I have a long-held and deeply sympathetic understanding of the issues raised by Simon Jenkins (Too much remembering causes wars. It’s time to forget the 20th century, 9 November). However, my experience of conducting annual services of remembrance for over 40 years has left me with other responses today. I found that after many such services, when we went to the Royal British Legion club, the men and women who had personal experience of war and terrors of war were always very pleased to hear me speak the message that our remembering is a valid activity, even for those can’t actually remember because of their age. The young still remember how their parents and grandparents felt because of this.
The deeper issue is that we need to salute the sacrifice of the fallen and injured which so shaped the 20th and 21st centuries by making it our determination to secure peace as their lasting memorial. At such services, we find politicians of different parties standing side by side. We find leaders of once rival churches leading services together. We find Jewish and Asian and Caribbean people who can connect with the past and share with us the future. This mutual respect is a sign of hope, not war, and we can find in it renewal for our future vision. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana (1863-1952).
Prebendary Neil Richardson
• Simon Jenkins’ excellent article takes aim perhaps at slightly the wrong target. People need history as individuals need memory. But where Simon is resoundingly right is in condemning simplistic, partisan versions of the past, which have encouraged violence from Northern Ireland to Myanmar. The most egregious, catastrophic case, as Simon’s Dunkirk example shows, is the bellicose anti-European distortion of the second world war – the Blitz, “we fought alone”, the mirage of the Anglophone world. The most obvious example of a nationalistic, ignorant, isolationist misinterpretation of our 20th century history was the myth that determined the referendum on Brexit.
Long Hanborough, Oxfordshire
• Re Simon Jenkins’ one line on the Scottish independence issue being “congeries of past slights and indignities”, perhaps he should reflect on the fact that the English are dragging Scotland out of the EU against the clear wishes of 62% of the nation that was Scotland, giving the Scots a feeling that they are a puppet state of England. If England drags Scotland (and Northern Ireland) out of the EU, and the UK breaks up as a direct result, please reflect on this recent history of past slights and indignities that was directly caused by the English not understanding this was a very real trampling of the Scottish population’s wishes to remain a part of a collective Europe. Many in Northern Ireland, where there was a 60% remain vote, feel the same way. Please stop article 50 now and just hope the 27 will forgive you.
Thomas Roy Waller
• It would be a sign of our country’s maturity and compassion if 11 November would be a Remembrance Day for the lives lost by all countries in war. During the second world war, worldwide an estimated 80 million people, including 50 million civilians, died, in the fighting or from war-related diseases and famine. We suffered more than 450,000 deaths while about six million Germans and up to 25 million Russians died. By recognising and remembering that people of all nations suffer, as much or more than ourselves, we might fight for peace a little harder the next time our leaders tell us that we have enemies in some far-off land.
• Simon Jenkins seems to forget that there have been other wars since those against Germany. My son is a serving soldier. He knows people who have died on active service and takes Remembrance Day very seriously. He is not just remembering those who died a long time ago, but people who died very recently. He has no intention of dying for his country if he can help it, but has said that if he found himself about to lose his life because his country has sent him to fight, it would mean something to know that his country would remember him. If there are men and women ready to risk their lives because the British government has told them it is what their country demands, it does not seem to be asking a lot for Simon Jenkins to spend two minutes in silence to respect the sacrifice of those who died.
• My father was killed on the first day of the kamikaze attacks at Penang in 1945. My mother bought a Datsun car in 1970 and from that day on we decided to forget and look to the future. So as Simon Jenkins suggests, let’s change Remembrance Day 2018 to a day of forgetting and moving on.
• Simon Jenkins no doubt has a point about an obsession with the second world war and Nazis to the exclusion of other history – that of colonialism and imperial wars for example. It is hardly time, though, to forget all about the second world war. My late father fought at Monte Cassino in 1944 and saw some of his comrades die there. A lifelong socialist, he would invariably wear a poppy on Remembrance Sunday. He wasn’t interested in Tory flag-waving. His concern, as when he was to be found on Anti-Nazi League protests in his later years, was to make sure that the industrial scale of murder represented by the Holocaust was both never forgotten and never repeated.
• Forgetting past wars led to Brexit. The biggest success of the EU has been no wars between member states, yet those wars that occurred before its formation are so completely forgotten they were hardly mentioned in the Brexit campaigns.
• Visiting the Bomber Command memorial in London, I chanced upon a particularly poignant inscription on a conventional small wooden cross surmounted by a red poppy: “Remembering our father, who left his beautiful island home to serve in the RAF.” Year of death was 1943. The island? Trinidad. By chance, a group of young Germans were nearby with whom I attempted to convey my emotions and the irony of much black British experience in the subsequent 50 years. I shall wear red with white and brave any ignorant jingoism.
Rev Paul Newman
• It is worth remembering that what we now term “war memorials” were originally called “peace memorials”, that the white poppies of the Peace Pledge Union (www.ppu.org.uk) bear the simple motto “Peace” and that the original red poppies carried the injunction “Never Again”. All surely forward-looking sentiments designed to facilitate what he rightly enjoins us to do when Jenkins says, “It is time to remember the future.”
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