Remembrance and truth-telling

By Bernadette Meaden
November 6, 2014

I once heard it said that we will never stop going to war until we have the courage to admit that many of the lives lost are simply wasted, sacrificed for nothing. This is a terrible thing to admit, especially for the bereaved, but if it will prevent other young lives being wasted, isn’t it our duty to face the truth?

The ‘war to end all wars’ patently did not. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. All the parts of the British Empire that young men fought to keep eventually gained their independence.

How many young soldiers have been sent to die in a doomed or deceitful cause? This is in no way to disrespect their courage or their sacrifice, in fact it is to see them as victims not only of the ‘enemy’ but of a system in their own country that holds their lives far too cheap, placing them in harm’s way often for dubious reasons.

An excellent two-part BBC documentary, ‘Afghanistan: The Lion’s Last Roar?’ recently examined British involvement in Afghanistan. With troops heavily committed to Iraq, some commentators felt that to go back to Afghanistan in 2006 would overstretch the Army, but it was alleged that other considerations came into play.

The 1997 spending review had prioritised the Navy and Air Force over the Army, and as Lieutenant Colonel Richard Williams (Commander SAS 2005-2008) said, there would be some ambitious individuals who said: "Let’s get involved here. It will make me look good, it will make our Army look good, it will help us secure the type of resources over the long term that we need."

Could young lives possibly have been sacrificed partly in order to protect the Army’s future budget?

The official line is always that war is a last resort, that troops are not sent into harm’s way unless it’s absolutely necessary, but recent history does not bear that out. We are told that the official Remembrance ceremonies and associated activities do not glorify or sanitise war, but if that is the case, it is difficult to understand why the Royal British Legion has cut the anti-war lyrics from its fundraising song this year.

Historian Dan Snow has sparked a discussion of the churches' role in remembrance by suggesting that religion should not dominate the ceremonies. This discussion will be valuable if it helps the churches take up a more prophetic role by speaking truth to power, whilst showing boundless compassion and respect to all bereaved and injured victims.

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

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