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Remembrance Day: Remember to Refract

“At this time of year we remember all those who have lost their lives in conflicts around the world both past and present. You can leave a message on a virtual poppy anywhere in the world to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.”

Goes the ‘Plant a virtual Poppy’ appeal on the Royal British Legion website.

I can’t say that I like this association between performing the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ and ‘our freedom’. It strikes me as awfully Orwellian for what is left unsaid – ‘at the behest of the state despite what the rest of you buggers have to say’. I mean, it’s not like a referendum was held was it? Before going on to asking what ‘ultimate sacrifices’ had been made in wars, shouldn’t we be asking what oversights had led to the war? Or does the term ‘ultimate’ in ‘ultimate sacrifice’ serve as an implicit admonishment of those who dare to question beyond the unquestionable ‘ultimate’ –thus presenting the entire divide in terms of a, ‘you’re either with us or against us’. So all it takes for a cause to be for ‘freedom’ is the death of a soldier?

Yes, I suppose it might be so if the soldier fought so that we might be free of war and s/he could return home and have a pint at the local. How much credit can we accord any soldier who also stands the risk of being shot for deciding otherwise whilst in the trenches, or not possessing as much knowledge or scepticism to second guess the politicians who dispatch them to battlefields. It’s called ‘desertion’. Being a ‘traitor’. This is the language for soliciting obedience in the face of the gun-sight of another. It is an attempt to microcosmicise the entire event till the individual begins to make sense of right and wrong in terms of her/is relationship with his friends and buddies in the trenches. From this we get definitions of ‘hero’ and ‘deserter’ and we lose sight of the possible aims of the state or how the existence of the ultimate form of fascism, the nation-state, might itself compromise the potential ‘heroism’ of all heroes and ‘ultimate sacrificers’.

And is this not replicated in the homefront? Do we not similarly lose sight of the political as we get down in virtual trenches in our backyards and pray for the safe return of our daughters and sons. Do we not, through this, ‘value by association’, thus compromising our critique of our governments by our being mindful of the gals and blokes we are used to having a pint with. Do we not come across as ‘traitors’ or ‘deserters’ if we do not accord them support and remembrance despite what we might feel about the intentions of the government? It becomes difficult to say, ‘I remember my sister’s and brother’s efforts in the war’, with, ‘the whole war was a damn mistake’, in the same breath without the latter casting the former in another light whilst we come across as ‘deserters after the fact’. Let me put it this way, would we feel inclined to exonerate one who assaults our sibling so that the injuries suffered is ‘not gone to waste’? Shouldn’t we be saying that such injuries would certainly go to waste if we do not remember them and thus take to task those whom are responsible for afflicting them?

I have no doubt that both world wars were for freedom. But I have to wonder after the degree to which we were fighting for the freedom to exist within less than ideal conditions, and with these ‘less than ideal conditions’ actually serving as the first cause of those wars, and those that came thereafter – which is why I reflexively baulked at the Daily Mail’s televised advertisement for its paper that offers a DVD showing footage of the Battle for Britain ‘that saved civilisation’. ‘Civilisation’? Is all progress to be defined in terms of how we’ve managed to make the best out of a bad situation? So for myself, whilst I will certainly ‘remember’ the war dead way past the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, I will not allow their deaths to go to waste by not considering why it might be (a waste). The best honour we can afford the ‘war dead’ or iconic figures is not solely in terms of respecting their sacrifice or insights, but in learning through their oversights as well. That would require that whilst we treat them as saints, we ought to also consider how their oversights had contributed to their untimely departure. For if we learn not from their oversights, it will surely mutate into the institutions and conventions of today, that will in turn serve as the ‘insights’ perpetuating the conditions of the past.

Let’s not wait for the 11th hour to undertake this task lest the minutes that pass thereafter comes across as no different from that which came before




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