This post is a modification of one I made last year. I traditionally post something about Remembrance every year, and it’s increasingly hard to say anything new, as my view doesn’t change on this, the most important day in our national recognition, recollection and reconciliation of our part in the world’s conflicts.
Specifically, of course, we remember those who paid the most extreme price one can ever pay in service of one’s country, but also those wounded, mentally and physically, and for those who continue to fight so we might live another day.
Please take time out today to consider those that gave, and those who may yet give their lives for us to live in peace and relative prosperity. From the fields of Flandria to the jungles of Burma, from the deserts of Iraq to the frozen waters of the South Atlantic, when their time has come, good and noble people have given their all that we may enjoy better days.
Remembrance is not about glory, it’s not about posturing and it’s not about patriotism. The hell that poets like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon experienced and spoke so eloquently about was not about any of these things. It was about the sheer, unrelenting dehumanisation of armed conflict. Again this year I have seen the poppy used as a tool of prejudice and superficial posturing on social media, particularly Facebook. It’s not about wearing a symbol, or pointlessly making it your profile picture, it’s not about exclusion, aggression, hatred and being seen to do the right thing. It’s about respect and memory.
This year I felt the shallowness of social media particularly keenly on the issue of Remembrance. I’ve witnessed people berating others for not showing the considered appropriate grief, or displaying the correct symbolism. This is awful, and I hate to see something that’s about continued freedom be abused and manipulated in this way.
The young men who gave their all on the battlefields that have ebbed and flowed over the globe over the last century did so to keep us free. In order that we may live without oppression. Their fight was for people to have the freedom to choose, and that includes not joining in acts of overt Remembrance if they choose not to do so.
It saddens me to see the meaning of the poppy and Remembrance distorted in this way. We all have our own way to remember, and long may it be so.
I also feel that this Remembrance is about not just the dead, the fallen and the human cost; it’s about the gross human folly that is conflict and war. That we still expect young people to give their all after thousands of years of societal evolution is a shame on our civilisation. As Tony Benn once put it ‘…all war can be regarded as a failure of diplomacy’.
I do, of course, wholly support the Poppy Appeal, appeals by the Royal British Legion, and Help For Heroes. I am, however concerned that particularly in the latter case, the generosity of the public is being used by the faceless mandarins in government to relieve the burden on state funds. I am unsettled by the business operations and big money directorships in some of the more prominent armed forces charities.
Those injured and bereaved in defence of the state should be compensated and protected by it. It’s the least we can do. While there’s a place for charity, this shouldn’t be a substitute for care of our veterans – of whom a disconcerting number go on to fight the effects long after their service has passed.
It is very sad and a national tragedy that ex-servicemen and women are disproportionately represented in the numbers of the homeless and mentally ill.
Please, if you can, give to one of the many armed forces support charities, a huge list of which can be found here. This year, I’ve personally bought a poppy as usual, but also supported Soldiers off the Street, who seem to be doing particularly vital work.
It’s important to me that we should remember that it’s the ordinary people who bear the brunt of war; the leaders who declare it are rarely victims. The human cost of armed conflict is massive. We should endeavour, after Remembrance and thanks, to show our huge debt of gratitude by attempting to prevent war occurring.
It is to humanity’s shame that we appear to have no leaders of the calibre required to do so.