Sunday 11 November 2007

as the war machine keeps turning...

It's Remembrance Sunday today.

It's now 89 years since the signing of the Armistice that ended the First World War, and there are only a small handful of veterans now surviving from that conflict. Yet at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we shall remember them.

Of course, it's not just the victims of the so-called "Great War" that we remember today, we also remember and we honour the memories of all those who have laid down their lives for their country in armed conflict around the world.

It's not a time when the politics of war are up for debate; it's simply a time to remember the dead.

I was listening to the radio this morning, and the lead story was how, along with various other politicians and members of the royal family, Prince William had laid a wreath at the Cenotaph in London for the very first time.

The focus was entirely upon honouring the sacrifice of the dead. Gordon Brown's sentiment being typical:

"The sacrifice, the courage, the dedication of our armed forces is what is uppermost in our minds this weekend. As a nation we are remembering more than perhaps 10 years ago, 20 years ago, just how much we owe to people who give their lives - and young lives - for the service of our country."

Inevitably, there was also some mention of the wars that Britain is currently fighting. The Chief of the Defence staff, Air Chief Marshall Sir Jock Stirrup, took the opportunity to send out a message to members of the armed forces:

"For the great many of you who have served or are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the memories of the price paid will be all too fresh. We have lost friends and comrades. Families have lost husbands, wives, sons, daughters, parents. We remember those families today; they bear a heavy burden, and the nation owes them a debt that it can never fully repay."

That's all very well and good, but in our haste to remember those who have died in war, how about we pause for a moment and think about how we could learn from these deaths? Would it not be better to honour the sacrifice of these soldiers in war by making sure that it never happens again? What good is all this remembrance if all it means is that next year, or in ten years time or in a hundred years time we are still honouring the fallen and still sending more people to their deaths?

At Glastonbury this year, I saw Tony Benn giving an alternative Sunday Sermon at the Leftfield tent. Benn is now 82 years old and looked more than a little frail as he was helped onto the stage. He may be frail, but he was as defiant and as opposed to the war in Iraq as ever. He spoke of how his generation had made a promise to our generation that we would never again allow ourselves to send thousands to their death in war. He spoke of how upset and angry he was that this promise had not been kept, and how the British Government had taken the nation into a war that it could not possibly justify.

"I have given up protesting and I have begun DEMANDING."

He's right too. We absolutely should remember those who have been killed in warfare -- on all sides of a conflict -- but we should remember them the most whenever our government is trying to take us into war and honour their memory by doing everything that we can to stop them. As Benn has said, "All war represents a failure of diplomacy". There's always got to be another answer.

There are enough war cemeteries already.

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