It is customary in my country, on Remembrance Day, to wear a red poppy to commemorate the fallen in war, with donations channeled to dependants and veterans. To observe remembrance is a mark of respect. For many, it is also an expression of gratitude.
Some people, however, decline to observe the tradition, on principle. They may believe that war should be lamented, not tacitly condoned. Some will stress that not only on active service are people killed or harmed in wars. Many children, women and men are innocent victims of the combatants commemorated with poppies. Celebrating the poppy could look like acquiescing in a deceptive idea of war as a noble activity allegedly in service of a free and democratic society.
As for poppy revenues to support the survivors, surely anyone who sacrifices life, limb, or family provider, for the sake of their country, is owed much more than a token donation once a year.
Although I choose not to wear a poppy for a cluster of reasons like those, I would not criticise others who do wear one, or try to persuade them not to. What does seem to me a fitting response to Remembrance Day is to seek to widen our horizons and to remember so much more.
Yet the scale and depth of the horrors of war being perpetrated around the world, and in so many places – relentlessly continuing even in the very moment you read and I write this – defy human imagination. Each and every one of the inumerable lives lost is of a person like you or me, or any of our loved ones.
In the moments of quiet reflection, as symbolised by our two minutes collective silence each year, each of us will be drawn into our own more personal remembrance.
My twentieth century forbears who suffered and died for the cause of war are remembered now as relatively distant victims of that evil racket. I feel today more keenly the pain of those whose loved ones were so lately ripped from them.
For they shall grow not old as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them.
Nor the years condemn…
And in remembering them, is there proud thanksgiving? Those of us whose regimes support the bringers of death – the firers of mortars, the assassins, the terrorists – we have no grounds for pride. The humanity in us would have us bow our heads before the families of those cruelly taken, as we honour their right to be proud and thankful for the loved ones they now must mourn.
Commemorated in the photographs
Noor and her baby boy Riad were sister and nephew of Ghoufran Derawan, a teacher and journalist living in Damascus. They were killed when a Damascus restaurant was struck by a terrorist mortar. On the morning that I contacted Ghoufran for permission to post the picture, a terrorist mortar exploded outside her house. Some streets away, another mortar had just struck yet another restaurant, with lethal effects. Why do killers that our nations support with money, arms and training target restaurants and residential areas?
Serena Shim, the journalist, reported for Press TV on the smuggling of Western arms from Turkey to Syrian terrorists. Shortly afterwards, she died in unexplained circumstances. Can any bearers of arms, even in legitimate forces, claim greater courage than is shown by those rare few who seek and expose the truth, even in the face of lethal threats?
Abdullah Issa, a twelve-year old boy, was beheaded by the men in the photograph moments after it was taken. Those men are supported by NATO and Gulf states as ‘moderate rebels’. How did we come to have people like this as our allies?
Remembering those who remain
The custom is to observe two minutes silence in remembrance of those lost to the world. Let us also remember those who survive. Here is a message that has lived in my heart ever since hearing this boy from Aleppo, speaking after its liberation from the control of the terrorists. He is telling the rest of the world what he would wish for us:
Thanks go to Ghoufran Derawan, Carla Ortiz and all those in Syria, and their friends beyond, who have held firm to the inestimable value of human life.