Armistice Day on Sunday 11th November 2018 marked one-hundred years since the end of the First World War. This is, as many will already know, when the allied forces of Europe and America made peace with Germany through the creation of an agreement. It was signed in Paris in 1918, on the “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”, finally putting an end to a blood-filled conflict which killed three-quarters of a million Brits on the battlefield – not to mention those who died on the home front.
Remembrance has always been intertwined with this anniversary of the end of WW1, but should it be? Is the goal of remembrance solely to respect the dead of WW1? and if not, then where should we focus remembrance? What is its meaning? For centuries throughout our history, we have been through many large and brutal conflicts: the Wars of the Roses, the English Civil War, the Spanish Armada, the 7 Years’ War, the Napoleonic wars, WW1 and WW2, even those that happened more recently such as the Iraq war. All these wars resulted in large casualties one way or another… should we not then respect them instead of just WW1? Hesitation may be advised when considering this as I’ve found the further back we go, the more morally questionable these wars were, and we therefore disassociate ourselves with them. This shows that a key factor in our remembrance is meaningful war – moments of courage and sacrifice on the battlefield and at home to protect the society we live in today. I would therefore like to argue that remembrance should be expanded beyond WW1, to incorporate all such wars which are not as well represented: WW2 against the Nazis, the Napoleonic Wars against the dictatorship of France and many others within recent history to which we would associate as a ‘just war’.
This question of what we’re remembering in remembrance has taken form in the debate regarding different coloured poppies. Other coloured poppies such as white and purple have relatively recently been created by those who think the red poppy exclusively symbolises British soldiers, some even going to the extent of claiming it glorifies war. The white poppy on the other hand, respects the deaths of all soldiers and the purple specifically towards the deaths of animals. This shows the complexity of remembrance and that whoever people want to respect at remembrance is completely subjective.
How long then is this tradition of remembrance going to last? The enthusiasm held by people regarding remembrance has seemingly fluctuated over the years although it’s recently been on the rise. This said, specificity towards the World Wars and some later, in my opinion, only remains because they’re still within living memory. Soldiers who died in these wars often still have living relatives who knew them and mourn them. To me, this projects a future where this won’t be the case anymore and that the zeal in respecting the dead from these wars will be gone. Despite this pessimistic prediction, I would whole-heartedly encourage all to show some form of participation on Armistice Day, to the respect of the fallen and keeping the tradition alive.