Alternative Remembrance Sunday 2014. Tavistock Square, London.

Peace Pledge Union Peaceowrks Peace Passage London N7 0BT

Remembrance Sunday is a day for hindsight and one of the few times this country thinks about it’s past.

Hindsight can be useful, it can help us to reflect, or to understand events that are distant to us in space and time. It can let us think about the causes and effects of events in a way that people living through them couldn’t.

But hindsight is tricky and a fickle master. This year we’ve seen militarists try to return us to a simplistic, patriotic view of the war. To re-write history to ignore the slaughter and the failure of the “War to End all Wars”, returning us to the idea that the war was a noble struggle and a great sacrifice. An inevitable and unavoidable tragedy, perhaps - but still a necessary one.

The same hindsight tells us in the peace movement that the wars we’re here to remember weren’t inevitable. We can look back at 1914 and see every error, every misstep and every deliberate decision that led Europe into a conflict that remains unresolved in it’s effects around the world.

Ben Copsey at Remembrance Day event, London
That war ended on a date so poetic that it sometimes feels inevitable as well - the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. There’s a solemnity about that - a choice to announce an armistice - but no ones allowed to ask why it couldn’t have been earlier. A day for the nation to commemorate the war dead, falling on that strangely poetic date, shifted to the Sunday nearest for that most tragic of reasons - to make space to commemorate another war.

But while remembrance day seems so inevitable now, it need not have been. The 11th of November 1913 was just another day. The 11th of November 1914 was another day of war. Not yet a war that had engulfed the world in it’s fury, and not yet the carnage and slaughter that brings us here today. I doubt another imperial scuffle that might have been known as the second Franco Prussian War would have needed a national day of mourning.

But why am I making you stand here and listen to me talk about alternate history?

Well, I believe that if you can look back and see a different way of doing things, a different history, we can say that the one we have was not inevitable, not necessary - that there could have been a different way.

I think that’s the thing about war. If it’s not an inevitable answer to a question, then it doesn’t have to happen. War isn’t an uncontrollable natural force. It doesn’t break out like a wild animal, but is instead let out by the actions of individuals and governments. If war isn’t inevitable, if it is a choice, then it can be stopped, it can be ended, and it can be avoided.

I want to finish by nothing that it’s only recently that Britain has gathered on a Sunday in November to think about the past. For many years, remembering the First World War was about hoping for the future.

Hope, for a world at peace and without war was then tempered by a dedication to do something to achieve that aim, something that we, no matter how comfortable we are with thinking about the past, should all try to emulate.

I always rely on the words of Conscientious Objectors - they could write far better and far more eloquently than I can. Clifford Allen, head of the No Conscription Fellowship, wrote in 1920 of the work that lay ahead of the peace movement. He said:

“Throughout the war we have stood for the brotherhood of man, and in the name of that ideal have resisted conscription. We now reaffirm our unity of aim with those in all countries who have given their lives that they might serve the cause of freedom, but declare our belief that it is not by bloodshed that freedom can be won or militarism destroyed.

It is in this spirit that we go forth to meet new tasks, confident that through it’s long and bitter suffering, mankind must yet come into the way of love”

See Ben on conscientious objection