It is Remembrance Sunday. In an hour’s time, the country will descend into silence as we collectively remember people who have died in conflict.
I have always and will always respect this aspect of our culture. People who have lost their lives, or been injured, trying to protect others or following orders from their country deserve not to be forgotten. Similarly, civilians who have been killed in conflict deserve the same respect.
Yet I am increasingly disconcerted by the way this simple yet important tradition is being twisted into something much less meaningful.
The wearing of a poppy in November is a simple, unassuming and unintrusive way to demonstrate your respect for those who have died, and to raise money for the Royal British Legion to support those who are still affected by the consequences of serving in the armed forces. Yet these days the simple poppy seems to have been hijacked by the perils of politics, celebrity and social media to the point that it’s losing its meaning.
Every programme in the run up to Remembrance Day must shoehorn in some reference to soldiers, however strange and meaningless it may seem. A case in point was the introduction of last night’s Strictly Come Dancing, where the presenters briefly lowered their tone to give deference to the service personnel invited to sit on the front row, pausing for a millisecond before switching back to jolly mode and returning to the glitz and sparkle of the show. You cannot blame them for focussing on the glitter and dancing – that’s the point of the show – but it made me wonder what the point of referencing the armed services was if there wasn’t really time to focus on it? And this is a pattern that has repeated itself across all things media over the past few weeks.
While these half hearted references seem to demean the message slightly, other references I’ve seen on social media have felt downright inappropriate and verging on offensive.
This weekend Twitter has been full of comments on Remembrance Day, as you may expect. While I’m unsure of how much emotion you can ever invest in a 140 character tweet, I was amazed at the unashamed brazenness of people posting ‘Poppy Selfies’, with their inane grinning faces blocking out the view of the Poppy installation at the Tower of London. Is that really the best way to show your respect? Though I guess it is somewhat more appropriate than the picture I saw posted yesterday afternoon of a glass of wine with the poppy resting on the bottom: ‘having a toast to those who have fallen’ read the caption. Is this the best way up can think of doing that? Tweeting a picture from a fancy wine bar? Or are you just filling time while your friend is in the loo?
Perhaps I’m being old fashioned. Media has changed the way we view things and perhaps Remembrance Day is just changing to reflect that. Some may even find me hypocritical for criticising others while myself spending the morning of Remembrance Day writing a blog – perhaps a fair accusation. Yet I still feel sad that the true meaning of Remembrance Day has been forgotten.
‘Lest we forget’
Surely the message was that we must never forget, partly because to forget would be to risk it happening again. 100 years on from the start of ‘The war to end all wars’ we still live in a world plagued by conflict. As I type, people across the world are living in fear as conflict destroys lives and livelihoods, and families sit at home worrying about the people they love stationed abroad within these conflicts.
I am fortunate enough not to know anyone who has died in conflict, so I cannot truly spend the 2 minutes silence remembering individuals lost to war. I will leave that important and meaningful experience to their families. I, instead, will think about the scale of the lives lost to conflict, in the past and the present, and that to truly remember and honour those people we need to find a way to stop it happening again. I don’t want to see ‘hero soldiers’ on my TV because I want to live in a world where we don’t need them, where peace treaties, negotiations and ongoing global relations make conflict unnecessary and genuinely a thing of the past. I want my children to live in a world where no one has to fear a phone call or a letter informing them of a loss of a loved one in conflict. I hope that my children and grandchildren will find Remembrance Day a strange and obscure concept, because they will be ‘remembering’ people who died a long time ago, not where people are still dying in conflict even on the day of remembrance.
I realise that this seems a hopelessly ideological aim, but it’s still worth aiming for and surely a key part of what Remembrance Day is for: commemorating those who have died and aiming to ensure it doesn’t happen again. That will only happen through genuine reflection and meaningful thought and discussion – not tokenistic media references or ‘poppy selfies’.