I always feel conflicted this time of year and I use the word deliberately.
When I was growing up in the UK in the 1970s, we were regular churchgoers so of course, we went to church on Remembrance Sunday. It always left me extremely uncomfortable, the talk was about the Glorious Dead and I was beginning to question how being dead was glorious. I was lucky, both my Grandads survived their wars but many of the children I went to school with weren’t so lucky. Every time I talked about going to see them, someone would say that they never knew their Grandad and wasn’t I the lucky one. It was never meant nastily, it was just fact.
My maternal Grandad was in the Royal Army Medical Corps, called up when conscription started in 1916, he was 22.
My paternal Grandad was called up in World War II and coincidentally, was also a medic. He was a psychiatric nurse and had the gruesome job of landing in France on Day 2 of the D-Day landings and sorting out who was dead and who wasn’t. He then followed the front line as the soldiers fought their way through France to Germany. Afterwards, he was sent to the Far East, based in India. He had the equally horrific task of finding soldiers who had lost their minds after the atrocities in that region and had gone feral.
He is in the back row, second left.
I never heard either of them talk about their experiences and I wasn’t aware of them wearing poppies, although they might well have done.
I was also conflicted about what we had won. Britain wasn’t at war but it didn’t feel like a place that was at peace either. Every time the England football team played West Germany, the newspapers were full of hatred and I couldn’t relate to that (it has only recently stopped, 70+ years on). I was confused as to the “evil” we went to war over in 1914. It was much easier to identify the evil in World War II but I hated the fact that Britain didn’t feel reconciled to peace. Places like Coventry were a light in the darkness.
The 1970s went into the 1980s and the Cold War was still a threat. Greenham Common became the focus of anti-war campaigning. I joined CND. I didn’t want World War III, nuclear destruction and the devastation that would follow if the planet survived. We had already lost a generation of men after The Great War, I didn’t want that to happen again.
Yet I am not a pacifist. I believe there is evil in the world and we need to stand up to it, as individuals and sometimes as a nation. I am grateful that some people chose to fight on my behalf and make the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.
What I want is for war to be the very last response.
I don’t want anyone’s life to end needlessly.
I want our politicians to work harder to find other ways of solving conflicts.
I want our armed forces to have the equipment they need and not to die because of our negligence.
I want business and commerce to run fairly so people don’t live in poverty and feel that violence is their only way of being heard.
I want each person to be more tolerant to those who are different to us and not fear difference.
I am sorry that our weakness as humans leads us to behave inhumanely towards each other. I believe we are better than that. We see greatness in peace and in times of war. Let’s work harder to look less at self and more at others. Let us learn to let go of our self-importance, as individuals and as nations. I am a patriot not at nationalist. A journalist at the Huffington Post gives this explanation.
Nationalism and patriotism are two words which are often used inter-changeably. This is incorrect since there is a world of difference between the two concepts, in spite of a few shared ideals. While patriotism fundamentally means affection for one’s country and willingness to defend it, nationalism is a more extreme, unforgiving form of allegiance to one’s country. As opposed to patriotism, which involves social conditioning and personal opinion, nationalism involves national identity and the belief that one’s nation and/or its government is supreme.
The legacy of the Great War was the League of Nations created after the First World War to provide a forum for resolving international disputes. We need to be better at doing this so no more people die.
The Royal British Legion is doing a tremendous job and I support them.