Once again, as every November, we go through the ritual of Poppy Day. For the days around 11th Nov it becomes obligatory for our politicians and public figures to sport their poppies conspicuously, lay wreaths at cenotaphs and observe a two-minute silence. Wearing a poppy has become like wearing a Stars and Stripes badge in the USA or, in the old Soviet Union, a Party badge – an outward symbol of one’s loyalty to the nation; those who don’t wear one are treated like heartless traitors. It has little to do with true remembrance.
We are the only country that has such a ceremony. The justification for it is that we are remembering those in the armed forces who ‘sacrificed’ their lives for the national good. The ritual grew out of the horrors of the 1914-18 ‘War to End All Wars’.
The many Remembrance Day commemorations have not been an iota of use in preventing subsequent wars nor have they taught us any lessons about how to avoid the killing of young men and women on the battlefield. It has become a meaningless and momentary outpouring of national awareness and celebration of the victories of Britain’s armed forces. Once over, it’s back to war games as usual.
While many of my fellow citizens will wear their poppies out of a genuine sense of remembrance for those who have died in past wars, they will be blind to the way the annual event has been hijacked by the political elite for anything but remembrance.
The only constructive way to commemorate those who have died fighting is for us, the living, to struggle more forcefully for an end to all wars and for a deeper understanding of what causes wars. Most, if not all of the wars Britain has been involved in have been for economic and political reasons, not for ‘democracy’ or ‘freedom’ despite those fig leaves the politicians and historians might give them. They have been instigated by the ruling elites to protect or expand their power and influence; no altruism has been involved.
Remembrance Day should be used to reflect on what horror war causes and how we can best avoid such conflicts. The immense loss of life in Iraq and Afghanistan, the millions displaced and the widespread destruction caused are only the most recent reminders of war as an abomination.
Why don’t we make Remembrance Day a time when schools and colleges devote a lesson to learning about how to avoid wars and to work for world peace? Our politicians could use the day to lay before us what action they intend taking to further disarmament and peace throughout the world. Now that would be remembrance.