As we continue to remember the vast tragedy of the First Battle of the Somme, 100 years ago, and prepare for this year’s Remembrance Sunday, it is worth visiting a current exhibition in Buxton library.
This exhibition is entitled Courage of Conscience and is primarily devoted to the stories of conscientious objectors who lived in Derbyshire and who refused to go to war.
These are their moving stories.
Sadly, the exhibition goes on to make serious errors in history, errors which might be labelled as propaganda. These errors involve six wars in which Britain was involved. They are as follows: Palestine 1936 to 1948, Greece 1945 to 1948, The Falklands 1982, Yugoslavia 1991 to 2001, Kosovo 1998 to 1999 and Sierra Leone 2000.
The exhibition states that Britain was the aggressor in these wars.
Alas, in all the instances, this statement represents negligent history.
Palestine was a mandated territory placed under the authority of Britain by the League of Nations.
Britain had the thoroughly unenviable task of maintaining peace when ongoing violence broke out between Jews and Arabs. It was necessary at times for Britain to used armed force.
The war in Greece 1945 to 1948 was a civil war and Britain engaged to prevent communist forces overturning an agreement made between Churchill and Stalin.
The war in the Falklands was to reject an illegal invasion by Argentina.
The war in Yugoslavia 1991 to 2001 was an internal ethnic war which arose from the break-up of the country into separate states. Terrible atrocities were perpetrated, which eventually led to war crimes tribunals.
British forces formed part of an international effort to bring peace.
Similarly with Kosovo 1998 to 1999.
The war in Sierra Leone in 2000 was civil war and British troops helped to establish peace.
The exhibition states that in none of these wars was Britain threatened. In the narrowest of senses this is correct.
Alas, international politics very rarely deals in narrow senses, but instead in the brutally complex.
I suggest that in each of the above wars, although, though with the exception of Palestine, Britain may legitimately feel it played a worthwhile part.
Returning to the library exhibition, individual conscientious objection could be and often was entirely honourable. But it should not be used to make blanket unconsidered criticism of all wars.