When it comes to remembrance, longevity is fast losing it’s currency. It shouldn’t. But it is. That’s why in recent years I’ve found the usual appointment to view live coverage of the Remembrance Sunday service increasingly difficult to square off.
As fewer and fewer first world war veterans march past the Cenotaph, what are we remembering present day? As the majority experience of war and conflict becomes increasingly more detached from the experience of previous generations, how can a sense of poignancy be maintained? Put more bluntly, given that the experience of war both for personnel and people back home is so very different from that during the First World War, for example, how do we ensure the continued relevance for all to partake in the act of remembrance?
I appreciate the opportunity to pause and reflect. I appreciate the beauty in the architecture of Whitehall and that inherent in the solemnity of the occasion. The ordered lines of smartly dressed people. Political affiliations now seem arbitrary and childish. Everything else in the world is insignificant. But who to remember come 11am?
This year’s TV coverage hit home hard and fast. For 60 seconds a list of all the servicemen and women who have died in service during the past twelve months scrolled past at speed. One thing common to all. All of them were younger than me.
Perhaps that in itself isn’t that much of a surprise. People in the front line aren’t normally that young. They’ve progressed through the ranks. They command units of younger personnel. It’s the one’s in the front line who run the higher risk of losing their lives. People my age are the seniors in the establishment.
But the real clincher is that some of these people are either in their late-teens or early twenties. To me they’ve not yet reached maturity. And yet they’ve committed. They’ve sacrificed themselves. They knew what they were signing up for. And they’ve given of their lives. And at such a hideously young age.
And maybe that is what we should be thinking about more. Maybe that is the reality of present-day war and conflict which is lost on the rest of us back home swamped with media outpourings. Awash with news of injustice, political intrigue and the impact of and constant discussion about the effectiveness of plans to shore up the future economy, the reality of war is lost on the rest of us. Moments like these cut through that white noise and help us focus on the reality.
The reality is they’re youngsters.