Yesterday on my way to minis rugby, I had a chat with my son about what we’d be doing at 11am. We would stop playing rugby and we’d pause for a moment of silence and remembrance. I asked him why and he said to remember the dead soldiers. Yes. But I told that I also remembered everyone who suffered and sacrificed for war, even if they survived and even if they never fought. Those who lost loved ones, those who lost their homes and even those who were luckier but struggled to hold it all together while husbands were away for years and in danger.
As it happens, I didn’t spend much time reflecting at 11am on Sunday morning as I spent most of my time keeping two of the six-year-olds I coach quiet. But I can’t say they ruined it for me as much the people who are jumping on the bandwagon of Remembrance Day refusal. Those who say that they won’t participate because it’s too political or too glorifying of war or is used by politicians to support current wars or policies, exemplified by this New Statesman article by James Bloodworth.
While I certainly support the right of people to not participate in Remembrance Day activities and even the right to moan about poppies and commemoration services, I find the latter distasteful and disrespectful. Disrespectful not just to those who suffered and died, but disrespectful to huge numbers of people like me who wish to share in community remembrance. And it’s enormously disrespectful to those whose lives were touched more closely than mine by war. Every year I think about the people I’ve encountered at the Garden of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey, the old soldier who struggled to bend down to hammer in a cross for a fallen comrade. The old woman in her service medals whose gentle touch of a newly unveiled memorial to the Battle of Britain spoke of pain and loss. The man who was only a child during WWII, but who was befriended by a group of soldiers from Arkansas – most of whom died. He lays a wreath for them every year. I think, too about the people I know who have fought in recent wars. Wars I admit I have not supported, but I appreciate their personal sacrifice and those of their families nonetheless.
I try to be forgiving, because I assume many of these people have lives not much touched by war. I do find it ironic that many of them say they are left wing, but have little respect for the working class lads and lasses who enlisted then and continue to enlist now partly because the military offers opportunities they wouldn’t get elsewhere.
I do agree with some of the Remembrance refuseniks that there is an element of war glorification in Remembrance Day activities. But I personally find that less offensive than those who somehow claim we’ve all been hoodwinked by the establishment into participating in some gross political act. Having grown up in the US, I deeply admire much of the British commemoration acts and a feel a sense of community during these times. Of course Remembrance Day is political, war is political, public acts are political. But I’m not espousing any particular policy or party when I chose to participate.
During my moment of silence (when I finally got one before kickoff at my own rugby match this Sunday), I didn’t feel fooled by political puppet masters. I thought about my grandfather who had fought in WWII and the friends he had lost. I reflected on the sacrifices made by many for privileges that I enjoy today. It was an emotional moment for me. I hope that those who take potshots at Remembrance activities will reflect on what it means to everyday, normal people who feel moved by the shared remembering.