I found it incredibly difficult to write this article. When I first saw this topic I jumped at the opportunity to have my say on the matter of Remembrance. As a student who wishes to join the military after University and has attended Church on the 11th of every November since I can remember, I felt a personal motivation to comment on how we commemorate wars, past and present, and how we honour our soldiers.
One of the reasons I found writing this article so challenging is precisely because remembrance is so personal. While I have not lost anyone I know to war, I have immense pride in, and admiration for those willing to sacrifice their lives.
I also struggled to know how to write on this topic because I do not believe there should be a debate on the issue, and did not want to present my article as though it was one. How can we possibly argue over whether or not to remember those who have given their lives in conflict? Simon Jenkins wrote in the Guardian urging readers to ‘consign the 20th century to the past’; but war is not only a thing of the 20th century. To this day British soldiers continue to die whilst fighting for their Crown and Government, and no matter what one’s views on the political motivations for those wars, people nonetheless continue to lose their lives for a cause that they believe in.
I appreciate that many disagree with Britain’s involvement in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and I am not begrudging those views. However, I believe that those who think that their opinion on war should influence the respect that we offer our soldiers are wrong. People join the military for a variety of reasons, but they are willing to die because of one common conviction: that they do so for their country.
Earlier this year students at the University of Cambridge voted down a motion to promote Remembrance Sunday due to fears that it would “glorify war”. There were also claims that the proposal’s focus on British soldiers was “jingoistic and imperial propaganda”.
In my view, these reasons do not sufficiently justify the result of such a contentious vote. I do not see how remembering millions who died in battle could be construed as ‘glorifying war’. Just under one million British and Commonwealth soldiers died in WWI alone, among them thousands who were drafted and sent to Europe against their will, but also thousands who would lie about their age just to get the opportunity to fight for their country, and for their friends. To remember these men and women who fought to protect this country is not the glorification of war, it is the glorification of the bravery and selflessness of those who gave their lives.
As for the accusations of “jingoistic or imperial propaganda”, I also find this an insufficient justification for the result of the vote. Every year countries across the world remember those who lost their lives in the war. The US Veterans Day is also held on the 11th of November, where they remember those who have died fighting for their country. The 11th of November is also a national holiday in France and Belgium where they do the same. On the 25th of April, Australia and New Zealand celebrate Anzac Day, where they commemorate the contribution made by their own citizens. This is the case in Hong Kong, Ireland, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland.
War affects countries all over the world, and many of them have a day to commemorate their own contribution. This is not jingoistic or imperialistic, it is simply a matter of recognizing each country’s own losses in their own way.
This year I will be remembering those who have died as a result of war. I will remember those who volunteered and gave their lives. I will remember those whose lives were taken from them, civilians and unwilling soldiers alike. I will remember them. Will you?
Photographs: Martin Pettitt and David Holt via Flickr