Warning: this post starts out as a story about my weekend, but quickly degenerates into philosophy. I say some controversial things. If you don’t like it, feel free to say so, but please be polite about it.
Yesterday was Remembrance Sunday.
In common with a lot of other people around the country, I attended a short service to mark the occasion. The Royal British Legion run an event every year at the war memorial in our local graveyard, and for the past few years we have taken the Rainbows, Brownies, and Guides along to it. The Scouts also go, and often there is a party from one of the local schools, although there wasn’t this year.
We start at our normal meeting place and walk down the street to the graveyard with our flags – the smartest girls being the colour party, of course.
“Our” flags is a little of a misnomer. We don’t actually have any unit flags of our own – but we do have (for reasons which are lost in the mists of time) flags belonging to a couple of units which are now closed. Since most of the girls have to be reminded which unit they’re in every time they need to know, it has so far been accepted without comment!
During the service, the second-smartest girls are chosen to present a wreath, and everyone gets a little cross to plant in the ground by the memorial.
You know, I’ve never really thought about what happens to those crosses afterwards, and the plastic poppy-wreaths. How long do they stay there? Does someone come along and collect them all up or do they just get scattered by the wildlife? How many trees are killed each year to provide those crosses? I assume we’re not alone in doing something similar, they have the look of something that is mass-produced.
Is our desire to look like we’re remembering fallen heroes more or less important than the waste produced by the event?
I’m not the most engaged of people in the whole remembrance process. I know that a lot of people find it very moving, and I have every sympathy for those who have lost someone in any war, not just the two big ones.
It just doesn’t raise any emotion in me.
I went through a phase a couple of years ago of actively disliking the whole event. It felt too much like glorifying war. Like if I took part in remembrance I was somehow saying that it was fine that loads of people up and killed each other, just so long as we remember them.
After all, it can’t be about learning from our past mistakes, because we’re all still fighting over stupid things.
And then there are the poppies that everyone wears, to the extent that someone choosing not to wear one is “newsworthy”. If you only wear a poppy because everyone expects you to, what’s the point? Not only that, but how much paper and plastic is wasted each year on this?
These days I’m less ardent in my hatred. I’ve realised that remembering those who died doesn’t mean I have to approve of what they did.
It’s not ok that war goes on. It’s not ok that men and women are sent to kill each other, often for reasons that they don’t really understand, for reasons that nobody really fully understands. But given that those wars happen, and have happened, and men and women have fought and died in them, we should remember them.
Because if we forget them, then we have no hope of ever teaching the next generation of people that actions have consequences, and big actions (for example invading a country) have big consequences (like thousands of deaths). If we forget them, then we are doomed to become them – or their parents.
So I go to remembrance, and I wear a poppy (only for the parade, and it’s the same one I wore last year, and the year before that – I still don’t like the waste). My poppy might not mean exactly the same as yours, but that’s ok – respecting other people’s beliefs is as important as having your own.