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Thoughts on Remembrance Day
This study pack is suitable for secondary schools, including GCSE, whilst some may be applicable to GCE Advanced Level. (This document is also available as pdf file)
It contains the following issues about Remembrance Day:
- the meanings of Remembrance Day;
- juxtaposed views on the significance of the ceremony;
- the emotions apparent at the ceremony;
- glorifying militarism and justifying war;
- the symbolism of red and white poppies.
Remembrance Day began as Armistice Day in 1919. Since then, has its meaning and significance changed?
1. Material for the preparation of assemblies.
The Meaning of Remembrance Day.
Once again we approach the time when, for several minutes of our lives, we are urged to reflect upon the millions of people who lost their lives fighting for a ‘cause’ during World Wars I and II earlier this century. Many people generally see Remembrance Day as a significant event. However, what does this phenomenon mean? We should put two basic questions during school, or similar, assemblies around the time of Remembrance Day. First, what exactly is being remembered? Second, what is the significance of the day?
There are several ‘views’ on this. Below we briefly outline two views, one ‘official’ in the sense that it is most likely to be accepted by those in authority, and one ‘unofficial’ - a different, alternative view. This may be less acceptable to governments and those concerned with perpetuating dominant ideas in British society. In the time available for your assembly, you could offer one and/or both of these views, leaving your audience to think about the issues involved in one/each. You may wish to provide an opportunity for allowing discussion at some point.
Remembrance Day: A Different View
The Peace Pledge Union believes that meeting each year for a relatively brief ceremony in which the trappings and nostalgia of war are clearly prominent will not ensure that we learn the lessons of past and present tragic conflicts. Wars will not be ended by glorifying what happened in past wars. The Peace Pledge Union challenges us to remember all those who died and are dying in war by working to prevent wars ever happening again. The white poppy is a symbol, a 'pledge to peace that war must not happen again’. It is also a challenge to the worn-out belief in war, which after all, is only a human invention, not an inescapable biological imperative.
Remembrance Day: An Official View
It is the time at which we remember all those who have given their lives fighting to protect the freedom that we experience today. It is an organised, official ceremony when red poppies are sold to help those disabled by two world wars. It is also a commemoration of war. Its ceremonial aspects include parades, services, laying of wreaths of red poppies at the Cenotaph and at war memorials throughout Britain. The Festival is televised and on radio, and thus 'unites millions of people throughout the world in a moving ceremony which enables us to remember all those who have given their lives for our country not only in the two World Wars but in some seventy “peacetime” conflicts which have occurred since 1945 and still continue'.
The Peace Pledge Union position may also be summarised through the words of Joseph Gerson, who said, in relation to the Holocaust: ‘Never again to anyone. Never participate in the crime of silence...we are all agents of history, regardless of our consciousness or intentions’.
Joseph Gerson ‘With Hiroshima Eyes'