19 Aug 2006

Revising History

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Leftism’s characteristically vile hubris manifests itself most clearly perhaps in downright silly attempts to undertake posthumous revisions of the outcomes and meanings of out-of-reach historical events.

The Telegraph reported this week that the British Ministry of Defense has decided to surrender to an insignificant protest group made up of a few superannuated whingeing relatives, their prevaricating lawyer, and one retired lachrymose school teacher with time on his hands, and intends to “pardon” all British deserters and cowards executed during WWI.

Much good will it do them.

All 306 soldiers of the First World War who were shot at dawn for cowardice or desertion will be granted posthumous pardons, the Ministry of Defence said last night.

Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, has decided to cut short a review that had been prompted by campaigns to exonerate the men, and emergency legislation will be put before the House of Commons soon after it resumes sitting in the autumn. The news was greeted with joy by the family of Pte Harry Farr, who was executed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 for cowardice in the face of the enemy.

His daughter, Gertrude Harris, 93, and granddaughter Janet Booth, 63, had fought a legal battle to overturn the ruling in 2000 by Geoff Hoon, the former defence secretary, that there was no case for a posthumous pardon.

Mrs Harris, from Harrow, north-west London, said: “I am so relieved that this ordeal is now over and I can be content knowing that my father’s memory is intact.

“I have always argued that my father’s refusal to rejoin the front line, described in the court martial as resulting from cowardice, was in fact the result of shell-shock. And I believe that many other soldiers suffered from this too, not just my father.

“I hope that others who had brave relatives who were shot by their own side will now get the pardons they equally deserve.”

In a statement, Mr Browne said: “Although this is a historical matter, I am conscious of how the families of these men feel today. “They have had to endure a stigma for decades. That makes this a moral issue too, and having reviewed it, I believe it is appropriate to seek a statutory pardon. “I hope we can take the earliest opportunity to achieve this by introducing a suitable amendment to the current Armed Forces Bill.

“I believe a group pardon, approved by Parliament, is the best way to deal with this. After 90 years, the evidence just doesn’t exist to assess all the cases individually.

“I do not want to second guess the decisions made by commanders in the field, who were doing their best to apply the rules and standards of the time. “But the circumstances were terrible, and I believe it is better to acknowledge that injustices were clearly done in some cases, even if we cannot say which – and to acknowledge that all these men were victims of war.”

Mr Browne has waived the review announced somewhat reluctantly by the MoD when Mrs Harris won the right to challenge a refusal to reconsider the case by John Reid when he was defence secretary.

John Dickinson, the lawyer representing Mrs Harris, said: “This is complete common sense and acknowledges that Pte Farr was not a coward but an extremely brave man.

“Having fought for two years practically without respite in the trenches, he was very obviously suffering from a condition we now would have no problem in diagnosing as post traumatic stress disorder, or shell-shock, as it was known in 1916.”

By this reasoning, the convicted murderer may plead that he is really an extremely law-abiding chap, as he never killed anyone for years and years.

The Blair government may be relied upon always to surrender on issues of this kind, as this species of surrender, from its utilitarian and materialist point of view, costs nothing real, only honor, on which it agrees philosophically with the rogue and villain Falstaff:

Honour pricks me on. Yea, but how if honour prick me off when I come on? how then? Can honour set to a leg? no: or an arm? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no. Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? no. What is honour? a word. What is in that word honour? what is that honour? air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it? he that died o’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? no. Doth he hear it? no. ‘Tis insensible, then. Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? no. Why? detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I’ll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon: and so ends my catechism.

–Henry IV, Act V, Scene 1.

The same, of course, could be said of posthumous pardons 90 years after the fact.

The British Campaign For Cowardice


Cowards’ Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum

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