We have heard a lot in recent months about ‘hell’ – notably the ‘hell’ Siegfried Sassoon attached to the mud-hell of Passchendaele.
The hundred years since that grim battle have seen so many more hells – the Nazi death camps and the Holocaust, Rwanda’s genocide, Srebrenica, the Second World War’s eastern front, the Normandy beaches, Japanese brutality and the nuclear holocaust that ended it. On and on – all man made.
The poet Dante counted out nine circles in his imagined hell. Unfortunately, in this day and age, we are forced to count out innumerable parallel universes where people dwell who inflict hell on individuals. They either will not admit the results of their policies or have no imagination or ability to empathise.
They seem unable or unwilling to register or accept that their decisions and policies can be life-changing in the worst of ways, life threatening and life ending. They certainly cannot find it in themselves to apologise for what they have done.
These decisions so often cause individual hells – but on a grand scale. The statistics tell a partial story: Obamacare brought health care to 11 million American citizens. Trump’s efforts to repeal Obamacare would have left 27 million more people without health care insurance.
In reality repealing Obamacare would bring premature death to millions more American citizens.
How many people will die too young when they are identified as unwanted Americans and sent by Trump’s gauleiters to Central and South America and to the Middle East – places they may not have even been to since birth. They are Americans last.
In Britain austerity has killed many people. The figures are, of course, disputed. They cannot be exact as austerity kills in such a variety of ways some of which will not be ascribed directly to austerity – but perhaps to an illness a homeless person contracted through living on the streets.
So it was with some amazement that in May, as part of the General Election campaign, we heard that mention of the reality of people dying because of austerity was “gutter politics”.
How many politicians – within the ‘Westminster bubble’ or locally – are living safely in one of those parallel universes?
A refusal to admit the results of political decisions implies, of course, that all those cuts and changes to benefits, cuts to social services, an NHS not allowed to keep up with demand, etc. etc. – were just politics. They were simply getting it over on someone else in the political debate. Doing things the opposition parties won’t like. Trying to please their own supporters. Finding money to make life easier for their supporters.
Going back to the First World War, we can take a line or two from Wilfred Owen: the third stanza of his poem Insensibility opens with the line:
Happy are these who lose their imagination
And after some alarming examples of the sort of people they become in war, the stanza ends saying they:
Can laugh among the dying, unconcerned.
Many millions have come to agree with Owen and his fellow poets about war. We need someone to say the same things about what can be done in peace under cover of democracy. We have to watch what our government is planning for us under cover of what some people are calling a new-found ‘freedom’.
Brexit came courtesy of a cross on a ballot paper – all very binary. We now have to be aware of the Brexit small print – the tiny print which our politicians will impose on us. Tiny print that certainly did not feature on those referendum ballot papers.