Imagine you were taking part in a memorial event to commemorate people killed in road accidents.
You suggest that the event should include time to think about why so many people die on the roads, and ways to prevent road accidents in future. You are immediately shouted down, told you are insulting the dead by talking about the causes of their deaths.
You say you want to remember all people killed or injured on the road but you are shouted down again. You are told that only drivers should be remembered, and only British drivers at that.
This scenario sounds ludicrous, but it is played out every year in the run-up to Remembrance Day, when we are told to remember people killed in war – as long as we don’t mention the war.
The Royal British Legion – self-appointed “custodians of remembrance” – launched their Red Poppy Appeal today. They are using the slogan “Rethink Remembrance” but very little rethinking seems to have taken place. The Legion talk of supporting “a new generation of veterans”. What they don’t mention is that this is due to a new generation of wars. It is absurd to talk of helping people without addressing the causes of their problems. Yet this is the whole ethos of military charities.
The British Legion do help veterans who have been injured in war. But surely such people should be able to rely on a decent welfare state. The UK government has been slashing social security while maintaining the fifth highest military budget in the world.
When ministers calculate the costs of going to war, they don’t need to add in many costs for supporting the wounded, as they can be dumped on eager charities such as the British Legion. It is difficult to imagine war being funded the other way around – the government supporting wounded veterans while charities rattle tins to fund Eurofighters and Trident missiles.
Today, over 90% of people killed in war are civilians. But apparently civilians don’t count. The Legion are quite explicit about it: Remembrance is only for armed forces personnel from the UK and allied states.
Why are civilians not worthy of Remembrance? People killed in Coventry, Liverpool or Belfast – or Dresden, Baghdad and Kabul?
At the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), we are campaigning to “Remember Them All“ – all victims of war of all nationalities. Why should I care only about people who happen to have been born in the same country as me? Why not only those born in the same town? Or only my own family? Or only myself? This is the logical conclusion of this approach.
The British Legion’s own publicity gives the game away. Their poster advertising poppy-themed jewellery (yes, really) encourages people to “support members of the British armed forces, past, present and future”.
This is not about helping the victims of war. It is about supporting the armed forces as an institution and promoting a militarist view of the world. The Legion implies that all British troops killed in war have died fighting for “freedom and democracy”. Let’s not forget that the Legion accepts sponsorship from arms firms such as Lockheed Martin.
The British Legion is not an apolitical charity. It is a militarist lobby group funded by arms dealers.
To remember the past is to think about it, to learn from it, to consider changing in the light of what you learn.
So let’s do some real remembering this year. You can wear a White Poppy, which stands for remembrance of all victims of all wars. It also represents a commitment to peace and a rejection of militarism.
If you’re organising a Remembrance event in your community, you can make sure it’s explicit in remembering people of all nationalities. You can help victims of current wars, such as so many people in Yemen, by joining in campaigns to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
We don’t have to go along with the hypocrisy festival as we approach Remembrance Day. We can speak up for different values, wear White Poppies, challenge militarism, stand for peace. We can Remember Them All.