For nearly 100 years, with only a break between 1939 and 1945, on the morning of a day each November people have gathered at the Cenotaph in London and at war memorials around the country to lay wreaths of red poppies and stand silent for two minutes. For many today these ceremonies are as baffling as are the events at the beginning of the last century that brought them into being - events which ushered in the most violent century in human history and which continue to shape not only the world we live in but many of the ways we view the world.
Few people are interested in remembrance ceremonies today despite the considerable promotion on television and in some of the press; even fewer know what they are about. Some, like the British Legion which sees itself as the 'custodian of remembrance', want to retain them and are keen that young people 'remember'. Others think it is an outdated ceremony of no significance. Ministers have regularly discussed ending the official ceremonies which many see as oudated and irelevant. Yet others believe that an annual event which focuses attention on the means and actions needed to remove the causes of war, rather than offering a cosmetic cover for past wars and atrocities thus justifying the suffering of those who went to fight, would be a more fitting lesson.
So what is this 85 year old ceremony about, why do people persist with it, insist on its importance and try to revive interest in it? Is it really important, or do some people have special reasons for maintaining it? Why are its promoters so keen to involve young people? Why are other people critical of it and why does this criticism stir up strong and even violent feelings in some people?
To answer these questions we need to look at the origins of Remembrance Day, look at why the 11th November became a significant day. We'll start at the beginning.
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"The Legion is committed to ensuring that the ‘Torch of Remembrance’ is passed on to today’s school children. Our children are the world’s future - it is important that they understand the lessons of history so that the same mistakes may never be repeated." BL 2005
What exactly does all this mean? What is the 'Torch of Remembrance' and why should we care about it? What are the 'lessons of history' and which lessons should we 'understand'? What mistakes should not be repeated? Behind this bland statement lie the politics of war.