Sunday, November 08, 2015

Sunday Reflection spot for Remembrance Sunday 2015

There have been cultures in the world who glorified death in battle. Mostly a long time ago.

The classical Roman poet Horace coined the phrase Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori which can be roughly translated into English as: "It is sweet and glorious to die for one's country."

A view best known now for being memorably debunked by Great War poet Wilfred Owen.

However proud we British are of keeping a stiff upper lip, and however much we venerate those who show bravery, most of us just don't think that the idea of a glorious death in battle is anything to aim for. Henry V was one of the most ruthless killers ever to rule this country, but when he made him a hero, Shakespeare presented him as wanting to win the battle and come safe home.

And of course Wellington said after Waterloo, having seen the battlefield strewn with all the bodies of the fine men who had died on both sides, that "Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won."

I have always found the imagery of Remembrance Sunday and Armistice day very powerful in emphasising the cost of war. It's not about glory, but about cost, and one paid in a currency more valuable than money: the cost of war is paid in lives.

My grandfather served in the Army medical corps during the first world war and was lucky enough to come back. His younger brother didn't.

Lancashire fusilier Robert Whiteside was 18 years old, when he died just six weeks before the end of the war, His name does not appear on his home town's war memorial in Bold Venture Park, Darwen because there were too many names to fit them all on it. Twelve hundred people from that town, mostly young men like himself, were killed during the first world war.

That story used to hurt when I was a young single man. As we get closer to the 100th anniversary of the event, and as my son gets closer to the same age at which my great-uncle was killed, the thought of all those young men being mown down like wheat by machine guns and artillery gets more and more unbearable to think about.

I am not, and will never be, a pacifist. There is too much evil in the world for us to be able to pretend that our country will ever be safe unless we are prepared to defend it. But nobody should ever go to war unless it is absolutely necessary and all reasonable alternatives have been exhausted, and when we do have to fight a war we should do everything possible to ensure that the tally of deaths and suffering among those who are defending our country is kept as low as possible.

We must remember today all those who have died as a result of war. And as we think particularly of those who gave their lives defending our country, we must remember that our present freedom and prosperity was purchased at a price beyond what any person can possibly fully understand. 

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