There is much to bemoan about modern politics. While some of said lamentations are trite and juvenile and irritating, others really do ring true. Yesterday, on Remembrance Sunday, a complaint that belongs in the latter category reared its ugly head. Namely, that nothing is sacred anymore, not even Remembrance Sunday.
On this hallowed day, on which the nation comes together, transcending political divides, to recognise and pay homage to the sacrifices made by several million brave young men, the Labour MP for London chose not to add their voice to the chorus of thanks and admiration one might expect, or even to elect to stay silent (the name of the game in this particular national event).
No, instead they undertook, not the day after or they day before, but on Remembrance Sunday itself to launch into a polemic about the merits and demerits (needless to their article really only included the former) of the First World War. It is very easy to critique and cavil, like an armchair general, 100 years hence, and post said emanations online without a second thought.
It is obscenely easy, in fact. What is less easy, however, is to sacrifice one’s life in defence of one’s nation, to risk life and limb in the battlefield, hundreds of miles away from the comforts of home, in many cases not because of conscription but voluntarily, with zeal and a sense of righteousness. Over 700,000 British servicemen died throughout the course of the war, a war which cannot and must not be reviled or reduced to being the fault of wicked politicians. Because of their ultimate heroism, Britain and Europe are recognisable to us today.
To paint the First World War as the unqualified fault of venal, callous and warmongering politicians, both foreign and domestic, is to tar each and every soldier who in 1914 felt sufficiently inspired, as vast swathes of young British men did, to enlist in the armed forces, with the condescending and ahistorical brush of naivety. To say in such manifest terms that the war was a foolish endeavour and one that should never have happened, implies, grotesquely, that those who heeded their nation’s call and paid the very highest price were wrong to do so. To say that they died on a politicians whim is not only a grave misunderstanding of the war, but undermines every stoic reason we remember these fathers, sons and brothers.
It denies agency to those who made the conscious choice to defend what they knew and loved, and while there must always be room for reasoned and robust debate, such discussions must be done with nuance and consideration, and not on Remembrance Sunday.
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