As people across Britain gather on Remembrance Sunday (8 November 2009) to recall those lost in war, a remarkable opinion poll published today shows a strong public desire for an emphasis on peace in these ceremonies.
The poll, commissioned by the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, and carried out by the professional polling organisation, ComRes, in the week leading up to Remembrance Sunday, also indicates that people believe the deaths of those who fought against Britain should be marked alongside the British dead.
The findings contradict the jingoistic approach taken by much of Britain’s tabloid press, which in recent years has sought to portray moves towards more honest and inclusive patterns of remembrance as ‘politically correct’ – when polling indicates that they are desired across the political spectrum.
In the new Ekklesia / ComRes poll, 93 per cent of respondents say they believe that, contrary to many existing remembrance traditions, civilians who died in war should also be remembered.
And 95 per cent of people surveyed say they think the main message of Remembrance Sunday should be one of peace.
Meanwhile, 87 per cent of the population agree with the statement: "Remembrance Sunday should be about marking the dead on all sides of war, not just the British."
When asked about the current war in Afghanistan, 53 per cent say they feel that politicians' treatment of people in the Armed Forces there goes against the lessons of Remembrance Day.
Other polls indicate that in spite of the Government’s attempts to pump up Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan, a majority are now against its current military approach – which many strategists say is fundamentally flawed.
Professor Paul Rogers, from the Oxford Research Group and the School of Peace Studies at Bradford University, commented recently that an alternative “rests not on short-term calculations about troop numbers but on a larger reassessment of the entire [Western] security posture in the Middle East and southwest Asia.” (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/10555 )
The results of the ComRes poll come in the wake of the publication of a new report from Ekklesia suggesting that Remembrance Sunday should be recast to take account of changing views of war.
Ekklesia's co-director, Jonathan Bartley, explained: “When Archbishop Robert Runcie remembered the Argentinian dead in a service at St Paul's Cathedral after the Falklands conflict, he caused a political storm. Now appears that the overwhelming majority feel that deaths on all sides in war should be remembered.”
He added: “Misgivings about the way we remember have been expressed for many decades. Harry Patch, the 'last Tommy' who died this year, expressed his own reservations and laid wreaths of poppies on both German and British graves.”
Ekklesia says that the time has come for us to update our remembrance traditions and to acknowledge that we cheapen remembrance if we do not recognise the full tragedy of war for everyone, and make an active commitment to peace.
“If we do not, we dishonour the memory of those who died,” declared Bartley.
The need for a new approach has been echoed in a strong leading article in the Guardian newspaper this weekend (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/mediacentre/pressarchive/remembrance_guardian ).
The paper points out that “[i]n 1968, no British soldier died on active service. But that turned out to be not just the first but the only year since 1945 when the claim could be made. The uncomfortable question is whether our way of remembering war, or at least war's casualties, has contributed to making that possible.”
It says that the “White Poppy movement, and some Christian thinkers, would argue that it has, that there is a hypocrisy about it that is reflected in the way the dead are honoured while the last military hospital is shut and those who survive with physical or mental damage have to fight for adequate care. They detect a whiff of militarism in the way civilian dead are ignored, and jingoism in the refusal to recognise that many of the enemy died believing they were fighting for freedom too.”
The Guardian goes on to talk of offence at “the sight of politicians who have embroiled us in war laying wreaths at the Cenotaph in memory of the young men and women who have died fighting it. This is the final corruption of the original intention of remembrance: it has not prevented war happening again. Worse, it can be seen as a balm to the consciences of all of us who have failed to stop it.”
ComRes telephoned 1,009 British adults on 4-5 November 2009. Data was weighted to be representative of all adults. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables are available at www.comres.co.uk .
The survey results can be read in full here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/content/remembranceresults.pdf 
Ekklesia’s report ‘Reimagining Remembrance’, by Kate Guthrie, can be read and downloaded here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/research/reimagining_remembrance 
Also on Ekklesia: ‘Remembering a warrior who became a peacemaker’, by Savitri Hensman (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/10546 ); ‘We won’t forget you, Harry Patch’, by Symon Hill (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/10548 ); ‘Transforming remembrance into hope’, by Simon Barrow (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/10556 ); and perspectives on the conflicts in Afghanistan / Pakistan / Iraq (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/10555 ) and Sudan (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/10557 ).