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22 May, 2009

Good on ya Joanna

I was born just ten years after World War 2 ended. I was raised in Hull in Yorkshire, a major fishing and cargo port and one of the worst-bombed cities in England. When I was a kid, my friends and I played 'Jerrys and English' in the bombed out ruins of buildings still not yet rebuilt. Every adult male I knew back then had been in the army or the navy. All my friends' fathers, and all their grandfathers too. My own paternal grandfather was bed-ridden all the time I knew him because of injuries sustained in the war.

I don't know how kids view war these days. I imagine they don't see it in the way we did. Since World War 2, wars have become shabbier and less honourable. The disgraceful invasion of Iraq makes even Vietnam seem marginally reasonable. Yet everyone I knew as a child was proud of what we did in World War 2. We had stood firm against oppression. We had saved the world from tyranny. We had been brave and strong.

And among all the many stories I heard in those days, of bravery and courage and skill, the stalwart loyalty and fierce bravery of the Gurkhas was often mentioned.

I think, like many other Brits, I was astonished to discover that Gurkhas who had served in the British Army Brigade of Gurkhas had no automatic right to settle in Britain on leaving the army. I was also shocked to discover that a sly deal at the time of Partition had left the Gurkhas with a reduced pension compared to other British Army servicemen.

For some years now, there has been a campaign to achieve better rights for Gurkha ex-servicemen. Small wins have happened from time to time but the big battle - for their right to settle in Britain - has only just been won. After a surprise 'first day motion' defeat for the Government (the first since 1978) the British Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, announced that "All Gurkha veterans who retired before 1997 with at least four years service will be allowed to settle in the UK". As Nick Clegg, a UK politician quite rightly said, it was "a victory for decency" and "the kind of thing people want this country to do."

Certainly it is what people of my generation would want, people who heard the admiration and respect in the voices of our forebears when they spoke of the brave and loyal Gurkhas.

But there is still work to be done on the Gurkha's behalf. We still need to ensure that Gurkha Brigade veterans receive full pensions in the UK. But, as 'Gurkha Justice Campaign' lawyer David Enright says, "that is for tomorrow". Today, he and other campaign leaders - including figurehead and active campaigner Joanna Lumley, whose father was an officer in a Gurkha regiment - are celebrating yesterday's tremendous victory.

2 comments:

bateleur said...

Well said!

Apologies for the rest of this comment being slightly offtopic, but I'm here at your invitation after your interesting comments over at Emma's blog Post-Apocalyptic Publishing.

It is clear from your later comment that I completely misjudged you - for which my apologies - but as a result I find your earlier comment now quite intriguing. You say "What I've never understood about all this is why people want to change the world at all". Clearly you do not say this for the same reasons as most people I've heard such sentiments from, so perhaps I could ask you to expand on your thoughts a little?

graywave said...

Dom,

I've just spent some time browsing through your blog and enjoying it very much. I especially liked your Worldview series, particularly the piece on belief. In fact, I'll probably send a link for that post to my daughter, who is pondering such things at the moment. Then I'll subscribe, so I don't miss the rest of them!

Back to the (off-topic) point...

I suppose what I really don't understand is stupidity. (Seriously, I find it hard to imagine what it's like to be thick.) I'm no genius but it doesn't take much thought to see that everything people do is temporary. What's more, every decision people make is on the basis of incomplete information, insufficient theory, and limited cognitive resources. Even if we accidentally come up with an idea for a change that is actually an improvement, the next bright spark in line will undo the good that was done with their own, half-baked changes.

I imagine the ancient Athenians were pretty pleased with themselves when they came up with the idea of democracy (and a real democracy too, not this representational nonsense we have these days.) Then the Romans came along and turned it into farce. The Romans were probably pleased with their own Republic too, until someone had a better idea and trashed it.

We live in pretty good times. I may have had some unpleasant experiences, but I've never had to fight a war, never been a slave, never seen my children starve to death. It is easy to imagine that capitalism and democracy are signs of real progress. Except capitalism requires economic growth and will therefore, inevitably, come crashing down in a heap, and democracy (as practiced) entrenches privilege and is too easily influenced by people (and corporations) with power, thus the rich get richer and the poor will eventually be driven to insurrection. The seeds of the destruction of our civilisation are already planted and germinating.

The most wonderful creation ever, is science. It is a treasure beyond price, a marvel beyond all others. To actually have in our possession knowledge that is so free of predjudice and so independent of the biases of its discoverers, and for it to be such a huge and rapidly-growing corpus, is a privillege and honour we should be immensely grateful for. Yet even this, the greatest human achievement, is so horribly fragile that it could all be lost in a single generation. Even here there are agents of change who would like to eradicate and suppress it because they think we would have a better world if we replaced knowledge with superstition.

I could cry when I think that, one day, it will all be gone. But I'm fairly certain that it will be, as the tides of change sweep this way and that, rubbing out the past and uncovering new, random directions for humanity.

So, given the impermanence of change, the unlikelihood of improvement through change, and our manifest inability to make sensible choices. I cannot understand why people want to keep messing with the controls. A better choice for any individual - especially when they find themselves in a tolerable situation - is surely to hunker down somewhere that looks safe and hope that the next tide doesn't wash you out to sea.

And as for this blog, well, I can't help being human. I can't help being dismayed or disgusted at what people are doing to each other. I can't help crying out in shock or pain sometimes. So I barrack from the sidelines. It's a harmless little hobby.

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