Memorials War; or, Names Are Dropped Faster Than Guns

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.

2 Replies to “Memorials War; or, Names Are Dropped Faster Than Guns”

  1. Well, I started to post on your comments about Paul Tibbet, but decided to hold off because like you I am uneasy with anything war. I was an activist during the sixties surrounding the unjustness of the Vietnam war.But I do feel that your are approaching Memorial day from a perspective that can only lead to the opinions on which you blog. For me, Memorial day is to remember those who died in war – just or not. While I still believe the Vietnam war was wrong, I do have some guilt over the way our boys over there at the time were treated upon their return home. I tear up anytime I visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC, partly from that guilt but mostly from sadness over the loss of those young lives, of which I was a contemporary. If anything, Remembrance Day, Memorial Day, whatever you want to call it is to remember the dead, not honor the wars (\”in observance or remembrance of . . . what? War?\”),World War II was not something we asked for here in America, but something we were forced into dealing with. That we overcame it IS something to be proud of as I think your commenter was trying to say. I am not proud of dropping an atomic bomb on those who are like any where war is – victims – but given the time and the circumstances, perhaps more lives were ultimately saved. That doesn\’t mean I will justify the bomb. I simply choose not to form an opinion on its rightness or wrongness.War is never something most of us want, but when we as citizens are put into it, we do continue to be proud of those who for better or worse HAVE to fight it. True, in Iraq there are those who chose to fight – for me, a mistake, as there was/is no reason for that action. Like Vietnam, it was a war that attempted to dupe the American public into thinking was necessary. I will never be proud of war or remember it. What I will do, however, is be proud of the young men willing to place themselves rightly or wrongly in harm\’s way. It is their deaths – the deaths of young lives wasted that we need to remember. For me Memorial Day is a time to be reminded of the sadness that War inflicts on countries. Even in your home country I honor those who were called upon to fight despite the wrongness of their cause. Bravery is probably not something I could invoke if placed in similar situations. For me, those who can deserve to be remembered.

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  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Jim. In the Tibbets piece, I meant to comment on the insensitivity of the supposed hero; here, I thought about the nature and purposes of remembrance. Honor and bravery are words that trouble me in this context; but I do not mean to advocate disrespect toward those killed in or due to acts of military action.You know that my attitude toward the very concept of nation(alism) is behind this; I do not (do not want, and dread to) to feel pride for the place I happened to be born. After all, the ignorance, docility, or silence of the German people is much to blame for the acts of inhumanities that we should never forget.Meanwhile, I served my country by working 20 months as a nurse rather than training 15 months to kill. At least I was given that choice.

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