Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Remembrance, white poppies and the 2-minute silence fad

Okay this is something I feel quite strongly about and I have things to do, so I'll keep it short.

Today is 11th November, where people in the UK and around the world mark Remembrance Day, remembering those who have fallen in both World Wars and other wars. This is a good thing and I definitely think a few moments' silent reflection are a good thing. However there are a few things about the way it's all done that I don't like.

Silences in recent years have jumped from 1 minute, which was fine for most of the 20th century, to 2 minutes. All "serious" events now have 2 minutes of silence, as if 1 minute is somehow not respectful enough. But I'm surely not the only person who thought 1 minute was fine.

Silences are also thrown around far too much, like it's the only way we can come to terms with anything. The Friday after 11th September 2001, we had a 3 minute silence in school. Someone somewhere thought it was of such gravity that it needed 180 seconds. Not only was it unnecessary, it was also inescapably political - we marked it because it happened in America, and because it was terrorism. Vastly higher numbers died in the 2005 Asian Tsunami and when Cyclone Nargis hit Burma, and I don't remember any silences then; the event was elevated to some higher status because these dead people had been killed by Muslims. September 11th was horrendous and I don't wish any disrespect to anyone over it, but it's a mark of personal shame that I didn't walk out of the classroom. I was in the supermarket when a national 2 minute silence was being held after the 7th July 2005 bombings in London, which were also shit, but I carried on walking around doing my shopping because I don't see why we stop for some things and not others.

Secondly, I dislike the requirement of wearing the red poppy for 2 whole weeks before Remembrance Day itself. It's like Christmas in the UK - somehow we can't just mark an event on the day itself. With the run-up to Christmas it's a commercial thing to sell more stuff; with the poppy 2 weeks, it's again some kind of competitive grief, like the jump from 1 minute of silence to 2 minutes. Any politician (or any person on TV) seen not wearing it during this 2-week period would get instantly shot down for being "disrespectful". I understand the poppy as a symbol for remembrance and the Royal British Legion, but it's just a symbol.

People should be able to mark their grief in their own time and way on the single day we have without facing anger or abuse.

Finally, I also dislike the overly military aspect of Remembrance Day. Yes, it is kind of about the military, and it is good that we recognise soldiers who have died in just wars to protect our freedom (e.g. World War 2) and other stupid wars where they should never have been sent to their deaths (e.g. World War 1, Iraq War). But there is no recognition for the civilian cost of war and there is no recognition that war is a bad thing; if anything, Remembrance Day comes across to me as pro-military and wrapped up in outdated ceremonies that have no relation to the real wars going on right now. This is why I approve of wearing White Poppies for peace, as a way of marking Remembrance Day. The White Poppy movement symbolises both remembrance and an awareness of the need to campaign for peace. It's surely just as important to remember the dead as it is to stop making more of them.

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