The biggest fight ever
Tue, 28 Jan 2020
It was the biggest fight ever, unless you count the war we'd been engaged in for the past four years. And it was the most pointless fight ever, unless you count the war we'd been engaged in for the past four years.
It started in a quiet moment, one of those terrible nothing-happening afternoons, where all there is is silence, and the faint lingering smell of death, and the lingering memory of death, and the imminent threat of death, but mostly just the silence, and the nothing-happening, the sort of afternoons that make you reminisce fondly about the bullets, bombs and mustard gas.
Mossy Herbert was talking to Spud McGinty over a cup of weak and horrible tea.
"At least there'll never be another war after this," said McGinty.
"Arse talk," said Mossy, "War is part of man's nature. There'll still be guns in the armory waiting to be fired, generals sitting scheming and maps lying there taunting the politicians who will want to start moving the boundaries again."
"Not after this. People won't tolerate it."
"You're here, tolerating away. I'm here, tolerating away. There's a whole bloody army of us all sitting here tolerating away. And over there," he pointed across no mans land, "Is a whole bloody army of Germans ALSO tolerating away."
"But not once it's over. Once the peace is signed and Britain has won everything'll be settled."
"Settled for a while, perhaps," said Mossy, but not for long. And as for who wins, whether it's our side or theirs, it won't be one nation, it'll be half a world, all itching for their share of the spoils and there won't be enough spoils to please everyone."
Nobody can recall who threw the first punch, least not anyone that was there. But the fight soon spread, the 'war to end all wars' people against the 'you can't change human nature' people.
At some point someone pointed a gun, and then the real mayhem started. Twenty-two soldiers dead, nineteen wounded, and all the while the Germans were sitting in their trenches doing bugger all.
Mossy and McGinty were among the dead, of course. Pity, they were both good blokes, if both a tad hot tempered. But their deaths made no less sense than any of the others I witnessed. At least they died fighting for something.
When I went to Flanders to lay a wreath, way back now, but a long while after all the same, I found their graves. They were buried side by side, like the best of buddies. There were poppies growing on both graves, masses of them, to the extent that you couldn't tell where one grave ended and the next began.
I like to think they'd both be pleased at that. Death brings reconciliation, sometimes, eventually, after fifty years and another bloody senseless war.
Some might say that Mossy was proved right and all that, but I wouldn't agree. McGinty put hope over reason and sometimes that's the only strategy that makes sense. A philosophy worth dying for if ever there was one.