Wednesday 9 November 2011

At the going down of the sun

This week many clergy will be involved in two remembrance services (or possibly more). Friday the 11th November (at 11am) is the increasingly popular 'literal' time of remembrance, the time of the armistice coming into effect at the end of the 'Great War' in 1918: the 'war to end all wars.'

Sunday is Remembrance Sunday, when similar acts of remembrance, parades, silences, services, wreath layings take place in towns, again at 11am.

I detect a considerable degree of ambivalence amongst clergy (and others) to remembrance. The wearing of white poppies flurried whilst I was at theological college. There is a heartfelt reluctance to engage with any romanticized image of war. It's all about peace, isn't it?

Where am I on it all? My short career as a regular serviceman was in the cold war. We trained for the end of the world, running about in suits and masks and pretending to plot the wind-blown course of mushroom clouds. We travelled about the world not being shot at, looking under our cars for Irish not Afghan bombs. It leaves you conscious of what has gone before, and what your successors (in a VERY different world) are doing now. I joined the armed forces, in part, through a fear of nuclear armageddon, and the thought-through response that maintaining detente would prevent that war. Others marched against nuclear weapons - fair enough. No-one knew that economic and political frailty in the east would close that stand-off down, and allow the world to boil up into what it is now.

The political context of participation in war is complex. I think that's a polite way of saying that it often stinks. Whether it's Blackadder's 'moving General Haig's drinks cabinet 6 inches closer to Berlin,' or regime change dressed up in UN Article 51 'anticipatory self defence' as in Iraq (and others?), the global political motivations for entering war can be rather murky.

But the personal experiences and sacrifices that individual men and women in these conflicts make are undoubtedly deeply moving and powerful testimony to much that is fine and noble in humanity. The irony of wasteful, destructive war and the broken beauty of humanity are a rich, intertwined theme in remembrance. Who really cares about European politics in the early 20th century? But we read Wilfred Owen and can be affected by distant memories of mechanical horror.

In a century, who will care about the 'War on Terror' or 'Al Qaeda' or the rest of it? But will they remember limbless young people rebuilding lives and coffins driven slowly through Wiltshire? Maybe.

So I will wear my poppy on my choir dress on the seafront at Bute as we say Binyon's Words and the Kohima epitaph. My fellow British Legion members will parade, some crying.

And we will remember them.

1 comment:

  1. Owen hit it on the head with "I am the enemy you killed, my friend. Let us sleep now". Good post.