It troubles me. It has for years.
Every year, we remember those who died in the world wars of the last century. Industrial slaughter after industrial slaughter.
They died for us, we are told. To preserve our way of life.
At some point, I fear that the act of remembrance was hijacked. We do not remember the terrible first war as being a futile obscene expression of empire. Rather we remember it as a mass exercise in noble sacrifice. The dead soldier is sacred. We must worship him.
And we do not remember the second war as arising in brutal consequence of the first, in that it created the precise broken and splintered context into which populism and fascism could flourish. Rather we glorify and obsess over Merlin engines and the Dunkirk spirit. Britain is sacred. Her empire will last for a thousand years.
I fear that both kinds of remembering are an exercise in forgetting. They miss the point, perhaps deliberately.
Perhaps the war generations did not die for us after all. They died for them– the others, those for whom war is simply politics by another name.
What is the answer? If you share my disquiet, is it possible to opt out of all the jingoism? Can we still remember in a way that has meaning? Perhaps we can, but it will not be easy.
I have worn poppies before, both the red and the white kind. I probably will not this year. Not because I do not want to remember, rather because I do.
I agree with what you have said, Chris – but I do wear a white poppy, and have nothing against those who wear a red one if they are remembering the soldiers who died in all the wars; the soldiers, particularly the foot-soldiers who had no power and who couldn’t not obey orders, are victims too – victims of the powers that be (state or deep-state) that control all of us. It is those at the top I have no time for…
Cheers Chin- yes, the white poppy has much to recommend it- something that seeks to remember all dead, on both sides, and all the civilians too. I do wonder about the process by which soldiers are disempowered. At what point do we allow ourselves to be entirely subjugated to the will of generals and politicians? It requires an incredibly powerful populist mythology. We have to convince ourselves we are fighting half-human demons. That is why Trump and his ilk are so dangerous, so to see them standing with mock-solemnity before the Armistice day celebrations makes me sick. And makes me want no part of the whole poppy thing…