Friday, 11 November 2011

When Our Perils Are Passed, Shall Our Gratitude Sleep?

Yesterday I was going to post a blog that was quite a rant. Today I'm not going to.

The reason for being fired up and ready to roar was my perception of a lot of people's lack of understanding of the whole point of Armistice Day (or "Poppy Day" as some people call it, to my annoyance) and its place in society. Today I'm not quite so fired up, because I've had my moment in the solemnity of the day, I've seen so much more respect shown across the media that riled me, and I've trusted in my long held judgment that sensible people do stupid things without realizing it. I know. I'm quite often one of those people.

So, to those people I laid into yesterday for posting the insensitive and misinformed poem that was circulated on Facebook: I'm sorry. I've posted similarly inflammatory and inappropriate nonsense myself before without thinking it actually is.

To me, Armistice Day is a simple remembrance of something terrifying, horrific, shocking, and murderous that we in this day and age have no real concept of. That, I'm thankful for. It's a sombre recollection of the lives of millions of men and women who gave their lives, that others may live. Men and women from all over the world, in two significant wars that shaped the future of the world on so many levels it is rarely clear even when we're driving, listening to music, watching TV, eating and even just breathing. Yep, all of those activities probably wouldn't be what they are today without those two lamentable world conflicts. Don't believe me? Especially about breathing? Go do some research...

Lest we forget...

...that this Remembrance is not about national pride. It is not about who won and who lost. It's about the cost.

As a voluntary student of both world wars, it annoys me regularly when people forget the basics of accurate historical fact. I struggle to grit my teeth when the English tell people "we won the war" because the reality is that without American troops and Canadian factories we would have been doomed by 1942. When Americans tell people "You'd all be speaking German now, without us" I want to drill home the point that if they'd come into the war in '39 it would likely have been over by '41 when they decided to turn up. The there's the whole "French cowards" thing. As though the resistance movement and thousands of French servicemen that gave their lives did so running away, rather than risking torture and execution on a daily basis.

We will remember them...

A friend also pointed something out the other day that interested me, and is often completely forgotten: the service of "the colonies" that largely goes unmentioned in both world conflicts. I do know far too many people that seem to think the only activity of black people in either war is that of conscripted American GIs. No one remembers the Caribbean forces. No one remembers the African contingents, of whom there were many. I know. I've seen the Commonwealth War Graves in Gambia, and that's a tiny African country. Oh, and for the record: a Muslim country.

I will admit now that I'd not really given it much consideration until our trip to Le Somme a few years ago. Sorry Martin. But going there, and especially to the South African war memorial and museum really brought home how far we have come as a species. Not races: as a species. Did you know, during the Great War, black South Africans were in the trenches? They were stretcher bearers and messengers. They were only allowed spears. Seriously. Spears: welcome to racism, circa 1914. But whilst in that museum, I learnt that despite this obvious racism, those men went about their business with a dedication that was absolutely staggering. One story had me spellbound: of a young man who, under machine gun fire, left the trenches time and time again to drag his fallen comrades - all white - back to safety. He was severely wounded, and eventually had to be held back by his awestruck commanding officer, so severe were his own injuries.

Research Delville Wood. You'll find him.

Please, those of you who read this far, remember that Armistice Day is about remembering the dead of truly global conflict. It's not about England beating Germany, or America saving everyone's asses. It's not about how people can burn poppies now. It's not about editing history to suit an agenda. It's about sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, who gave their all, their lives, their memories, that we should be where we are now, for better or for worse.

Me, I don't like the way this world is run. But I know something: without their sacrifice I doubt I'd even be allowed to suggest that I don't care about the poppy burners and the white poppy wearers because I'd either be censored or imprisoned under a genuine totalitarian regime like the one they eventually crushed. If I was lucky...

Forget about those who would belittle Armistice Day. They are not worth your time. Remember those who it is for. They gave you this time.

Thank you for reading.