Sunday November 14, 2004

It was Remembrance Sunday today, the official day for remembering the ‘fallen in all wars’ which is also commemorated unofficially on November 11, the actual anniversary of the 1918 Armistice. For me, that confuses the issue but I do the best I can and spend a little time on both days in private thought.

To be absolutely honest, I’m not entirely happy with the way things are going with our treatment of Armistice Day. A hint of commercialism is creeping in, which I find distasteful. There’s also an element of coercion becoming evident and that I really don’t like. If I choose to observe Armistice Day that’s fine, but I have no right whatever to condemn those who do not. And, of course, the reverse is true, too.

Patriotism isn’t just about flying the flag, or saluting it.

More importantly it’s about what we do as individuals for our country, and what we think and what we say about it, too, not just at times of special need but every day, as we go about the business of living.

Patriotism ought not to be blind, either. It is no less patriotic to issue just criticism than it is to utter just praise and, in my reckoning, rather more constructive than to adopt a ‘my country, right or wrong’ attitude, even on Armistice Day.

Hey ho. There I was, thinking I wouldn’t write on the subject…

One thing before I do the little shudder of incomprehension thing and move on. I heard today that in all the years since the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall was erected to commemorate the fallen, only one year has passed without a single British fatality on the field of action. The fact was mentioned in a hushed, reverent voice by the BBC commentator while waiting for the ceremony to begin and I received it, initially, in the spirit I was supposed to.

Almost immediately, however, the statement inverted itself in my mind. Looked at from the other side, it means that only one year has passed since 1918 in which successive British Governments haven’t had some element of our armed forces off somewhere, killing people.

I don’t know what to make of that, truly I don’t. I’m quite clear on one thing, however, and it was best expressed by Nurse Edith Cavell during the 1914-18 war: on its own, ‘patriotism is not enough’.



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