Instead of Remembrance

Like most people in Britain and indeed in many countries, I’ve been thinking a lot about WWI and how it should be remembered in the last few weeks. In addition to my questions as a citizen I’ve been writing a paper on the experience of war memorials . Today, I’ll post this in response to the call to silent remembrance.

I do often think of the people who were slaughtered in WWI. I admire the vibrant spirit of community that led so many young men to voluntarily ‘join up’ to a fight they didn’t understand either in purpose or in nature. But admire more the moral courage of those who refused – the conscientious objectors and even the deserters who backed out when they came to know what they had signed up to.  Many of those men were also slaughtered. While the hands that held the guns were different, in important ways they were all killed to serve the political aims of a very small group of men.

Their humanity was disregarded. They were dispatched in the same way that today’s military and political ‘leaders’ deploy drones.

And the people of Britain conspired in this. My grandfather joined underage because he was bullied into it by people who didn’t know him, but for whom the sight of a young man *not* in uniform was a disgrace, and not the delight it should be. He was wounded rather than killed, though he died young, potentially from complications. I never knew him, so I don’t remember him today, but I think of him and of the critical stance that he passed on to my father, who passed it on to me.

The resistance to war, and to bullying conformity is not what he fought for in WWI. Its not what more men and women fought for in WWII but it is a precious heritage that I honour today.

I would like to spend more time on this post, make it more nuanced, keep it safer from attack, and less likely to cause offense. But I want to post it at 11. ‘The Silence’ is often suggested to say what words ‘must fail to say’. But there are things that silence covers over. Being silenced by convention and political pressure may not honour those who die in war in all the ways we need. As Paul Graves Brown asks, should we call them the Fallen, when we know that they were pushed?

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4 thoughts on “Instead of Remembrance

  1. talking about this last night with my mate Tom, who asks this interesting question: why, in 1915, did the two sides not recognise the futility of the situation on the Western Front, and negotiate a truce? This is what would have happened (and did) in previous European wars. I wondered whether it was the fact that popular media had stirred up so much hatred on either side by this time that leaders were afraid to sue for peace?

    • Thanks Paul, I think this is a really important point and one I’ll follow up in reading histories. In this post the cheering, bullying nation plays a secondary role to the interests of elites, but I take your point that having whipped up the nation, the elites may not have been able to pull back. All the more reason to be considered in our response

  2. Pingback: This year’s silence | Heritage for Transformation

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