No matter what you believe about war, no matter your politics or your faith or your moral code, it is impossible to be unaffected by the importance of remembering sacrifice.
Does the justification, or lack of, for a war make a difference to the courage and self-giving shown by those who were ordered to fight and die for their country? I don’t think it does. Millions of men and women have died doing what they were told by people who believed they knew what they were doing. It’s undeniable that their deaths had a huge impact on the lives they left behind.
I make no secret of the fact that I think war is wrong, in any circumstance. It is hard, especially in the light of the revolutions this summer, to decide whether I believe that fighting can ever be justifiable, but my core belief is that no one should ever make a decision which another person pays for with their life.
But those lives were paid, and their sacrifice is overwhelming. Not just the soldiers who daily faced and still face the kind of horror I can’t even imagine, but the medics who put themselves at risk to save lives, the engineers who constantly battle to make life a bit safer, the civilians who stood up against dictators, the innocent people who were simply in the wrong place.
No one can say how they would react if they were transplanted from their safe, comfortable life and dropped into the sort of situation that people in Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, Syria or the Sudan have to deal with. I don’t know where I would be if my life had taken a different path. Perhaps my views would be the same. Perhaps they wouldn’t. There is no objectively right answer to the problems the world faces. War is one of the answers we’re trying. I wish it wasn’t. I acknowledge that it is.
Last night I had a disagreement with someone who felt that my talk of white poppies as pacifist poppies was insulting, both to those who choose to wear red poppies and those who died or lost someone in conflict. She felt that by choosing not to wear a red poppy I was simultaneously denying that those who do might themselves be against war, and also refusing to respect the people who are remembered today.
I don’t agree, but I can’t say that she is wrong – if she felt insulted, then by definition my decision was insulting, to at least one person. This year I don’t have a white poppy – I haven’t seen one for sale, and I can’t find the one I was given last year – so I am not wearing one. But I observed a five minute silence at eleven o’clock. I prayed for peace and for the memory of everyone who has died in wars. When we sing the requiem mass on Sunday, I won’t just be thinking about the notes on the page.
Life is a mass of contradictions and all I know is this – I believe war is wrong. I am grateful to live in a democratic country, where I can rely on the safety of myself, my friends, my family and everyone I meet. I understand the reasons for the wars that have been fought, and are being fought. I can’t think of a magic alternative.
It is an emotive issue and it’s hard to debate objectively, without taking offence or becoming defensive. But if we stop asking the questions because they’re too hard, if we just blindly accept the choices that our governments make in our names, if we make a show of respect and patriotism but do nothing towards preventing future conflict, then remembrance will mean nothing.