This year Remembrance Day and the Sunday events associated with it will have an added poignancy because of the marking of the centenary of the First World War and all the discussion and debate that has occasioned.
Yesterday saw the formal launch of the White Feather Diaries, a social media project exploring the lives of British pacifists during the first world war. The project's run by Quakers in Britain, who hired me as a writer and an editor for the project. I'm really pleased to be working on this project. Yesterday we announced the names of the five individuals whose writings will form the basis of the project, when it goes online in the summer.
Peace activist, writer and Ekklesia associate Symon Hill has established a petition at Change.org calling on the Royal Mint: to replace the the Kitchener £2 coin with one that truly commemorates the millions who died in the First World War.
Consider these two excerpts: “Writing for the religious website Ekklesia, Jill Segger explained why good people must not show solidarity with ex-servicemen and women.” and “The brutalising experiences of combat lead many to harm themselves and others when they return to civilian life. These people deserve our compassion and support.”
Changing times may be best served by less rigidity about symbols, says Jill Segger. As the centenary of World War I approaches, she suggests that the white poppy opens up a space in which remembrance can go hand in hand with repentance for the failure that is war.
War memorials and Quakers do not always get on. The kind of memorialising which is strong on military ceremony and pride does not sit well with us and we tend to avoid it. But we hold it important to remember all people killed in war, civilians as well as combatants. “This is the use of memory – for liberation” TS Eliot wrote in Little Gidding. And if we are to be liberated from bitterness, hatred and the propensity to pass conflict down the generations, we must remember well.
“All war represents a failure of diplomacy.” Tony Benn's words are no less true for being so widely and frequently repeated. That the failure brings immeasurable suffering which cascades down through the generations, is beyond dispute.