Using One Million War Dead To Hock Groceries? Merry Sainsbury's Christmas Everyone

14/11/2014 11:05 GMT | Updated 13/01/2015 10:59 GMT

The World War One Centenary is a time to reflect one of the biggest wastes of human lives in the 20th Century. Why it happened, the lives it destroyed and how future wars can be averted are important lessons for our age. The ceramic poppies at the tower of London - 888,246 of them, each representing an extinguished human life - formed the centre of many moving tributes across the country.

It is important that we remember, but also how we remember it. The Sainsbury's Christmas advert not only flagrantly exploited the public mood to hock Christmas tat it commits a far bigger crime - it tries to make war picturesque.

War is an ugly business - over 6.5 million civilians died of disease and famine alone and a further 1 million were killed by 'direct military actions' in WW1. Combine that with military deaths through violence, malnutrition, disease and mental health issues and you have a total war dead equivalent to four times the population of Ireland. But of course this is not how Sainsbury's chooses to remember WW1 - because dead babies don't sell chocolate bars.

We can, unfortunately, expect to see more of this advertising. The partnership between the Royal British Legion and Sainsbury's is indicative of a country that is quite happy to fight wars but tends to shrug it shoulders when it is asked to pay for them. We find ourselves dependent on charitable giving to support veterans that the government can't or won't pay for. Organisations, like the Royal British Legion, will therefore sell themselves to the highest bidder to fill the gap. The bizarre outcome is Sainsbury's giving us the perverse Christmas message that chocolate makes war OK.

The simple truth is people who go through the necessary conditioning to be able to participate in the legalised murder of people they don't know, in countries they've never been to, for reasons they don't understand, are going to come back damaged.

Inevitably this has an impact - around 9,000 ex-servicemen are living on the streets largely because of mental health issues that are a direct consequence of military service. Veterans of warfare almost always need greater state resources to come to terms with the psychological impact of working in warzones - the government to its credit has given some recognition to this.

The military covenant, now enshrined in law set out a new deal that armed services personnel can expect in terms of support from the British government in return for their service. The devil, however, is in the numbers - all sustainable funding for the Covenant annually is set to be around £10 million or 1/10th of what the Royal British Legion spends each year or 1/3500th of the MoD the annual spend.

Way back in Christmas in 2011 I had a habit of popping by the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest on my transits through central London. During this time I made friends with a convicted thief, a recovering addict and a recent divorcee who were, like me, avid chess players at the "Tea and Empathy" tent.

Divided in age and circumstance but united by the ugliest of human experiences - deprivation and homelessness. Another thing united them - they were all previously armed services personnel. All their stories of largely self-inflicted misery certainly won't light up the sympathy circuits of everyone but they were all, in a very Christian tradition, penitent figures.

These are the people that are left behind by a government that would rather charities pick up the bill for the wars they start. Whilst Help for Heroes, Royal British Legion and Combat Stress do vital work, that work should be paid for by the state that is responsible for putting service personnel in harm's way in the first place.

Until then we are likely to see more corporate flogging of military history for their own profit. The Sainsbury's advert has been described as a 'masterpiece' and 'heart-warming' - but I fail to see that the exploitative manipulation of one of the darkest chapters in human history to peddle inflatable lawn ornaments as anything less than tacky, callous and probably evil.

Merry Christmas everyone.