So Remembrance Sunday has passed, when the UK spends two minutes quietly remembering its war dead, before returning to the usual business of adding more names to memorials. The event was originally conceived to honour the now long dead young men of that most futile ‘war to end all wars‘, but its motives seem to have been lost recently in a fog created by a bitter war of words over the poppy.
It is as if pinning one to your jacket and thereby supporting the work of the Royal British Legion has become akin to joining a kind of ‘all war is good’ chorus, instead of the charity appeal for a soldier’s welfare and campaigning movement which is what it really should be. This is especially sad, as all this chatter about paper flowers drowns out the essential conversation we ought to be having about the lives our wars are damaging today.
These include, but are not limited to, the soldiers who are taking their own lives after returning from combat or others suffering the effects of mental illness alone. The UK’s Mental Health Foundation reports that:
What is known is that only half of those experiencing mental health problems sought help from the NHS, and those that did were rarely referred to specialist mental health services.
Wearing the poppy should always be a matter of individual choice, after all, there are as many reasons to wear one or not to as there are people. For some it might be a memory of those they have known personally, for others a matter of respect or gratitude. For those who do not, it could be for based on their pacifism, or a reluctance to be seen to support the motives of recent wars. On this, I agree with the Independent’s leader of last week:
The moment that someone feels obliged to wear the symbol for fear of looking out of place or disrespectful is the moment we forget what our servicemen and women actually fought for.
I would also love to see a moratorium on starting the next one (Iran) until all the damage caused from the last few (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya) has been cleared up. I would like to see an end to politicians wielding huge wreaths at the Cenotaph while slashing the support available to serving and former services personnel.
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I hope I’m not the only one…
Here are two war poems, perhaps the most famous of all and a more recent addition, Adam Ford’s prize-winning entry to the ‘Dulce et Decorum… Next!’ competition.