslaught of the Nazis.

Although the Poppy is a symbol of all those who have died in Britain’s wars, be those conflicts large or small, the Poppy is about the Great War.

The dead whose names are etched on war memorials in Flanders and across the lands of the British Empire are remembered and honoured by those who wear the Poppy at this time of year.

I cannot help, but think that this is the presenting problem.

What is really being mourned is the loss of global power.

Britain’s global unipolarity died on the Somme.

It was the end of the British century.

It would be forty years after the Somme before a US president admonished British Prime Minister Eden over Suez.

Eden’s own life as a soldier and a statesman is the reason why the Poppy is a symbol of national mourning.

He had an elder brother called Timothy and a younger brother, Nicholas, who was killed when the battle cruiser HMS Indefatigable blew up and sank at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

During the First World War, Eden served with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, and reached the rank of captain. He received a Military Cross, and at the age of twenty-one became the youngest brigade-major in the British Army. At a conference in the early 1930s, he and Adolf Hitler observed that they had probably fought on opposite sides of the trenches in the Ypres sector.


Since 1945 Britain has been unable to, independently and without US assistance, do anything other than the most limited of military actions.

Today Britain is back in the North West frontier, but this time under US command.

The British Army, the same army that mobilised millions of men to take on the Kaiser and Hitler can only permanently deploy a brigade-sized force.

In Afghanistan British solders have died because of the lack of appropriate vehicles and helicopters to airlift wounded men back for swift medical aid.

Britain’s soldiers will continue to die in Afghanistan for as long as they are ordered by their US superiors to do so.

The descent of Britain from global superpower to broken society in less than a lifetime is both simultaneously tragic and fascinating.

Perhaps the English hostility to a greater European integration is that a clearly defined European polity is the end of the pretence that Britain, on the world stage, is a major power.

No doubt my Cumann na mBan Mayo grandmother would have gorged on schadenfreude.

I understand why old Julia would have loved to have lived long enough to see the nation that produced the landlords and the Tans so humbled on the world stage.

I can understand her view, but part of me also sees the human sadness in Britain’s irreversible decline.

One day the British will turn towards Europe and re-connect with that part of themselves.

That process may well take the rest of this century.

In the meantime they mourn the loss of their global dominance.

Forgive me Julia I believe that you and all your clan were correct to fight the “Brits” in 1920, but your grandson’s hometown has shifted from Workshop to Workfare. The transition from Highland Light Infantry to heroin is complete.

Now that is a loss worth mourning.





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