Midweek @ Musings: Lest we Forget

Growing up American, what I learned about war reflected my country’s role in the conflict.  The story was usually told from the victor’s perspective.  History classes covered major campaigns, celebrating “wins” and glossing over losses.  Issues were black and white, right and wrong.  I left school knowing very little about World War I, and thinking World War II really got going after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  I was too young to understand Vietnam, and my family didn’t know anyone who had served, so that was another conflict that passed me by.

It wasn’t until I was about 40 that some semblance of reality began to sink in.  Every single English village I’ve ever visited has a war memorial much like this one, inscribed with the names of those who gave their lives in the two world wars.

Yes, that’s right:  every single village.  That’s a lot of names; a staggering loss of life.  Every Remembrance Sunday (the second Sunday in November), there’s a very moving and solemn ceremony in London.  The memorials and the ceremony hit me like a ton of bricks.  Here’s an excerpt from 2009:

At about 7:30 in this clip, BBC presenter David Dimbleby describes the “unconscionable millions” who died in World War I, saying that if all those British soldiers were to line up in a march starting in London, the line would end in Edinburgh, some 400 miles away.  That sound you hear is another ton of bricks raining down on me.

My 2010 reading about war further opened my eyes, and strengthened my belief that war is not the answer.  War is not something that’s won or lost; it’s a senseless and futile approach to solving problems.   Some may feel that an act of aggression demands an equally aggressive response, but I can no longer ascribe to that belief.  I live in hope that humankind will one day find ways to resolve conflict peacefully.

I guess I’m on a personal journey of learning and discovery, but I’ve only just scratched the surface. I am not sure how to turn beliefs into action, but I can start by refusing to forget.  Vera Brittain said it well in her memoir, Testament of Youth :

Perhaps, after all, the best that we who were left could do was refuse to forget, and to teach our successors what we remembered in the hope that they, when their own day came, would have more power to change the state of the world than this bankrupt, shattered generation.  (p. 646)

There are a few things I’ll do, as a start.  On Thursday, November 11 at 11:00am, I plan to find a way to observe a moment of silence even though it’s not the custom in my workplace.  I’ll watch the Remembrance Sunday ceremony on the web.  And next weekend I’m planning to attend a forum sponsored by a local Quaker Meeting, a panel discussion entitled, “If War is not the Answer, What Is?”

How about you?  How do you “refuse to forget”?

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5 thoughts on “Midweek @ Musings: Lest we Forget

  1. Hi Laura,

    Thanks to Chris for posting this link and thanks to you for your words. I’ve long felt the best way to honor the truly incredible sacrifice that so many people have given around the world and across nations, in the name of their country’s freedom, would be to find peaceful ways to resolve political issues.

    Those in combat are called (voluntarily or by requirement), to fight the wars created by other politicians. We should never forget the names of those who have given in so many ways. However, it honoring them by having a day to remember or erecting statues or pretty grave stones, seems to fall short of truly honoring their sacrifice.

    When will we honor their service by eliminating war? How do we move to honoring them by refusing to let this happen to other generations of people around the world.

    Deep Peace

  2. Hey Jeff,

    One of the first things I noticed when we returned to the U.S. was a exagerated and inaccurate worship of a “Warrior Class.” Everywhere I looked was some new creation that seemed to use 9/11 as a catalyst to create all kinds of odd military images — even The Weather Channel had home videos from viewers called “Weather Warriors”. Then there was “Patriot Golf Day” and woodworkers who “Turned a pen for the troops” for Veterans Day. All of this from the safety of a conscription-free, very safe place.

    The Romans had their mercenaries and we have a permanent underclass who (let’s face it) we send out to do the dirty work while obese, middle-aged men profit and get their jollies watching the grand event.

    But, history tells us that this is not new.

    An old guy in England once told me that they really thought that “The Great War” would surely be the last. The folly, the carnage, the cost would never be forgotten. But they did. Even in 1919 they were sowing the seeds of the next conflict.

    And now, it seems that Americans have thrown Veterans (Armistice Day) under the bus of an infantile form of patriotism. Today, we remember those who died, we learn from those who were lucky enough to survive, and we support the rational thinkers who vow that it never happens again.

  3. A thoughtful post, Laura. I feel we’ve gone a bit too far the other way here in Australia…it seems as if every other day we are commemorating some battle somewhere and while I understand that this is deeply significant to the participants and their families, I feel as if the solemnity of Anzac Day and Remembrance Day are being swamped by the plethora of other commemorations.
    Australia is just about the only place on earth to have federated into a country without civil war or fighting a war of independence and we should be so proud of that, but we don’t celebrate peaceful resolution of conflict….

    • That’s interesting, Lisa, I appreciate you sharing an Australian perspective. Here I feel as if we are swamped with “reasons” to celebrate “patriotism,” which is a whole different thing from what you described but helps me see your point.

      You’re also right that Australians have something in their history to be very proud of. I wonder how that influences your culture, in both obvious and subtle ways ?

  4. Re: I wonder how that influences your culture, in both obvious and subtle ways ?
    That’s a hard question to answer, Laura…Our geography – part of Asia but so far from our European roots – probably influences our culture more than anything else.

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