The Great Debate: Remembrance Day?

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For – Georgia Wilcox:

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, many hundreds of thousands of members of the Commonwealth pause lives to fall silent for two minutes with those around them. These two minutes can be used to be at one with your thoughts, remembering the sacrifices of everyone across the world in conflict.
Many say that we ‘celebrate’ Armistice Day, but it is not a celebration, more a day of respect and reflection. It is not to celebrate our modern-day freedom, but to remember what we lost in order to live the way that we do. There is no definite idea of the price that every single country involved in the First World War payed, a tragedy in itself, but it is estimated that 37 million military personnel and civilians died in the 4-year conflict. These included boys, the youngest authenticated British soldier being only 12 years old, families stripped of their brothers, sons, fathers, husbands, fiancés, to watch them leave with no idea if they would ever see them again.
One letter from a young woman to her husband reads “The only memory of you that I have is the feel of your hand in mine, for I fear I cannot even remember your face.” In war we did not only sacrifice soldiers, or civilians, but people’s entire livelihoods crumbled. Farmers were stripped of their workhorses, their crops, their land. Medics got moved far away from their dependent families. Children got put on trains with nothing more than a suitcase and were taken miles and miles away from everything that they knew. Families got destroyed, devastation struck every part of every country involved.
This is why we remember, to learn from the horrors. We wear a poppy to remember the first thing to grow on the barren war fields. The first thing to grow in the churned-up ground of many unidentified soldier’s graves in Flander’s field, Belgium. The poppy signifies hope, proof that even in a place that may have had little hope, something beautiful can prosper.
Many see it as a sign of patriotism, and many feel great offence when they see somebody not brandishing a poppy on their clothing, but the freedom to choose to wear, or not wear, what we want to symbolise events such as these is exactly what our young men fought and lost their lives for. We must always be conscious to not glorify war, but to honour the bravery and selflessness that it took for us to overcome one of the biggest conflicts Britain, and our allies had ever faced. We must use this day to educate the next generation, and each generation after that, for we should never let the actions and sacrifices that our ancestors made be forgot. They gave up so much for us, so the least we can do is give up two minutes out of our hectic schedule for them. Whether you wear a poppy or not, those two minutes at 11 o’clock on the 11th of November are a small price to pay, for every single life that was lost to the “Great War”.

Against – Toby Connell-Cooke:

It’s 2010, probably around Year 8, and my form tutor is getting angry at my class because no one is wearing a poppy. She shouts and makes everyone buy one during our lunch break and come back to form after to prove it. Naturally because she was incredibly scary, everyone went and put their 10ps into the charity tub and bought a poppy.

Even at the time, I thought it was a bit strange to force everyone to buy one, and I felt very reluctant- and not just because I knew I would struggle to pin it on myself. Upon reflection of this incident, it makes me feel weird. Schools have such a strict ban on accessories, yet they force you to wear this awful wrinkly red piece of plastic and paper that doesn’t stand up straight. Clearly schools need to rethink their environmental policy for a start…

But why does the poppy hold such strong implications in society. Why did Jeremy Corbyn get slaughtered by the media for not wearing one? And why are we forced to engage in the quite frankly dystopian two minutes silence. Because the poppy and Remembrance Day in general are more about national pride and being “British”, than they are about remembering dead soldiers from nearly 100 years ago. To not participate is to supposedly betray your country.

Remembrance Day holds such ties with British pride, because of course, it concerns war. Nothing brings together British citizens more than war. Reaction to war is the only source of togetherness that still exists in society. Think back to the Manchester attacks, and the sense of communal strength that it produced among British citizens. Once the aftermath ended we returned to our anonymous lives- until another inevitable attack should happen.

My main issue with Remembrance Day is how it seems to romanticise war. We speak in literary, descriptive terms of how soldiers courageously fought for their lives and the lives of our nation in harsh, bloody battles; how the merciless Germans committed such betrayal on our continent; how terror rained down from the skies of the Great War; how the Second World War was birthed from the ashes of the Great War. Why does it feel like we’re listening to an audiobook when standing at a Remembrance Day event?

War doesn’t need to be described. War is a horrible thing – it’s self-explanatory. Romanticising the event only sounds like its being glorified. No one is being educated by this homogenous spiel that is churned out each year. It rather all too uncomfortably feels like propaganda. Especially when it is received in huge, mass public gatherings.

Should we remember the soldiers that died? Of course we should, my opposition to Remembrance Day in no way plays down my respect to people that were forced to fight. However, do I respect British soldiers any more than those from other nations? I do not. Focus should be turned away from remembering “British soldiers” that fought for “our country”. But instead those who died across the globe, who were also forced to engage in such a horrible act.

The world wars don’t need to be politicised still to this day, it should be something we are embarrassed as global citizens to have engaged in- not be proud as nationalist British citizens to have won. Constant mention and remembrance of war is how it continues to occur today. Cambridge University have recently decided to stop holding Remembrance Day events, and this is a step forward in ending nationalism and ensure a more peaceful mindsight among British citizens. If you feel the pressure to wear a poppy, then wear a white one. We shouldn’t forget the war ever happened. But the focus should now be on ensuring global peace, not remembering or romanticising the horrific events as a noble characteristic of Britain in 2018.

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