Well, is anyone else having a hangover? This, after all, is the day after. All over Britain, people of all ages could be observed last weekend pinning poppies on their apparel, in observance or remembrance of . . . what? War? The end or the ends of it? The heroes who fought battles or those who forged peace? Or did they simply try to remember to bin that doubtful ornament of imitation flora once Remembrance Sunday had made way for another week of everydays? The period of oblivion has set in as scheduled. No doubt, the swastikas splashed days earlier on the local cenotaph here in Aberystwyth have long been expunged.
It seems that, instead of looking around, we tend to look back, probably without learning a thing about our present selves. As I tried to express it when last we were through observing Armistice Day, I am ill at ease about those fixed periods set aside for collective reflection. Not that there are any memorials in Germany, where I grew up, an absence of tributes that serves as a reminder to me that what is to be brought chiefly to mind here is national honor, not international horrors.
I am uneasy, too, when faced with responses to war as expressed by one of the readers (of this recent journal entry) with whom pride seems to go before considerations about those who fall on the other side. As the current conflict in Iraq demonstrates, blind followers are still falling for the kind of arguments for which thousands must fall, determined to stick to their guns no matter how devastating their discharges have proven to be.
Here in Britain, big gun names are being rolled out for the occasion, dropped like bombs whose aim it is to awe rather than make a political impact. Such, at least, is the rationale behind the decisions of those who stage the ratings war. Daniel Radcliffe, for instance, who is best known for having landed the title role in the Harry Potter series, appeared last night in the television drama My Boy Jack, playing the teenage son of Rudyard Kipling, the patriotic author who used his pull to push his offspring into battle, despite the young man’s visual impairment. Private Potter did not even have to drop his trademark eyewear.
Now, I chose not to follow this televised memorial on ITV. I decided instead to screen Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), which, rather than seeming dated or coming across like a costume drama, has lost none of its documentarian urgency, couched as its pacifist message is in symbolism. Unlike “Armistice Day,” a sentimental radio play of the same period (brought to you courtesy of OTRCat.com), All Quiet still asks the questions we must insist on asking ourselves: Why and what ought we to remember? What are the agenda of those who recall, those who call on us to hear roll calls?
Too apt to look upon history as representations of what is dead, gone, and past restoring, we fail to take note of the dying of our days, the necrology of our present lives, and the deaths that are owing to our blindness and silence.