Lest we forget...
Everybody says sex is obscene. The only true obscenity is war.
- Henry Miller
I won't be wearing a poppy this year, or putting one on my social media avatar, but I'll drop some money into the box nonetheless. Soldiers are suffering, after all, and waving flags and singing anthems won't help them deal with their poverty or PTSD. A little money might help, though.
A lot is made of commemorating Armistice Day, the 11th day of the 11th month. A minute's silence is held every year on the 11th hour, when the guns fell silent to mark the end of World War I. The Great War. The War To End All Wars. There is a lot of pomp and circumstance and paraphernalia associated with this time of year. All of it, apparently, lest we forget...
And yet, World War I was followed not long after by World War II, which claimed even more lives. Korea. Malaya. Vietnam. The Falklands. The Gulf War. Afghanistan. Iraq. Libya. Syria. Yemen. This list is by no means exhaustive.
It seems no matter how many little red poppies we see, we have indeed forgotten.
Forgotten the old lie, amongst other things.
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
- Wilfred Owen
'Sweet and fitting it is, to die for your country (fatherland).'
Along with the commemoration of Remembrance Day, there is widespread belief that support for the military is the right thing to do. Those who object, who oppose war, are often sneered at and denigrated as unpatriotic, or even seen as traitors.
But supporting the military and supporting war does not equate to supporting soldiers. Wilfred Owen, after all, like his decorated comrade Siegfried Sassoon, was a soldier. Both saw the reality of war first hand and felt the need to convey its horrors in their moving poetry.
The crippled homeless man, whose legs were blown off in Afghanistan, whom I occasionally am able to buy a little food for when I do my weekly shop, or spare a few coins for, doesn't benefit from anyone's patriotism. The establishment which promotes militarism and jingoism does nothing to care for this brave veteran who sacrificed his body for his country. They can't even be bothered to house him, let alone address his medical needs. How many who do choose to wear a poppy will pass him by without a second thought, I wonder?
Indeed, a soldier's life is amongst the most tragic in our world. Beaten, broken, molded into a killing machine. Sent to fight and kill and be killed. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months in perpetual terror. Watching friends die. And then abandoned. Left to fall apart physically and mentally.
There is no glory in war, only tragedy. And the best way to remember and honour those who have died in war must be to ensure no more do.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
- Siegfried Sassoon