It is a slow, pockmarked, ideological war that is raging in Hong Kong. It is a war that is now taking its toll not just on the protestors, but the police themselves.
‘[They were] raining … shells around the position and the fumes were penetrating. The fumes were getting thicker every minute and we were lying flat on our stomachs. The pain in my throat was getting unbearable and we all had great difficulty in breathing’.
An excerpt from the blog of a Hong Kong resident after attacks by the police on protestors on the 11th of November. Violence has returned to the high-towered streets of Hong Kong as pro-democracy protestors returned once more on Monday, a day in which another man, of just 18 years, was shot point-blank by a police officer.
Many will criticise the officer for this act, few will feel sympathy, but here’s why they should. I do not think he fired for the preservation of state rule, he did not fire for authoritarianism. He fired out of panic, with his survival instinct kicking in. Had he had a taser or a tennis ball on his person he would have used these with the same unhesitant resolve. This of course does not make his actions excusable in any way, but it is an apt example of how high tensions are in Hong Kong right now and also serves as a link to something else that happened on Monday.
It was November 11th, Armistice Day, so I watched Peter Jackson’s They shall not grow old. It is a documentary that features footage from World War One that has been converted to run smoothly in colour and with audio. A good deal of the ninety-nine minutes is dedicated to the German soldiers and what the British thought of them.
The general view from the British was that, once a prisoner, the Germans thought much the same as they did; they were sick of the war and were only there because they were told to be. World War One, unlike the Second World War, was not an ideological battle but an imperial one in which men were driven by patriotic duty and because they thought it would be fun.
Where the link between this and Hong Kong comes in is when you start thinking about what took place when that police officer got home. How did he feel when he got out of his uniform? How did he reflect on the actions of that day, about the protestor that he shot? Did he feel guilty? Who was there to support him if he did feel guilt?
These policemen are much like the men who fought in World War One, in that they are in a position where society encourages, even demands of them, to stay silent, not complain to their superiors, and crack on with the job. If they speak out, they will be ignored or face the ire of the Communist State. There is no room for weakness. This links to our interview with Kenneth Cukier of The Economist who said only last month:
‘If you’re pro-Beijing you’re really for the status quo … [if you’re] an establishment man or woman what is your incentive to buck that passivity that has been so effective throughout your life by keeping your head down, shutting up and obeying orders?’
Neither was there any incentive for the men during World War One. And when they returned home, they met with a society that did not require or want to know their feelings once they were out of their uniform. Mental health and its treatment were still in their earliest stages. These men who had been blown apart on the battlefield had no-one to put them back together once they returned. similarly, who will be there to look after the police officers of Hong Kong? They are in danger of being the lost men of this ideological conflict.
By the way, I lied at the start of this article. The excerpt wasn’t from a blog of a Hong Kong resident but from the diary of a British soldier called Clarence Ahier who fought in the First World War. I lied to demonstrate how easily texts from the past can be appropriate in the present.