I’m not religious.
This isn’t that I didn’t go to church regularly. I went. As a Scout, with church parade, to every Remembrance Day service, sat though the silence, wore the poppy.
A few years ago I was one of the people who did the Remembrance service. My friend Barry had been the one who plays the last post, and I was one of the people who did readings in assembly. I read two things, the first was Rupert Brooke’s classic piece of poetry, The Soldier (When I am gone, think only this of me // That there’s some corner of a foreign field // That is forever England.) and some statistics.
In World War one, over 8.5 million people died. 65 Million were mobilized for war. Britain alone lost 900,000 people, almost 36% of all those sent to the front. I was reciting a list of statistics like this to a hall of 250 people a time, twice a day for two days. I thought about this, and started actually doing the remembrance thing. It’s important.
A little while ago (1980) some tin-pot organisation decided to hijack remembrance day. They chose to do so by creating white poppies and selling them. The then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, commented that she felt it in “Deep Distaste” which I agree with. Their proposition was that Remembrance day glorified war, and that we should stop remembering the dead and begin to save the living.
I find this attitude scary. One of the most dangerous things you can do is forget what you have learnt before. The tens of millions who have died in wars up until now did not deserve to die, and that they did should be noted and watched and learnt from, not drawn a line under and told “Right, seen that, now we try this”. You must face what has happened to resolve not to let it happen again. If at first you don’t succeed, understand why, and try something else.
This is generic, and I’m trying not to pull the current conflagration into this, but there is a very good example of it in the current conflict. In the US Military high command, there is a phrase called “The Dover Test” which refers to the public perception of coffins arriving at Dover, Delaware, the US Air Base which receives such things. For the past 40 odd years these ceremonies have been public, but recently (As in, shortly before the conflict began) the traditional televisation of these events were banned. The US public no longer sees every coffin come home, there is no Dover test. Mr Bush has yet to go to a single funeral resulting from this conflict, and I’m terrified that they’re just numbers.
When we forget the dead, we condemn the living. We should not forget those who died that we might live.
We will remember them.