The British Legion’s #ThankYou100 ad, published on the 29th of October on Youtube starts with Bear Grylls saying ‘We all have so much to thank the First World War generation for.’ Mark Strong adds: ‘The sacrifices made by the people who served on the front line’. Johnson Beharry: ‘The Commonwealth nations who stood by Britain’s side’.
Though alright so far, this is already a little uncomfortable to watch, as if Remembrance Day is somehow WWI Appreciation Day, rather than a day to remember the dead. But what follows in this advert baffles me beyond belief. Justine Roberts, Christian Jessen, Tina Hobley and Richard Whitehead join the first three speakers to say thank you for ‘the life-saving advances made by our medics’, ‘the enormous strides made in women’s rights brought about by the incredible women of the time’ and the ‘innovations which have become commonplace today like the widespread wearing of wristwatches’.
I will pause my narration of the ad here. What? What are you people talking about? How is any of this even relevant? How is remembering the dead, that is, the actual people of flesh who died in horrifying circumstances, related to appreciating ‘the widespread wearing of wristwatches’?
The Royal British Legion is, according to their website, ‘recognised as a national champion of Remembrance’. If this is what the national champion of Remembrance has to say about remembering the dead, I am frankly horrified.
‘Who are you thanking?’, you start thinking. Are you thanking the dead for being the cause of the ‘widespread wearing of wristwatches’?
How is remembering the dead, that is, the actual people of actual flesh who died in horrifying circumstances for nothing, related to appreciating ‘the widespread wearing of wristwatches’?
The Legion also says thank you for ‘the use of wireless technology which led to the rise of the modern radio’ (how nice! People died, but we have the radio now, so that’s okay), ‘pioneering the way we use parachutes’ and ‘the major developments in prosthetic limbs that continue to help people a hundred years later’. I am not arguing that these things aren’t important. I’m glad prosthetic limbs were developed. I love women’s rights. But it’s Remembrance Day, not ‘Day When We Appreciate Everything That Has Improved In The Last 100 Years’ What does the Legion want us to infer from this video, exactly? That, as one of the Youtube comments points out, ‘war is progress’?
War is tragedy. War is something to let sink in and be shaken by. That is why we observe silence. War is degrees of horror you run out of words for. Not something we should try and find the bright side of. War is a dark thing that we need to sit with and confront and acknowledge, even if it horrifies us. It should horrify us. It is nothing to paint as glamorous and glorious.
Regardless of how you feel about the reasons why the world wars started, and whether or not they could have been avoided, Remembrance is supposed to be the day you leave all of that at home, and take a moment to be humbled by the endless loss that war causes. Instead, the Royal British Legion chooses to emphasise its gratitude for wireless technology and the radio.
Photographs by Archangel via Flickr