Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Remembrance Day

Today is Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom (and numerous other countries, apparently). In case anybody's reading The Album Wall in some nook of the globe that's unfamiliar with this tradition, allow me to explain: Remembrance Day is observed on the 11th of November each year, and it serves as an annual opportunity for us to collectively remember and mourn the countless people who died in history's bloodiest wars. The occasion is marked by the wearing of small paper poppies, poppies being native to the fields in France and Belgium where so many lost their lives during World War I.

Unfortunately - and having never spent the 11th of November abroad, I can only speak for the UK here - Remembrance Day has, in recent years, become kind of problematic. Every year, we hear of more instances of 'poppy fascism': people being forced to wear those symbolic floral badges against their will, or being criticised for refusing to do so. Failing to wear the poppy - particularly during a television appearance - is taken by many to signify a lack of respect for the dead, or even as a slight against Great Britain herself.

But that, for me, is exactly the problem: Remembrance Day shouldn't be an excuse for nationalism. This is a day on which we're told to think long and hard about the losses and the atrocities endured during times of war, and yet it seems that a few too many people see it as a time to fondly remember those times when we gave Jerry a good kick up the bum and proved once again that Britain was best. Wahey.

Example! I was at my parents' house this past Sunday and Antiques Roadshow was on in the background. They were doing a segment in honour of Remembrance Sunday (we sort of have two Remembrance Days; I don't entirely understand it myself), and the presenter was talking about the so-called 'Dam Busters', an RAF squadron who famously took out multiple German dams and flooded multiple German villages during World War II. She spoke with admiration of the Britons who nobly risked their lives to carry out these attacks, before moving on to talk with a little too much enthusiasm about the super-cool bombs that they used to accomplish their mission.

You would think that drooling over weaponry goes completely against the spirit of Remembrance Day - as my father quite rightly pointed out on Sunday night, a lot of innocent people died as a result of Operation Chastise (approximately 1,600, according to Wikipedia, most of whom were "prisoners and forced labourers"), and they deserve remembrance just as much as the RAF lot. But bizarrely, abhorring war and praying for peace on Remembrance Day can be kind of a controversial move.

Example again! Jeremy Corbyn, the (still relatively new) leader of the UK Labour Party, attended a memorial service in London on Sunday, and several media outlets accused him of not bowing respectfully enough as he placed a wreath of poppies on the Cenotaph. This would be daft enough on its own, but take a look at what the Telegraph had to say about the message attached to Corbyn's wreath:
Mr Corbyn’s signed, handwritten message in his wreath appealed for peace in all wars, rather than focusing on Britain’s war dead.
How dare he! For the record, Mr Corbyn's message read as follows: "In memory of the fallen in all wars. Let us resolve to create a world of peace." Personally, I find it difficult to disagree with this sentiment, but perhaps I'm missing the point of Remembrance Day entirely - this, it would appear, is not a day for grieving those killed by war, but for glorifying Britain's 'good' wars as we condemn everyone else's 'bad' wars. Instead of reflecting on the horrors of war, we're seemingly supposed to be supporting the troops as this country continues to prolong those horrors even today.

And with that, I'm in danger of overstepping my ken. My knowledge of warfare, world history and global politics is woefully limited, and while I have my suspicions, I'm by no means equipped for a debate on whether war is or ever has been a necessary evil. With that in mind, I think it's high time I remembered that I'm supposed to be writing a music blog here.

The song embedded above is 1939 Returning, the first track on The Great Brain Robbery by The Crocketts. The Crocketts were the band from whose ashes rose The Crimea, and I think I share their viewpoint when it comes to war and remembrance:

We are not learning
1939 returning

Or, to put it another way:

If we don't remember
The dead will rise again
To kick our fucking heads in
For not remembering

Those are the chilling final lines of Lady Killer, the track at the other end of The Great Brain Robbery (an album I heartily recommend, by the way). Between that song and 1939 Returning, the real value of Remembrance Day becomes crystal clear: if we fail to remember and learn from the wars of the past, we'll all kill ourselves by repeating them.

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