Bonfire Night

It’s a peculiarly English event, so for you folks in other places, here’s a quick intro to the 5th of November (yesterday, I know but most events happen on the nearest Saturday, so, indulge me…).

Quite some time ago, some very irate Catholics tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament, and failed. One of them, Guy Fawkes, was executed in a very unpleasant way – hung, drawn and quartered. We celebrate this every year with a big bonfire and lots of fireworks.

What, exactly are we celebrating? The history of religious intolerance in the UK?(Catholics and Protestants having devoted a lot of energy to burning each other at various times.) The plot having been foiled? Or the attempt itself?

Anyone who has seen V for Vendetta (and if not, you should) will have encountered the rhyme “Remember, remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot, I see no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot”. Sporting a Guy Fawkes mask, the main character is bent on a re-creation…and relates to Guy Fawkes in a way that sets the whole thing up as anti-tyranny. I don’t think it was – just another plot about power and influence and one group of people being very unhappy with another. When the Catholics were in power, they went about doing very much the kinds of things the Protestants had done. New regime, same old oppression…

The kinds of revolutions that blow things up, tear things down, shoot the old and make way for the new tend to end up with something that looks eerily like the old. Only with a new face, a new title. Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector, was not much different from a King. Communist China did just as good a job at oppressing its peasants as the Emperors had done. The American war of independence did not (to steal lines from Andy Hamilton) save America from being ruled by some idiot called George, who only got the job because he was the son of the previous idiot called George.

I will be going to a bonfire tonight, because fireworks are fun. I will, as I do every year, spare a thought for the people whose deaths are being marked, and for the ones who might have died, but didn’t. For me, it’s a big reminder of why blowing things up isn’t much of an answer. I’m more interested in evolution, than revolution.