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Today Remembrance Day is a sentimental dip into a vague memory of war. At its heart is a romantic view of war, and it promotes the old lie that the ‘sacrifice’ was not in vain. In 1919, this at least gave comfort to some; today it merely perpetuates the view that dying in the act of killing others is somehow heroic.

Lest we forget, let’s remember that today’s British military personnel join the armed forces voluntarily. They are paid to do a job – a job that, however it is dressed up, is ultimately about killing.

   2005. Posing for that special picture in Basra where British soldiers have been
   killing locals and trying to install pliable rulers for generations.
   The pictured battered 'Stone of Remembrance' is from World War One.

This is their choice. Getting killed is what happens when they confront somebody else’s paid military personnel. We may feel sorry for grieving relatives or even for the dead soldiers but that does not mean that we have to elevate them to some mythic or heroic status or believe that their death achieved anything other than pain for friends and relatives. What happened to them is what they were ready to do to other mother’s sons or even to the sons' mothers.

Of course British soldiers do not start wars or go off to war because it takes their fancy (though increasingly many are leaving the armed forces for better pay as mercenaries in anybody else’s war). Nor can the military do much without massive civilian support – making the weapons, the kit and servicing the vast military machine. At the head of the hundreds of thousands of Britons who service the military are the politicians, who each Remembrance Day bow to the ‘Glorious Dead’ while planning further action that will swell the ranks of the dead.

After the First World War in order to give some sense to the scale of loss, Fabian Ware, the originator of the Imperial War Graves Commission pointed out that if all the British and Empire dead walked four abreast past the Cenotaph it would take three and a half days for them all to pass.

Today, if all the 20th century war dead were to walk past it would take forty-six years before the last one arrived in Whitehall. By then, who knows how many more the 21st century would have created if we go on at the present rate. War is not a sentimental affair, and perhaps we should stop feeling sentimental about those who went out to kill and got killed. Perhaps, then, we can start focusing more on the deeper causes of war – the will to war itself, and insist our politicians embrace humane, not barbaric means of resolving conflict.

Today if remembrance is to means anything to us it should not be the pity for the war dead. Rather we should be driven to ask of ourselves what can we do in our circumstances that can match their efforts to bring peace and love and justice to our world. Can we give as much for peace as they gave for war?