On 11 November 1918 hostilities between the Great Powers ceased, ending the War to End all Wars – which was really the culmination of many previous conflicts and the preamble to many more. Europe had been torn asunder, and millions of lives had been lost, and millions more were left in ruins. One year after the slaughter had ended the first Armistice Day was held in honour of those who had fallen. It was a collective attempt to meditate on the destruction and the futility of war. For the best part of a century the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month has been held as a quasi-sacred memorial not merely to remember the dead, but to engrave into the national psyché the true cost and horror of war. Almost one hundred years on this great memory has been forgotten.

As an awardee of an In Flanders Fields academic fellowship I feel uniquely qualified to speak about the 1914-18 war. Admittedly I have never been a soldier, but then one does not need to have fired a gun or taken another’s life to have learned the lesson that violence must always be the very last resort in international relations. Having spent hours poring over the names of dead soldiers – professionals and conscripts alike – I am acutely aware of the needlessness of their deaths. They were victims not of a foreign despot, as the Kaiser was no different from the King in his imperial ambitions, but of their own nation’s callous disregard for their lives.

Today, regardless of what we think we are doing, we are not remembering the dead of that horrific war. The so-called ‘Great War’ is now all but beyond the horizon of living memory. Instead we are sharing in – not remembering – an imagined past; a glorious celebration of invented heroes who serve only to justify more modern, less morally justifiable wars – land and resource grabs. Such people are not heroes. They have not saved the world. Rather they are victims of their own government’s greed. It is right that we must remember their victimhood and their loss. We ought to think of those who have fought, and those who now live with the damage of having served. We should remember them, and remember also who sent them and who now leaves their care to charity.

Our meaningless floral tribute – this tired red little poppy – has become one of the most disturbing symbols of racism and intolerance imaginable. Now that Britain’s eyes have fallen on the wealth of the Middle East again, the Muslims of Britain are being ever so gently forced to wear the poppy. Muslim women in particular are being pushed to prove their allegiance by wearing a poppy hijab. Why Muslim women? We should spend some time thinking on this. Thinking, after all, is all that we can do. Speaking out against the poppy agenda is now a culture crime, and Britain’s celebrities are keen to tell us to shut up. Lest we think.

Jason Michael
Blog Author

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