How to remember

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There was an excellent item on BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster’ Sunday Sequence this morning – perhaps you caught it? No, I don’t mean the one where I was on about marriage. I’m talking about the one where a 91-year-old veteran talked about  WW2 and his feelings as a participant.

What distinguished him from the great majority of these Remembrance Sunday recollections was that he reminded us what war involved. Two sides, training their young men so that they can go out and kill each other. The word the 91-year-old used was “murder” actually; but if we settle for the more neutral term “kill” it might be easier to have a fresh look.

When people say “Remembrance”, they usually are talking about honouring the men (and it largely is men) who died while wearing a military uniform. Here, that’s usually a British military uniform. Which brings me to the first of my points: why is remembrance of courage and sacrifice not offered to all sides, instead of to ‘our’ side only? I have yet to hear of a Remembrance Day ceremony here or in Britain which saluted the courage and sacrifice of the many Germans who died in World War Two. Of course they were the enemy; but weren’t they just as convinced of the rightness of their cause as were those fighting on the British side? The 91-year old was very aware of that. He spoke of firing his Bren gun over the head of the enemy, and even in later years meeting a German (I think he said a German) who did the same thing, and experiencing a sense of shared humanity with him.

The second point the veteran raised was that we don’t remember so we may learn, we remember with a militaristic emphasis. There’s no emphasis on learning lessons from the past regarding political violence, or searching for other ways. The message of the day is that the war/political violence was in a noble cause and all honour is due to those (on our side) who died. Agus sin é – that’s it. The 91-year-old was a marvellous example of a man who had experienced war, as had his father, and who had used that experience to think of the butchery involved and to learn by reflecting on it.

I don’t think we’ll hear much about that today. We’ll hear mournful music, we’ll have wreaths laid, we’ll hear gun salutes, we’ll hear the poignancy of “They shall not grow old”. But we’ll not hear a word about those tens of thousands on the other side who fought and died, and we’ll not hear a voice – and you’d think you would, especially from Christian clergymen and women – we’ll not hear a voice saying “What an obscene, sickening waste of human life wars are. Let’s commit ourselves to finding other ways of dealing with those we disagree with”.

Remembrance Sunday? Selective Memory Sunday, you mean.


23 Responses to How to remember

  1. billy November 8, 2015 at 11:57 am #

    he spoke of firing his bren gun over the heads of the enemy,hes probably feeling guilty today.

    • Jude Collins November 8, 2015 at 12:02 pm #

      You’re quite right, Billy – he does feel guilty, about earlier occasions when he fired at and probably killed Germans.

  2. PJ Dorrian November 8, 2015 at 11:58 am #

    In remembering the heroism there is the forgetting of the atrocities caused by the “winners”. Carpet bombing will be swept aside, no one will mention Hiroshima

  3. Mark November 8, 2015 at 1:12 pm #

    Being fair Jude, I just watched the BBC news at 1PM and saw at least one German representative at the commendation in London. A young lad whose Grandma is one of the Battenbergs and whose Granny is one of the Sax Coberg and Gotha’s.
    Makes me think, despite the push to stop other European nationals come to their country to obtain benefits, here’s a gaisun from this family, handsomely rewarded by 5he taxes of your 91 year old soilder above, yet, there are no moves to halt their seizing of taxes in that country, why?

  4. ANOTHER JUDE November 8, 2015 at 1:30 pm #

    He`s a better man than me that`s for sure because I don`t think I would have fired my bren gun over their heads, not in a kill or be killed situation like that. As for the British remembrance, it never ceases to amaze me the number of Anglican Bishops and vicars who attend these militaristic displays of jingoism. Onward Christian soldiers and all that. Listening to David Dimbleby`s sombre tones as he read out the names of the regiments, Black Watch, Parachute Regiment, it was like a list of suspects for the injustices carried out over here and around the world. The British really do adore their military.They have absolutely no concept of how they are remembered by those of us in the far flung colonies.

  5. fiosrach November 8, 2015 at 1:58 pm #

    Only for the Yanks and the Empire troops it would have been a different scenario. The Führer’s representative would be taking the salute at Whitehall. But winners write the rules and it’s really only dead Brits that matter. Our colonists can’t even bring themselves to admit that brave Irishmen fought in all the anti British uprisings.What about a move to get their names on the cenotaphs ? But no ! Only British lives matter. A plane goes down with three hundred on board but it could have been worse. No ‘Britons’ were on board! Then you have the freestaters wetting themselves to join this farce. We’ll put up a wall with our boys names on it so Britain can see we are truly sorry for the treacherous stab in the back we delivered to the great white father and him in the middle of an obscene gorefest with the cousins over whose empire was the biggest. Make you cry.

  6. Iolar November 8, 2015 at 2:28 pm #

    Yes, the gentleman, speaking from his own personal experience, still recalls the stench of death and maggots eating the faces of fallen teenagers and young men in their early twenties. He also mentioned that his father disposed of his World War 1 medals in a protest against pointless slaughter. He also paid tribute to a former member of the Wehrmacht who consciously decided to refrain from killing young men.

    Robert Fisk in his book ‘The Great War for Civilization – The Conquest of the Middle East’ addresses the paradox of the poppy on display at an arms fair. The arms fair was also attended by Charles Windsor, the well known environmentalist.

    Mr Fisk describes,

    “…a linguistic journey into a fantasy world. Half the words used by the arms-sellers – protection, reliability, optimism, excellence, family, history, respect, trust, timelessness, and perfection- invoked human virtues…

    the other half – punch, gutsy, performance, experience, potency, fight-ability, brawn and breed – were words of naked aggression, a hopelessly infantile male sexuality to prove that might is right…the Americans named their weapons – the Apache helicopter, the Arrowhead navigation system, the Kiowa multiple launch platform, the Hawkeye infrared sensors – after a native American population that their nation laid to waste…

    a photograph of an American Ticonderoga-class warship firing a missile into the sky…an identical missile…brought down the Iranian Airbus on 3 July 1988, killing all 290 passengers and crew…

    There were flowers everywhere, as if this were a wedding rather than an arms bazar…but the brightest flower to be seen in Dubai was as artificial as it was ironic; the blood-red poppy of Flanders… those red poppies could be seen dancing on the breasts of men as they admired the latest in ‘Combat Support Weapons’, Apaches, Pumas, Harriers, Lynxes, F-18s and the new Mirage 2000.” (p926)

    If you have to ask the cost of these weapons of mass destruction, you cannot afford them.

    The fact remains that many in society continue to advocate the need to fight to the last drop of someone else’s blood and that we are reaching ‘the end game’ concerning the need for Welfare Reform. Some of our politicians may need hip replacements in the future, their brass necks, sin scéal eile.

    • Donal Kennedy November 8, 2015 at 6:08 pm #

      ”I’ve admired Robert Fisk for over 40 years since he was THE TIMES correspondent in Ireland.

      He was not partisan and he was totally honest. He didn’t demonise or canonise anyone.

      He researched the history of conflict in Ireland and the motives of all parties. He was

      always honest, unlike, for example Christopher Thomas and other correspondnts for

      that paper. His “Great War for Civilisation” should be on every school syllabus from

      the Aran Islands to Shanghai, in translation where necessary.

  7. paddykool November 8, 2015 at 3:29 pm #

    Hi jude . Good article .Unfortunately this was one Sunday when i was really glad to have a lie-in against the awful elements …snug as a bug etc….I missed this one. You have to ask why each generation on whatever side simply doesn’t see the madness of violent wars as the manipulation of a nation’s youth to make them readily malleable and fodder for slaughter. Sure there are atrocities to remember. The Japanese sticking their victims’ heads on poles ..the slave camps..the carpet bombing of cities…the bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. the waste of trench warfare in WW1.

    There’s never any talk of this manipulation in schools. It’s all about doing and dying and glorious mayhem. Children’s comics in the 1950’s after that recent conflict were n’t mostly filled with anti-war messages about the horror and futility of these world conflicts….{the American EC comics being the exception}….they were full of glamourous derring-do …bucked-toothed stereotypical Japs …sausage -eating bucket-helmeted huns….fearless Spitfire air-aces protecting the skies.We children lapped it up of course …as the children who became Nazi soldiers must have lapped up Hitler and the Nazis steely glamourous sabre-rattling rhetoric.That’s where it all usually begins…..filling those childrens’ heads full of garbage in preparation for the next sausage machine…

  8. Donal Kennedy November 8, 2015 at 3:38 pm #

    In 1943 the Germans gave full military honours to a British pilot they had shot down over Holland. (Sunday Times today)

    When did the British ever do that for Irishmen they had shot down?

  9. Donal Kennedy November 8, 2015 at 3:42 pm #

    THE SUNDAY TIMES (London Edition) tells the story of 25 year old British Squadron Leader Peter Elliott of Bomber Command, shot down and killed over Holland by a German airman in

    The Germans provided a firing party to give him full military honours.

    When did the British show comparable chivalry towards Irishmen they shot down?

    • Iolar November 8, 2015 at 5:28 pm #

      The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs has told Bolivian President Evo Morales that there should be an international investigation into the killing of a Tipperary man, Michael Dwyer, who was shot dead in April 2009.

      Any chance of international investigations into killings in Ireland?


  10. Jim.hunter November 8, 2015 at 4:15 pm #


  11. Freddy Mallins November 8, 2015 at 5:10 pm #

    Justification for war is so subjective. I’m sure the Argentinians felt fully justified in their endeavours to seize back control of Las Mavinas. In St. Paul’s cathedral after the ‘hostilities’, Archbishop Runcey offered prayers for the war dead, to include he said, the fallen Argentinians. Thatcher tore shreds off the poor man afterwards, for presumably showing some true Christian values. It was the British dead and only the British for whom God’s mercy should be invoked.
    Sadly,that attitude seems to pervade the whole Remembrance Day pagentry.

    • Jude Collins November 8, 2015 at 8:17 pm #

      I remember that Argentine prayers well, Freddy. It showed the kind of narrow, sadly-one-eyed person Thatcher was.

  12. Belfastdan November 8, 2015 at 6:20 pm #

    Let us not forget that in every conflict since WW1 the number of civilian casualties has by far outstripped those of the combatants and it gets proportionately higher with each successive conflict.

  13. Perkin Warbeck November 8, 2015 at 6:32 pm #

    Great gas altogether down here this morning, Esteemed Blogmeister, to see which brand of English mustard would get to render piquant the traditional Sunday roast on Free Southern Stateen plates.

    And one group of vertical croppies who were on the receiving end of a right good roasting were the members of the Sean Heuston 1916 Society. For going into full combat contact with Conor McGregor, who has a MA in MMA.

    On account of the tattoo the society played upon him for his inconsistency in wearing a poppy on one occasion and singing ‘The Foggy Dew’ on another. Which led to Donald Clarke, BA of The Unionist Times to go in for spot of sprawl and brawl with the Sean Heustons.

    Which led in turn to Ian O’Doherty of the (gulp) Independent Group showing commendable shoulder to shoulder solidarity with his, erm, rival journalist, aka The Donald, ‘by refusing to take anyone, such as the Sean Heustons, seriously who call themselves after a ….Train Station’.

    IO’D (it rhymes with cattle prod) of the DOBlin monopoly media indulged in this round of ground and pound on his paymaster’s wireless station, Newstalk FM. Which meant he got two bites of the Charring Cross.

    Reverting back to the Shoulder to Shoulder Show during the week, did there appear a certain longing in the absorbing orbs of the Hostess on the southern side of the Black Sow’s Dyke ? Even as she gawked at the red and black flowers which blossomed so profusely in the lapels of the Northneveland’s Stephen and Foster ?

    And was there a look of regret (be it ever so fleeting) that she had baulked at this unique opportunity to flaunt her Inner Unionist by playing Mummy to its Poppy?

    Turning to Pearse Doherty she howitzered this question in his direction from one side of her pouting mouth even as she announced the celebratory result of the Opinion Poll on the Black Sow’s Dyke from the other:

    -So, what was the Campaign all about, then?


    There were a number of campaigns being waged simultaneously during the Thirty Years War. Alas, Lady Miriam of Medialand did not reveal. What was more revealing however was the way in which she went about conducting the campaign du jour. That would be the campaign which will assuredly end in the joyful sound of champagne corks a-poppy, oops, a popping.

    When President O’Callaghan(for it will be she 1) will get one up on the unelected pretend Queen of Ireland, Miss P. Bliss.

    Note the way in which she addressed the individual guests in her audience. It could not have been in starker contrast with the modus operandi adopted by her Norneverland counterpart. Whereas the OC in charge of the Nolan Heights opted for the Modh Direach / Direct Method in his questioning:

    -Yon mon ! In the second row from the back. You with the funny haircut and the ill-fitting glasses. Yes, YOU ! How’s about ye and yer question?

    Lady Miriam cut an altogether different figure. With flirtation beaming out of one eye, and calculation scheming out of the other, she addressed her individual guests thus:

    -Yes, of course,Ms. Petronella O’Possible-Vote?


    -Your question, please, Ms. Sue McShoo-in?


    -And do take your time, Mr. Seamus O’Swing-voter.


    -Do, kindly, let us have your view, Mr. Donal FitzDon’t-Know.

    Meanwhile, back up in the Norneverland studio of BBC , every time one looked Stephen / Foster were not so much inching ever so closely to each other, in a gesture of shoulder to shoulderity but more (gulp) in an effort to shoulder the other out of the way.

    Gwin’ to run all night
    Gwin’ to run all night
    I bet my money on the bob-tailed nag
    Somebody bet of the right boiled sh-te.

    Ceist / Question: is the studio always carpeted with Doo-dah day the day after a Stephen / Foster Show?

    • Iolar November 8, 2015 at 8:56 pm #

      There are three kinds of people in the world. Those who understand mathematics and those who do not.

      We had the appliance of science in the poll ..and when we add the ‘don’t knows’…gee, they agree with our conclusions…QED.

  14. Donal Kennedy November 8, 2015 at 8:28 pm #

    Ni thuigim. Sounds like the Poppycock Suckers and Tommyrotterrs want the Croppies to Lie Down.

    Not just through their teeth like the media,

    or did I get the wrong end of the Shtick?

  15. Pointis November 8, 2015 at 9:05 pm #

    The greatest trick the British Legion ever pulled was to connect the paying of respect for those Allied soldiers who fell in the First World War to the continued support to British troops in any military arena through the embodiment of the poppy!

    • ANOTHER JUDE November 9, 2015 at 3:20 pm #

      True. The military are worshipped, they are stuck in everywhere even at the bloody football.

  16. Jim Neeson November 9, 2015 at 10:29 am #

    It really glared out at me the most ardently played music was “There will always be an England”
    as the “Commonwealth ” veterans marched by.

  17. MartinM November 9, 2015 at 2:42 pm #

    Remembrance is of course an important act for the families of those who lost loved ones and an opportunity for us to acknowledge and share their loss. May I respectfully suggest that it can also serve as an indispensable link in the chain between wars. It tidies up the loose ends of the last conflict and clears the ground for the next one, along the next unfortunate generation to be called upon to service it, whatever nationality.