Another Remembrance day. Another 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Bands and sober crowds with the occasional glint of gold on the chest of men in blazers and regimental ties.
For me, this day always sets off cognitive dissonance. Remembering this kind of death can easily become a kind of glorification; an elevation of war to the great heights of human endeavour. The mass death of men in the flower of youth is so much more marketable than the quiet work of peacemakers, be that in our neighbourhoods or around a table at the UN.
But die they did, and whilst I can not rejoice at their death, nor pretend that being gutted by a shard of shrapnel can ever ennoble, I can pause and pray that we might yet learn something from all the carnage.
And I think the Bishop of London said it this morning quite well- the greatest lesson for us is to acknowledge that war happens when we allow poisonous hatred to flourish in our societies. When we scapegoat, when we point fingers, when we place ourselves inside and others outside.
The endless fascination with the second world war (which I share in part) always takes place with an underlying assumption about how plucky England fought a lonely crusade- a holy war- against the evils of fascism. Our Knights rode Spitfire steeds to slay the Teutonic dragons.
In this stained glass portrait of war it becomes impossible to feel the shame of all the empire building, the asset grabbing and the dreadnought building that Britain indulged in for hundreds of years beforehand- factors which any high school historian has to acknowledge as the fertile fields in which the seeds of both world war were nurtured.
So on this 11th day of the 11th month let us see war for what it is- a terrible failure. Each life lost paid the price of this failure.
Each battle won obscures the failure slightly but failure it remains.