The Politics of Remembrance
BY WILLIAM HALL
At 11:00 exactly 105 years ago today, the First World War ended. In this devastating war, 876,084 servicemen from across Britain and her colonies gave their lives in countries far from their own, often fighting for reasons they didn’t fully understand. Only 28 years and 28 days later, Corporal Thomas Priday would be the first of another 383,700 to die in the Second World War. In the years since, a further 7,190 British soldiers have been killed around the world. Since 1919, Remembrance Day – or Armistice Day as it was then called – has commemorated those fallen across the Commonwealth without fail, and usually without any controversy. Yet, this years’ service has been tarred by the filthy brush of politics, and as such Remembrance Day is at risk of becoming another casualty to the vile culture wars that plague our society. This should not be allowed to happen.
Anyone who has consumed any form of media in the last week will be well aware of the ongoing arguments around pro-Palestinian marches on Remembrance Day today. For those living under a rock, a brief run-through follows. Today, the 11th of November, is Remembrance Day, as it has been for the last 104 years. However, today is also a Saturday and therefore the day pro-Palestine marchers take to the streets of London, as they have done largely peacefully for the last 4 weeks. This overlap has caused a fiery debate to erupt over the potential for violence, even if violence is unlikely, as well as over the widely held belief that protests would be ‘disrespectful’ on what is probably the most sacrosanct day in Britain. Prime Minister Sunak has expressed his concerns about the Metropolitan Police’s decision to allow the march to take place, whilst Home Secretary Suella Braverman has been less moderate in the rhetoric she chooses to use around this decision and marchers in general, outright accusing the police of playing favourites. Outside of high politics, national and social media have been relentlessly covering, and stoking the fire of, the issue as well.
Yet, this issue is not as grave as people believe, and banning protests is not the right decision. For starters, anyone who understands remembrance will know that the Saturday service is short and sweet – with the two minutes silence at 11:00 and wreath layings being the major event. In Britain, the more important day is Remembrance Sunday, when the nation comes together to honour the fallen and much of central London is shut down for military parades. If the march were planned for Sunday this would be a far different opinion-piece, but it is not. Secondly, the pro-Palestinian march is not planned to be at 11:00, it will start at 12:00, and it will not go near the Cenotaph or Whitehall - where the majority of Remembrance Services are located. Whilst it is likely that protestors will gather beforehand and some splinter groups may leave the designated area, the Met Police will be on hand (and bolstered by an extra 1200 officers) to deal with those extremists ruining a special day for both the nation and the marchers. It is highly unlikely that protests today will ruin the nations remembrance tomorrow.
What is more imperative however, is the need to stop linking Remembrance to any current political issue – something that both pro-Palestinian marchers and politicians are doing – as this risks it losing the unifying effect it has on the nation. The march should not be allowed to go ahead because it is calling for a ceasefire on ‘Armistice Day’ as activists argue; it should be allowed to go ahead because the right to protest is integral to our current political system. Nor should the march be banned because it can be deemed as disrespectful towards fallen servicemen. If you are unable to remember our fallen because of a protest happening later in the day, on not even the main Remembrance Day, that talks more to your character and ideology than to your depth of remembrance.
Remembrance Day should be about just that, remembering and honouring our fallen, not using them as ammunition in any current political debate – pro-Palestine or other. Those that do should be ashamed.
Image: Fahim Nirob