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"In his or her heart each mourner, unless wilfully self-blinded, knows that those dead were betrayed, and sees the nominal victories for which their lives were given as sham achievements dominated by the grim reflection of the mushroom cloud."




Vera Brittain founding member of the PPU

Seeds of Chaos. Vera Britain on bombing


Vera Brittain Peace News November 10, 1961

Remembarnce Sunday

It is now over 40 years since the battered and exhausted First War generation heard the maroons which echoed along the Thames from Westminster to usher in the original Armistice Day. For a time its members believed - since many of them had nothing else left to believe in - that a new world, purchased with the lives of millions of young men, lay just round the corner beyond the portals of the League of Nations. Regardless of expense they set up their memorials in towns and villages to the Dead whose sacrifice had brought insane, destructive mankind to the verge of a fresh opportunity.

It is 16 years since the disillusioned generation which bore the burden of World War II celebrated yet another Armistice Day, the economically added new lists of names at the foot of those already inscribed on the expensive war memorials. This time the names included women as well as men, and many more memorials of mothers and their children, wiped out by ‘area bombing’ on both sides, recorded the new phenomenon of mass burials in civilian cemeteries.

The friends and relatives who mourned these victims now realised all too clearly that no constructive consequence would come from the modern varieties of massacre which had destroyed them, for they knew that the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945 had ushered in, not a better world, but a new era of terror for humanity. Henceforth the main issue would be, not the slow development of long-term international institutions, but the stark and urgent problem of human survival.

Throughout the years the Remembrance Day ceremonials have continued, adorned before the Cenotaph with the presence of the Sovereign supported by military trappings and parades, and with the symbolism of falling petals at the British Legion commemoration in the Albert Hall. Though the martial music and the plaintive notes of the Last Post inevitably stir poignant memories, they are no longer of a kind to inspire either old or young to fresh resolution. In his or her heart each mourner, unless wilfully self-blinded, knows that those dead were betrayed, and sees the nominal victories for which their lives were given as sham achievements dominated by the grim reflection of the mushroom cloud. Small wonder that as time has passed the Armistice ceremonies have grown more and more half-hearted, and that the summons to resolution now comes through the Aldermaston marches and the impressive varieties of civil disobedience organised by the Committee of 100.

And yet, year by year, a great opportunity for remembrance and rededication has been lost. The armistice ceremonies could have become, not an empty laudation of the long-vanished fallen, but a living act of penitence and redress. Annual memorials are not only a method of devoutly marking time, but an occasion for asking ourselves just exactly what we did in those long uncreative years - they are a challenge to our immaturity, which so seldom grows up to ask what we are doing now, and where we are going. Though the men and women who remember live now on sufferance, and begin their too often heedless days beneath the shadow of great danger, they are still here, and so long as man’s life on earth continues, time remains. Time to realise what we have done or left undone in the past, and to consider with real responsibility what we ourselves might do to change the direction of national policies for which, however feeble and neglected our voices, we are, as the citizens of a democratic state, at least partly to blame.
A Remembrance Day widely marked by humility and penitence would be a challenge to the world to start again. The present threat of nuclear weapons and the dangerous balance of international politics suggest that the emphasis of Armistice-tide should be laid on repentance, reconciliation, and a determined self-dedication to a nobler future, rather than on past military victories with their appalling cost in young human lives.

This year, for the first time, such a ceremony is visualised. At 3pm on Sunday November 12, the Christian Group of the CND is arranging a gathering of Christians in Trafalgar Square for prayer, penitence and rededication to the cause of world peace. Canon Collins will conduct the service, and Dr Donald Soper will preach - leading representatives of other denominations will read the Lessons and lead the prayers. Other Ministers will represent their communities on the plinth, and the congregation will be asked to share in a period of silent prayer. Instead of the sitting-down demonstration of September 17, the organisers picture a great audience on their knees.

But what difference does it make what we do? comes the inevitable parrot question. Look at the Russians with their abominable series of tests, the Americans with their Polaris submarines! Yes, but look at us! How far, with our conventional Armistice ceremonies, have we announced to the world any real desire to change our ways? Recently I was reviewing Sir Stephen King-Hall’s latest book of history, Our Times, 1900-1960, and on page 240 found a searching inquiry:
‘If after two world wars in quick succession arising from disputes between sovereign states, Man has not succeeded in establishing peace upon the basis of international and enforceable law, does this mean that the task, if not beyond his powers, is manifestly beyond his will - and must we conclude that a third world war will be the inevitable result of Man’s refusal to organise world government? On the basis of our experience since 1900 ... the probabilities are that we must say YES to the solemn and awful question.’

Even supposing that this terrible answer is true, there is still time for at least one country to indicate that the task of creating peace is not beyond its will. Such a country, making a significant gesture to the others, would do much to remove the tension based on fear which holds mankind in its grip. Why should not the people of London use this Remembrance Sunday to make such a gesture to England, and through England to the rest of the world?

For those who take this view, both idealistic and realistic, of our duty and our destiny, the Trafalgar Square service offers a great opportunity. I hope that Christians - and others - of all persuasions will feel able to join in this act of penitence and prayer.

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