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BREAKING THE SILENCE

 

The Daily Herald was founded in 1912 as a radical socialist paper. George Lansbury, onetime leader of the labour Party and President of the PPU, was involved in it from the beginning and edited it during WWI, when it was the voice of opposition to the war. In the mid-1960s it was changed to The Sun, to become ‘the paper that supports our boys’ during the Falklands war, celebrating the sinking of the Belgrano, killing 368 men, with the headline GOTCHA!

This reflective piece, written for the Herald in 1931, by the well known journalist Hannen Swaffer, shows that though the paper may have changed dramatically in sixty years, the political issues around Remembrance have hardly changed at all.


THE SILENCE
For ten years now and more we have stood silently like this for two long minutes facing this Cenotaph in the presence of the greatest in the land, or stood silently in an office or at home. I wonder how much longer we shall do it.

Why did that woman cough? It makes me want to cough. Lots of people cough because they are suffering from some dread disease. Does it mean that, now that Economy has come, they will really cut down those health services, as we fear? Or will some greater wisdom come to the people who have taken charge?

Those teachers, too, whom they are cutting down. I am much better paid than they are, but I do not think my work is so important. Why am I paid more? Is it that I can command more? Are we all paid according to our worth? The Premier there does not earn so much as a film actor. It seems funny...

All those soldiers stand very still. Perhaps they are used to standing still. It is when they move, possibly, that something dread is going to happen. Why do they have so many soldiers if money is short? Are soldiers more important than teachers? Is it patriotic to want soldiers and unpatriotic to want teachers?

What sort of men write hymns? Do we really believe that when ‘Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away’, they do ‘fly forgotten as a dream’? if they fly forgotten as a dream, why are we all standing here, making so much ceremony? If they do not, why do we sing it?

Who was the Unknown Soldier? He may have been a quite famous man until he became so terribly unknown. perhaps it is greater to be unknown than to be famous. Lots of unknown people became famous after they were dead. Lots of famous people became unknown soon after they died.

Why am I standing here quietly, like all the others? Am I really sorry for that Unknown Man? Perhaps he missed a lot of trouble when something struck him and he fell. There might have been argument over his pension, had he come back disabled.

He might even be dreading the Means Test, now, were we not standing here, paying him tribute. A great deal has happened since they carried his body home. And yet not much seems to have happened. We promised him all sorts of things, the first time we stood here. When shall we keep that promise?

The words ‘Land fit for heroes’ came into our minds, and ‘War to end war’, we remember. Are we remembering it now? If we remember it at this moment, shall be remember it tomorrow?

Can I wipe that tear away from my cheek without anyone seeing? Why are men ashamed of tears? There is a Disarmament Conference coming next year. Will it be disarmament or only a conference? People confer a lot nowadays. Does it lead to anything? Is the world better because they confer? Would it be if they meant what they said?

We thought the slums were going, when we first stood here. Some of the slums have gone, because they emptied when the new housing schemes were realised. Are the housing schemes going to stop, now that we have got very patriotic?

Should we have been worse if there had been no Silence? If, for two minutes a year, we had not stood here, or somewhere else, should we have been still more selfish and still more blundering? Does two minutes of communion and humiliation alter us very much? Shall I walk away more valiant for right than I was when I walked here?

The statesmen are in the front row with their tall hats. Are they better than the ones who stood here last year? And will the next lot who stand here be better than these? Will the people who come after us and stand here be better than we are?

That woman coughed again. Or was it another woman? I saw them fainting the first year. That was the year the blind men drove by in hundreds. Is anybody looking after them now - those blind men I mean? Other people will be blinded in other wars. They are always getting ready for the next war. The poison gas will be worse next time, they say.

Women will fight in the next war. Perhaps they may find it easier to fight than to stay at home next time. Perhaps those small girls will be just old enough, when the next war comes. Will those small girls fight? What will they be like when they grow up? they have votes now. Are they better with votes? Has my vote done me any good?

Why don’t we do something to stop the next war? Nobody seems to do much to stop it. They make speeches at the Albert Hall, and other places, but no one seems to stop it.

They say it is France’s fault, now. Last time, it was Germany’s, they said. The time before, it was ours. No, it is never ours. It was the Boer’s fault, that time, I mean.

There is the band now. It is time for us to sing...There, I coughed, that time...’Oh God, our help...’

 

 

 


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