The Word Rabbit

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This article was written on 08 Oct 2015, and is filled under Uncategorized.

Bloody Remembrance

I’ve been giving these blogs one word titles, but the above seems like a fitting way of describing where I think Remembrance Day fails on many counts. Moreover, it makes me angry and, if you wanted to, you could take the title as me taking that out on the event. I’ll endeavour to explain.

Remembrance Day, as it’s presently constituted, isn’t about remembering, other than in the abstract. When people die in wars, they don’t fall over, failing to show wounds and softly crying ‘mother’. They’re often maimed and death takes hours. Or they die violently. Or alone, miles from anything they know and recognise, eyes wide with terror. Death in war is not very nice.

Not that you’d know this, of course. If you had never seen Remembrance Day before, you’d know only that it was about some people who had gone somewhere and done a thing, possibly dying in the process. You wouldn’t know, say, how they’d died, because discussing that is made to seem all rather tasteless and, heaven forbid, you wouldn’t know why anyway.

This last one, the why, feels particularly weighty, because the people that we remember are, mostly, young men. And the reason why they died is that older men couldn’t sort out their differences without having people kill each other. In the case of Iraq, the older men had to lie and invent a threat where none existed in order that the young men would want to do it.

Again, nobody ever talks about this. Or the fact that Kipling, who helped his son Jack to enlist, wrote ‘When you ask them why we died, tell them that our fathers lied’ in a moment of clarity. These are all difficult concepts, because they are so very, very big. The wars we remember fondly are brutal. The deaths we fleetingly remember were caused by old men. The way that the system works suddenly looks neither humane or reasonable.

And sanctifying this slaughter, it pains me to say, is the church. At events up and down the country, they will say some vague pieties that are comfortably abstract and don’t really attach to anything much over the heads of people who don’t normally go in for prayer but feel as though they ought to. Then the flags and poppies will go away, and people will prepare for Christmas: Halloween, Bonfire Night, Remembrance Day, Christmas. On it goes.

You’ll be unsurprised to hear that I think this is an absolute mountain of bollocks. If you ghettoise remembrance to a day, then by implication, the other days are forgetting days. And if you do it in too vague a way to make people think much outside the abstract, you do the whole concept a huge disservice. If you remembered, properly, you wouldn’t be so ready to do it again and, experience suggests that people are.

The people who lay down their lives aren’t dead for a day, they’re dead forever. For the ones who died in a just war, there must be a fleeting compensation, but for the ones whose lives were thrown away in making sure that a politician did not lose face, it must be agony. A wasted life and the person responsible for wasting it is, in the British context at least, charging thousands of pounds for lectures. Profumo had sex with Christine Keeler and spent the rest of his life atoning for it. Some politicians get themselves an agent and carry on regardless.

These are things worth remembering. And when we’re done remembering that, we can think about people whose brains and bodies are mangled, often forever, and who need help every single day. PTSD, to pick just one ailment, is not a photogenic, remembrance event friendly illness. Sufferers abuse substances, engage in domestic violence and often end up in prison or homeless. Vague thoughts are not enough and the mumbled pieties look ludicrously thin and insufficient.

By all means remember. But remember the agony of death. Remember that politicians lie. Remember that Christ was a peacemaker. And remember that people need you help. By all means wear a poppy, of whatever colour, but also remember that the state that would have you do this also got them killed. The implications of this are huge and, once seen, you may find that you can never look away.

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