Dalton Trumbo, a splendidly “un-American” writer, put some memorable lines about it in his play and film Johnny Got His Gun.
If you’re a rock fan you may have seen a collage of its best bits. They were very neatly edited together to make a memorable video for Metallica’s anti-war song One. In it the young Joe asks his dad (played by Jason Robards): “What is democracy, father?”
At which Dad gets a puzzled, faraway look in his eye and replies: “Got something to do with young men killing each other, I believe.”
Ouch. But there’s more.
Joe asks: “When it comes my turn, will you want me to go?”
And Dad says: “For democracy, any man would give his only begotten son.”
It’s certainly often been the pretext under which the USA, sometimes with its lackey Britain, has set off to wage war abroad. Like the Crusaders waving the cross over their murderous excursions.
But whatever may have been perpetrated in its name, democracy is a good thing, right? Well, maybe.
A week from now we will have a new government, supposedly chosen by you and me.
But it won’t really have been chosen by me – unless the Green Party pulls off the most surprising result in electoral history.
And even then. Because I won’t actually be voting Green, even though it is the party whose principles and policies most closely match what I believe in.
I will instead put my cross by the name of Daisy Cooper, my local Lib Dem candidate.
Not because I’ve been won over by Nick Clegg’s performances in the leaders’ debates – though he has been the most impressive of the three.
But because on certain vital issues – nuclear power, Trident, immigration – the Libs come closest to making sense.
And – this is the key point – I believe they have the best chance in my constituency of preventing a finance and management wonk being parachuted in from somewhere else as Tory lobby fodder.
And rotten though the last Labour government has been in many ways, a Tory one will be worse. Probably far worse.
Change? More like turning the clock back. Though it’s a very long time since we had a government quite so dominated by Old Etonian toffs as David Cameron’s gang.
In one way, though, this election has been something new.
The TV debates have given the impression that the old parliamentary party system is as good as dead. That it’s all about the leaders now, in something like the American presidential manner.
Sadly, the way British politics has changed under the autocracies of Thatcher, Blair and since, that impression is now about right.
There are a few other key figures besides the PM, though. Arguably the most important is the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
We’re constantly told the economy is what elections are won and lost on. So perhaps, in this age of TV popularity contests, we should have a debate among the prospective chancellors.
It has been Alistair Darling’s misfortune to serve in a reactionary government that doesn’t deserve the name of Labour. And at a time when forces way beyond his control have landed him in a series of financial crises, which I think he has handled quite astutely.
He would, I suspect, be bettered in debate – and in No.11 – by the Lib Dems' Vince Cable.
But there is no doubt both of them would wipe the floor with Tory twit George Osbourne.
In fact, if there is one single vital reason not to vote Tory it isn’t the smirking Cameron or even the insane run-your-own-schools-and-hospitals manifesto cop-out.
It’s the thought of Osbourne running the country’s economy. A man I wouldn’t put in charge of the office Christmas lunch club kitty.
But one certain thing about this election is that I won’t play any part in choosing the government.
This will be the eighth general election I’ve voted in, and every time it’s been in a safe seat of one colour or another.
Which means my vote, like most people’s, has been totally irrelevant to the outcome.
In our so-called democracy, the only votes that really count are those of the relatively small number of floating voters in the relatively small number of marginal seats.
In other words, just a few thousand people – probably among the least politically aware in the country – pick the government the rest of us have to live with.
CHANGE – that’s what this election is supposed to be about.
The rise of the Liberal Democrats, through talent show politics, has made a good story for a couple of weeks. But our archaic electoral system is not designed to reflect public opinion accurately.
In a week’s time, I predict:
- The Tories, with barely a third of the popular vote, will have a big majority.
- The Lib Dems, a close second in terms of votes cast, will again have a mere handful of MPs.
- Labour, a distant third in votes, will be back in opposition.
Change? No, just same old, same old.