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.