Mawkish Remembrance?

Posted: 11 November 2018 in Cultural, Understanding Others
Tags: , , , ,
WW1 dog tags.jpg

Grandfather’s dog-tags

It is an odd thing: the British Empire’s first shots against Germany were in Africa (Togo).  And last shots were in Africa (Tanzania).  Remember, remember the eleventh of November.  What do we remember?  Neither Togo not Tanzania spring to mind, do they?  Alongside the grieving, for many nations there were hopes in that season.

I felt quite emotional today.  But that was because in my head I am remembering not just those of my family who saw active service in The Great War – but those who were drawn into “round two” as well? I suppose it was a kind of grieving for family members past and passing.

“Isn’t this all getting a bit mawkish” noted a good friend of mine the other day.  Jeremy Paxman today says it is “we have become an angry nation, a people in search of unity and purpose.”  There is something in that, the collective sense of loss: empire, prestige, even loss of Europe.

There is another take on Armistice Day.  One preached on this morning.  Armistice as the beginning of hope.  Hey hope.  No – don’t skip “Series Two” and fast forward to 1936 or 1939.  New national pride for Canadian, NZ and Australian armies.  New freedom for Czechs, Romanians, Croats, Arabs (Saudis, Iraqis), Latvians, Finns, Irish, etc.  My wife’s grandfather returned from Chicago to a newly liberated Poland and set up a farm.  Good for him.  The hope generated for the Indians, Syrians, West Indians – was premature, sure.  The League of Nations – a hope kindled, but later stifled.  To come to life later, again.

Yes, we are too mawkish and fail to ask the right question.  During WW1, PM Lloyd George looked to a post war with “homes fit for heroes”.  During WW2, Beveridge planned for “the welfare state”.  In the face of the current crisis in UK, what are we seeking?  To cast aside the prevailing pessimism and mental impotence?  For those of us who are Christians, to say for humankind things seems impossible.  High standards, public decency and idealism pushed aside.  But with God’s grace – great things are possible.

What would you have done?
Looking back, the question is being asked “what would you have done?”  You cannot tell – till the crunch comes.  Motives are usually mixed, but this I do know:

  • My mother volunteered (to fight against fascists) out of idealism, Spanish Army Education Corps ‘36-39
  • My father volunteered to enlist give up his reserved occupation after the death in combat of a friend (Royal Signals ‘43-27)
  • My father-in-law volunteered to enlist, out of revenge for his family’s losses (Polish Parachute Brigade ‘43-47)
  • My mother-in-law volunteered to enlist, out of desire to escape poverty and danger (Poles in German labour battalions ‘42-45)

Certainly, none were heroes, but the examples seem good.  That question?  It is both personal and political.  But the better question is not “what would you have done” but “what am I doing?”  And more personal still is Jesus asking “what will you do?



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