Hardly a subject more laden with pride, sentiment, nationalism or even economical interests as the armed forces, and the stuff that Remembrance day brings up in many of us. And still, I feel a sense of loss, not so much maybe (anymore) for the fallen soldiers themselves but for an identity that is fading away.
Ever since I came to this country with its unbroken national and military history I was amazed by how little questioning seems tangible towards remembrance day and even more so the spectacle in its stride. If not openly so maybe jokingly I was expecting much more of a self critical reflection, at least from my generation or younger. But far from it, you can hardly see a lapel (or car grill) that does not feature a poppy these days, be it old or young. Wearing a poppy or uniform got you a free bus ride here in Bath today.
If you don’t want wars, a good start would be not to participate in them.
My personal and my national background (born in then West-Germany before its reunification and subsequent military engagement, raised by a deeply traumatized war-orphaned father) made any glorification and celebration of war or armies very difficult if not impossible. The story of the soldier being a hero, the army being the saviour was not told when and where I grew up. So, initially I wondered, trying to understand what I was missing, then subsequently, more or less successfully, ignored the annual hype here in Britain. After all I felt this was not my battle or fight.
Many years in, now that my children are growing up being british (my son with great joy and enthusiasm marches with the Cadets), this has changed on a personal level. On a political/economical level the world of the military is not the same either anymore: Whilst traditionally serving the interest of the nation state it now more and more obviously serves the interests of transnational capital. And, to quote Charles Eisenstein, “on a deeper level, it serves the paradigm of domination through force.
“..In this world hate never yet dispelled hate. Only love dispels hate. This is the law, ancient and inexhaustible..” Choices, Dhammapa’da, Sayings of the Buddha
You could safely say that by re-membering, by re-living, by re-dying the faith of the british soldiers in WW1 (and all the other wars, all the other nations if you like) you are keeping the suffering, the dying, but also the reasons for all of it alive. Personally, one honours the fallen soldiers believing it gives their deaths a deeper (or any) meaning, that they did not die in vain. Institutionally it serves a seemingly more sinister purpose, telling the story that should you die as a soldier you neither will be forgotten. (My cynical self is trying to have a giggle seeing these kids march, still, up and down the streets in uniforms – 100 years after the end of the war to end all wars, after the Great War.)
Behind the more superficial explanations you will also find that these are important cultural sentiments that are found in probably all human civilisations, except ours: the honouring and remembering of the dead, not just soldiers or casualties of war. There is a glimpse of it in Christianity, All Saints Day and the Day of the Dead, particularly in some protestant traditions when not only saints but all dead are remembered – but most of this has transmuted to a mere halloween show these days.
“Ours is a culture built upon the ruthless foundation of mass migration, but it is more so now a culture of people unable to say who their people are.” Stephen Jenkinson
One of the greatest losses of our culture is the loss of our personal history. Our civilisation is a story of displacement, we don’t know anymore where the bones of our anchestors are buried. We don’t know their names or the stories of their lives. So, reversed we wouldn’t know where we will be buried, if our names, our struggles will be remembered.
My poppy appeal to myself is not to wear a poppy but to continue making it a habit, a ceremony, a remembrance to think of my dead anchestors, not knowing their names, where they are buried or much about their lives. With work it can be learned, to sit with them, to walk with them, and to breathe with them. And eventually they will give me their grace – at the hour of my own death, and before.
My ancestor’s bones lie buried in my bones
I carry their blood in the rushing of my blood
I sing their songs in my own voice
I feel the cool earth in my hands,
it is the same earth that came before me
Earth made up of the bones of ancestor’s
Earth made of life
Earth made of death
I call this family.
(From: Bones by Marianna)