Remembering Remembrance …
Wednesday 13th November 2019 @ 9:52 pm
Several things strike me as I watched the BBC Remembrance Service through the wonderful medium of TV a few days ago. Some of what struck me, hit me in the centre part of my being, some of the observations struck me in my terribly disrespectful right ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
I’ll let you decide which thoughts are which.
A longer blog than usual.
I did find it moving – the memory of sacrifice laid down in the name of one’s country speaks volumes concerning the highest of human attributes. Altruism even unto death. What humanity will do for one’s own tribe / family / country is an evolution of millions of years of behaviour that centres on looking after one–another in the name of safety. To put it simply, twenty men stood a chance against one sabretooth tiger, but one lone individual, even one with all the fake news in the world, would not stand a much of a chance.
We have always, since the beginning of our humanity, known that we are better together. We do sacrifice for each other, we do stand in the gap with each other against common enemies.
My grandfather knew this. I discovered (completely by accident) his birth certificate on the morning of this last Remembrance Day. He was born in 1899 and he served as a mid–teenager in the equine division of the 36th Ulster Division. My words here are therefore not hearsay or empty philosophising on peace, this is flesh and blood talk that gave rise eventually to the flesh and blood typing this. All I know about those days, is that he rarely talked about his experience to his family afterwards. I suspect young men in the days of the world wars lived between two fears. The fear of the horror of war, and the fear of being given a white feather by the women of Belfast, thus being labelled a coward. Lives ruled by fear are never going to be liberated no matter how many armistices are signed.
I am always deeply moved by the memories of the likes of veteran Harry Billinge (check out the BBC Breakfast series of interviews with him over the last year) who in no way glorify what they went through, but are humbled and haunted by the memories of those who died in their arms or beside them in a trench or tank.
David Dimbelby at the start of the Remembrance program uttered the following words as the politicians all streamed out onto the Cenotaph at Whitehall, (paraphrasing) ‘and now we have the politicians, and of course today is a day when we note what can happen when diplomacy and politics breaks down.’ How right he is … and how challenging those words are in the present climate of exclusionary electioneering when the only thing which matters is the diminishing of opponents and elevation of self.
My mind moves to a different place when those killed in this small part of the world during ‘The Troubles’ are mentioned. For those military deaths commemorated today connected to N.I., they sit in a very different category for me. Those deaths show a failure of politics and diplomacy. They show gorilla warfare and dirty tricks. They do not show honour and glory for one’s country, they show bombs hidden under cars and men hiding behind hedges. They show a campaign of violence carried out in alleyways against men trained to fight in battlefields, and they show intelligence gathered in dark corners of pubs with people trained to see intelligence through satellites of troop movement. I honestly find it tough to honour these deaths, for the suffering of mothers and communities on all sides negates any political posturing won. These deaths anger me. They were, to my mind, unnecessary.
And yet …
And yet blood sacrifice is deeply embedded in human psyche. It’s why Pádraig Pearse on the eve of his cruel killing by British forces could write to his mother from Kilmainham jail saying, “People will say hard things of us now, but we shall be remembered by posterity and blessed by unborn generations.”
He was right. The rebels had gone into Kilmainham jail being jeered by the Dublin public. But upon their treatment at the hands of the British forces they became foundation stones of an Irish State. Sacrifice changes things. I’m a minister of the Christian gospel – how can I be expected to reflect anything else?
And yet …
Violence begets violence begets violence …
Cycles need to be broken. In this world breaking cycles is difficult, not because of a lesser desire for peace (it’s inbuilt, we innately want to live without suffering – that’s why our brains point us toward helping each other in times of attack, we do not want to be people of suffering) but because of a consumer driven arms trade that last year contributed some 95 billion (US$) to the world economy. Military spending (or defence spending as it is also called) accounts for growing fiscal realities that keep the USA China and Russia on top of the international markets. Military spending is becoming wrapped up in many other areas of business. I hate the fact that in 2018 Boeing made some $30billion on it’s Arms spending, almost a third of it’s total revenue. I love flying, but now when I step into a Boeing plane I have a moment of angst. I’m not sure Airbus is much better – it only made 11billion in the same year, one quarter of it’s total revenue.
And so I go into a rabbit hole. I am saddened by the growing prevalence of violence, which continues to expand despite the remembrance of millions of people who have died through violence, in order to abate violence. And I am stuck in a spiral of mild despair.
I watch the gentlemen and women who are honoured for their bravery – and what bravery it is. I see out of the corner of my eye the birth certificate of my grandfather, a military man in the Great War. I notice the esteem and honour in which veterans are held and I feel deeply for them.
I suspect I feel deeply, because we have not honoured their bravery and sacrifice by making the world a better place. Instead we have made the world more tense, more violent and more capable of destruction the likes of which has been previously unseen.
And I see a Prime Minister unelected by the general population waddle forward looking unkempt and distracted. He didn’t have an order of service in his hands as the liturgy of the day unfolded, and tried to muddle through the hymn in a way that was reminiscent of Mr Bean at church. I also see a leader of Her Majesty’s opposition who has smartened himself up with a haircut and beard trim, who walks forward giving only a slight bow of the head to the memorial moment. And then I see a smart, well presented young female leader, who manages to thankfully portray the dignity and humility that such an occasion deserves. All of this is combined with an old female leader in the highest office of the Commonwealth, who for reasons unknown – but which have caused endless words in the media – sheds a lone tear before wiping it away.
Perhaps she too has genuine pause for thought and she fears for the state of her State, and for the world.
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