Thursday, November 07, 2013
I understand. Before I go any further however, let me give you a sketch of a CV ... just so no one else misunderstands anything I'm about to tell you.
I am a long service veteran, now retired. I have served the same sovereign in three naval services. I have fought in two clearly definable wars, both of them much smaller in scale than either the Great War 1914 - 1918 or the 2nd World War 1939 - 1945. In fact, both were shorter in duration and the expenditure of resources than the Korean conflict. I have served on peacekeeping missions during which I saw some of the horrors humanity can serve upon itself when the distinction of power is reduced to possessing a bag or bags of UN distributed flour. I have been called upon to engage in "discrete" operations which were no less than close quarters combat engagements with an enemy intent on preventing me from completing the task I was attempting to undertake. I have had young men under my command killed in action and more wounded in action. I was wounded during an engagement. I have shared the post-combat depressions which plagued most of the people with whom I have served.
During all of this, I can't ever recall reminding myself how I had signed up to do these things for my country or your freedoms. That may have been a corollary effect, but believe that you were never on my mind - at least not in any guiding sense. My motivation came from pride in my fighting comrades, my ship, my commando or that larger organization which gave me the strength of an established unit. It came from a sense of belonging - belonging to something uniquely distinct from the mainstream of the society from which I had emerged. And there were occasions when my motivation was purely self-preservation.
So, Remembrance Day. What would I expect you to do?
How about, whatever makes you feel comfortable. If I choose to attend a ceremony and demonstrate remembrance for my fallen comrades does not mean I expect you to do the same. In fact, you can't. I can no more tell you what a trench in 1916 Ypres was like than you can tell me what it was like spending months away from home with my finger on the trigger during the Cold War. I spend more than a single day remembering the things that culminate in Remembrance Day. I would be close to accurate if I told you I think about my fallen mates every single day of my life. You can't possibly do that, nor should any rational person expect you to.
Do I expect you to stand there on a cold November day for me or my comrades' benefit? No, I do not.
A huge number of you wear a paper poppy. That little bit of time you took to pin it on and the contribution you made to get it is enough for me. To know that for a moment you participated in a small gesture and wear that little emblem demonstrates all that I need to know. You do understand and you're showing it.
Does this mean I don't want you to attend a Remembrance Day ceremony? Far from it. I would love to see huge crowds at every cenotaph in the country. If, however, you cannot do so, or feel uncomfortable or inconvenienced it's just fine if you don't attend. No one can force you and you should not feel pressured just because somebody else thinks it's "proper". Remembrance is a personal thing and you can do it any way you like. Sometimes that will be the thought you feel when you remove that paper poppy from your coat.
A group we can guarantee will attend Remembrance Day ceremonies will be the politicians. Unlike you, they participate for completely different reasons. While my words to you, in this post, are provided in absolute sincerity, Part 2 will address the cadre of politicians who are there to gain political traction.