I don’t do much political ranting on here these days. What’s the point? There are hundreds, if not thousands, of voices like mine shouting their protests vainly into the tornado as our political leaders stumble towards a catastrophic no-deal Brexit. Who cares what I think?
Do I even have the right to express an opinion on Remembrance Day? I gave the 8YO a quid to get a poppy from school this week, but the poppy sellers didn’t come round that day and she lost the coin anyway. And to be honest, my interest in pinning a bit of red paper to my coat fizzled out at that point. So if you think that non-poppy-wearers are a disgrace to the memory of the fallen, you may as well stop reading now, because the following is the musings of a non-poppy-wearing unpatriotic citizen of nowhere.
But earlier this evening I saw something which brought me up short. Emmanuel Macron tweeted this picture of himself and Angela Merkel at Compiegne, with one word: Unis.
What gets me about this picture is the thought that a century ago – in fact, as recently as 1945 the German and French governments were sworn enemies. One a country kicking out the invading force, the other a beaten occupying army in retreat. And now look. Arm in arm, their two leaders commemorating those who lost their lives, with a commitment to never letting it happen again. Unis.
To me, that’s what Remembrance should be about. I’d be a whole lot more enthusiastic about wearing a poppy if it seemed to embody a wholehearted affirmation that the wars that tore our continent apart in the twentieth century must never be allowed to happen again.
But the tragic thing is, I don’t see that in Britain. I see Macron and Merkel, united in honouring the human losses both their countries suffered. And I see Theresa May, attending the same ceremony but standing apart, laying wreaths with quotes from Binyon’s ‘For the Fallen’ and Brooke’s ‘The Soldier’ – poems which speak of ‘A richer dust… whom England bore’ ‘hearts at peace under an English heaven’, ‘England mourns for her dead across the sea’… What do those poems tell us about the national approach to remembrance? They seem to imply that our brave lads were somehow better because they were English, even to the point of rotting down into a better quality dust than that nasty French soil, that it’s only the English victims who are worth mourning. and that the afterlife, if it’s worth having, will probably involve tea on the lawn at an English manor house.
You may say these are just poems and they don’t matter. But we live in a soundbite age. Poems, like political slogans, provide the easily remembered catchphrases that reassure us that more detailed analysis is not needed. “At the setting of the sun, we will remember them” – nice and easy to trip off the tongue, isn’t it? A bit like ‘Brexit means Brexit”. And this is what bothers me about the way we commemorate Remembrance Day. It’s not about coming together with our neighbours to reflect on the human cost on both sides, and committing to peace. It’s the sentiment behind this lot,
stuffed into a cheap black suit and wearing a poker face during the two minutes silence before carrying on telling jokes about the French running away from the Germans in 1939. We other and belittle and mock our nearest neighbours, and approach Brexit negotiations as if they’re fundamentally untrustworthy opponents rather than people just like us. Which seems to me a sure fire way of guaranteeing more conflict with other nations in future. Hardly a fitting tribute to the fallen.
If you’re interested, fellow blogger Lit.Gaz has done a really interesting series of posts on the impact of the First World War on other European countries – you can read the first one here.
7 thoughts on “‘Unis’”
Brilliantly put! The picture of Merkel and Macron brought tears to my eyes. France and Germany have been fighting forever, probably since the Carolingians carved up their empire into East and West Francia, so to see the two leaders standing together like that was beautiful and summed up what Remembrance should be.
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Absolutely. And yet today I’ve been told that that photo was ‘vomit inducing’ and ‘fake’. By people who admiringly watch the remembrance parades on TV and ‘honour’ the dead. I despair sometimes.
What’s vomit inducing is seeing Blair laying a wreath while sending off young people to die in Iraq and May with her wreath, while supporting the sale of arms to the Saudis, not caring how many innocents die in Yemen.
Some may think I’m being naive, but I think that there was a real determination by France and Germany that things would be different after 1945, an idea shared with other countries as the European project. And there has been peace and co-operation for over seventy years. I don’t think we, on our island, have ever understood this or committed ourselves to it, which is a great pity, and our loss.
I didn’t see the Merkel and Macron meeting yesterday, but the photo is very powerful, and says so much. You will not remember it, but it reminds me of a similar gesture by the then German chancellor in 1970, who, on a visit to the Warsaw Ghetto, unexpectedly went down on his knees in front of the monument.
Your piece said much with feeling, and I agree with your sentiments. I have posted my latest piece on the armistice, and now hope to turn my thoughts to other things.
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Thank you. Your series of posts about the impact of the war really brought it home to me how little we stop to consider what it must have been like for French, Belgian, German people etc during the war. We talk as if we’re the only ones who suffered and lost loved ones, and I find that terribly sad.
Kirsty, I so much admire this piece. I deliberately have not posted anything about the mega (celebrations as some would have it) remembrance events this year. I have deliberately not worn a poppy for the first time in my life, rather hoping that someone would challenge me.
I do not have to prove my service, or generosity, or charitable works, or beliefs, or allegiances, and no-one should.
I am heartily sick of those who instantly judge others, no matter what the circumstances. There seem to be so many now who are senseless, heartless, gutless individuals who espouse freedom of speech, and actions, but who instantly shout down anyone who has an opinion, or lifestyle, that does not comply with their own bigoted views.
You may have seen babbitman’s post today. If not, the link, via my re blog, is here:
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thanks Peter. I put some money in a collection tin today but didn’t take a poppy. Supporting veterans is a worthy cause, but I am increasingly put off by the implication that the British fallen are the only ones worth remembering. If I felt the poppy was a sign of honouring all the casualties, military and civilian, British, French, German, Dutch, Russian – then I’d wear it without hesitation. But it just seems to be about reinforcing division and jingoism.
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