Re­mem­brance mat­ters, how­ever it is done

The Guardian - Journal - - Letters armistice 1918-2018 -

The poppy is now a mat­ter of con­tro­versy. Some claim it is a sym­bol of mil­i­tarism and a glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of war. In the par­lance of to­day’s zero-sum di­a­logue, the poppy is tied to war, war is bad and should be ended, ergo sum the poppy is bad and should be erad­i­cated. In a time when facts mat­ter far less than feel­ing, this sounds like a con­vinc­ing ar­gu­ment.

Let’s look at some facts. The poppy as a sym­bol of re­mem­brance was pro­moted by an Amer­i­can ed­u­ca­tor named Moina Michael.

She taught at the Lucy Cobb In­sti­tute, built in the 19th cen­tury to ame­lio­rate the con­di­tion of women’s ed­u­ca­tion. She was in­spired by the poem In Flan­ders Fields writ­ten by the Cana­dian bat­tle­field sur­geon John McCrae. While teach­ing dis­abled ser­vice­men in 1918, Michael be­gan to ag­i­tate for silk pop­pies to be sold to pay for the ba­sic needs of vet­er­ans aban­doned by their na­tion af­ter the guns fell silent, as is the case to this day.

I am a vet­eran and the son of a

Mike Scott

vet­eran of the sec­ond world war. My fa­ther came home an empty shell of a man. To this day, I re­live the killing fields of the Yu­gosla­vian slaugh­ter in my dreams. The ef­fects of my ser­vice caused me years of pain, home­less­ness and sub­stance abuse. My son is three years old. I will use all the strength in me to en­sure that he never knows the hor­ror of war. I will do this by ex­plain­ing its stark re­al­ity to him. I will bear wit­ness.

For those who don’t wish to wear a poppy, I have a propo­si­tion. Some seem to think that sol­diers don’t un­der­stand the role of na­tion states, cor­po­ra­tions and arms man­u­fac­tur­ers in war. We al­ways have. I ask you to bear in mind that the peo­ple who gave their lives did so in the be­lief that some­how their sac­ri­fice could move hu­man­ity for­ward. That is a noble goal even if you think that they were mis­led and mis­taken in hold­ing it.

I pro­pose that all of us live to­gether in peace­ful com­mu­nity, and ev­ery time we ap­proach some­one with whom we dis­agree, we treat them with em­pa­thy, hu­man­ity and re­spect and com­mit the only true act of re­mem­brance that mat­ters.

Wil­liam Ray

Nova Sco­tia, Canada

While we should cer­tainly re­mem­ber the sol­diers who had their lives taken away (not “given”) in the first world war (Hon­our for last Bri­tish sol­dier killed in first world war, 3 No­vem­ber), we should also re­mem­ber the gen­er­als and politi­cians who caused their deaths.

The first world war was a wholly un­nec­es­sary con­flict that could not con­ceiv­ably have brought any ben­e­fit to those fight­ing on ei­ther side. The ut­terly in­ef­fec­tive tac­tics used re­sulted in the in­evitable deaths of mil­lions, who were seen as en­tirely ex­pend­able.

There is no doubt those in charge were guilty of crimes against hu­man­ity and should have been tried for th­ese in­stead of cry­ing croc­o­dile tears about how dread­ful it was that so many were killed or in­jured. The fact that it is the Earl Haig Fund that sells the pop­pies is why I refuse to wear one. I’ll re­mem­ber those mur­dered in the trenches in my own way.

Mike Scott


In Septem­ber 1914 Lau­rence Binyon wrote For the Fallen, a poem in which one line stands out from the rou­tine pa­tri­o­tism of the rest. It reads: “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.” Th­ese words oc­cur on war memo­ri­als up and down the land, and are of­ten mis­quoted as “They shall not grow old” (They Shall Not Grow Old re­view – Peter Jack­son’s elec­tri­fy­ing jour­ney into the first world war trenches, the­, 16 Oc­to­ber).

The mis­quo­ta­tion is now given ex­tra cur­rency by the film of that ti­tle. It is of course ob­vi­ous that the fallen will not grow old. How could they? But Binyon says they shall “grow not old ” (my ital­ics) and he con­tin­ues: “Age shall not weary them, nor the years con­demn.” The im­pli­ca­tion is that they will grow in our col­lec­tive and in­di­vid­ual mem­o­ries. It is a far more sub­tle and more mov­ing thought than the mis­quo­ta­tion.

Chris Hall

Hen­ley-on-Thames, Ox­ford­shire

There is no doubt those in charge were guilty of crimes against hu­man­ity and should have been tried

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