A hundred years is a long time in human years, but it is like a minute of a day from the view of history. The first world war - almost undisputedly the most horrific conflict in human history - ended exactly one hundred years ago at the time of writing, a very short period indeed. Already, however, our pledge to remember is being forgotten. I do not mean to rant as many do when talking about remembrance day about the younger generation not wearing Poppies - because they do - or world leaders not bowing their heads sufficiently when laying a wreath - because it doesn’t matter - but about the gross mutation of the symbol of the Poppy and, more generally and importantly, about the memory of war in general.
Among other things I have seen Poppies on tanks, big cardboard Poppies held by children wearing t-shirts reading ‘future soldier’, and Poppies worn by avid nationalists with a blind love for all things military. The people involved in such displays should realise the tragic irony of the symbol they are bastardizing; those who would be happy, as the RAF were last year, to plaster Poppies on to fighter jets are quick to forget how such a machine would have been used at the Somme.[pullquote]The memorial of war should be a decidedly pacifist thing[/pullquote]
The memorial of war should be a decidedly pacifist thing, a generation of young men did not dive over a parapet towards machine gun fire a hundred years ago with a sense that they were fending off the treachery of a Kaiser or King, but because they were caught in a machine that was set up to mangle it’s operators. The memory of the war dead is not glory, it is tragedy, and the path taken by millions of soldiers across Europe to their brutal deaths in muddy fields should not serve as a noble example to be followed, but a warning to future generations that came at the heaviest price imaginable.
There are now no living combat veterans of the first world war, and nearly four hundred veterans from the second world war pass away every day. With them goes the last first-hand memories of what happens when the political superpowers of the world collide. As young people today we are coddled to the realities of war, it is simply a vague notion of unrest in the middle east that we hear about on the news from time to time. It is unimaginable to me as an eighteen-year-old that first world countries like Britain, France, and Germany could go to war against each other, yet history proves time and time again that we are a few diplomatic clashes away from boots on the ground and chambered bullets.
It always strikes me that those who get the most riled up about Poppy-wearing are often the same people likely to glorify military affairs and treat war as some spectacle of patriotism. In ‘honouring’ the war dead it insults their memory to forget the bitter misery of their situation. Pacifists are reproached for not appreciating the necessity of war, for insulting those who sacrificed their lives in the name of victory. I believe the opposite; until peace is viewed as a greater success than glory that is paid for with innocent lives we are not truly remembering.