"If any ask us why we died/ Tell them "Because our fathers lied". ~ Rudyard Kipling
I attended the Remembrance Day ceremony last year at the city cenotaph, and to be quite honest, it was not what I thought it would be. I went for the sounding of the last post and the minute or two of silence that follows. The power of that silence was thick and regretful, but as I stayed on for the rest of the ceremony, the day took on a whole new meaning. What exactly were we expected to be remembering, anyways?
In a post just the other day, Robert Fisk described how he has come to see the poppy in Britain as a fashion accessory, as a now largely vacuous symbol of some long lost sense of remorse, a remembrance of the futility of slaughter that took place on the Western Front in those five terrifying years between 1914 and 1919. He remembers joining his father - a veteran of the First World War - as a child for yearly trips to Ypres where they would meet other old men who'd fought in that place, and a group of men more dedicated to the idea of extinguishing war you could never meet. For them, Remembrance Day was not about poppies or political speeches justifying and heroising their friends' deaths, but about remembering that their friends had died for no great reason. Remembrance Day, Fisk reminds us, is a day of deep sadness. It is a day to oppose war, not be thankful for it.
And yet, there I was at the ceremony last year, listening to somebody rattle on about the good fight our Canadian troops were fighting in Afghanistan, about the noble sacrifice they were making for peace and stability and freedom, how we should be thankful and appreciative. The young men and women who now march off to war around the world, no matter who they are fighting, which side they support are not making noble sacrifices. Neccesary sacrifices perhaps. Moral in some cases even. But noble? Those who marched off to fight in the Great War a century ago made no more of a noble sacrifice than do those who follow in their footsteps today. They marched off for King and Country, to enact in real life the scheming games of rich, powerful men who wanted to be richer and more powerful. They gave their bodies and lives to the killing fields of France and Belgium for a lie. The lie of nationalism. And so do they still now.
Dying for a lie - as the young have done for as long as there have been great societies - is not noble. It is the greatest of horrors, and on this day to remember, we would do well to remember that.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old/ Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn/At the going down of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them. Lest We Forget. ~ Ode of Remembrance