I run a variant of this post every year, because my views on Remembrance don’t change, but I feel it’s essential to mark it – and this year I’ve become increasingly disturbed by the way the act of Remembrance, and the symbol of that solemnity – the poppy – seem to have been hijacked by a motley collective of dodgy nationalist groups, a hectoring press and credibility-hungry politicians looking for a cheap headline grabber.
I feel increasingly these days that the poppy, deeply British and a symbol of the inhuman waste and desolation of the Great War in particular, is really a marker of the failure of every government since that conflict (and probably before it too) to fulfil the Covenant.
This is not in disrespect to the symbol, the Royal British Legion or the servicemen; but we should remember that charities like the RBL, Help for Heroes, Soldires Off the Street etc. only exist because our state has been consistently unwilling to meet it’s commitment to look after those that served it and paid the heaviest price.
Both our government and we as a society have abrogated our collective duty to look after ex-service people; while the press bully those in the public eye for choosing not to wear a poppy, former soldiers and other service people are suffering benefit cuts, homelessness, unsupported mental health crisis and loneliness.
Instead of reporting this scandal, we have normalised dealing with this crucial work to charity, paid for voluntarily.
That, to my mind, is offensive. I have no problem with the charities, and Remembrance is vital and necessary. But leaving the care of those that paid very heavy personal dues should not be cast upon the mercy of charities and public donations, however institutionalised they have become.
The act of Remembrance is not about the size of the poppy you wear, or the overtness with which you display it. It’s not about the photo-opportunity at the Tower of London with ceramic artworks. Such things are increasingly convincing me that society wants the spectacle, but not the commitment. That makes me angry.
Remembrance is just that. It’s about remembering, grieving and gratitude.
Specifically, 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.
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.
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’.
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 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.