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What I think about when I think about Remembrance Day

Graham F. Scott

Remembrance Day poppiesToday is Remembrance Day. I have to be honest: I’ve had mixed feelings about the occasion for as long as I can remember, even as a kid. Does it, in some ways, glorify and sentimentalize war? I think so. Do we need to do it anyway? I think that too. But I think the contemporary conception of Remembrance Day — poppy-wearing, wreath-laying, poem-reading, grainy photographs in the newspaper — has become rote and automatic, and in many ways distances us from any actual understanding of the visceral horror of armed conflict. I also think that I couldn’t possibly understand that horror, or even imagine it, given my life experience to this point, mercifully free of any such trials by fire. I think about whether I would die for my country—and my answer is no. Does that mean I devalue the lives and deaths of those who have? Does it make me ungrateful? That I don’t know. I do know that I can’t conceive of the mindset or conscience that could have allowed national leaders of the early 20th century to mobilize millions of young men and order them to shoot each other over a few acres of mud. And then I think I’m just being naive, but perhaps I prefer that, because the notion of “understanding” such insane, callous disregard for the sanctity of human life is too awful to contemplate. Mostly I think about thinking—whether the outward display of remembrance is the goal, some sort of collective memory that we can keep alive through ritual, or whether remembering is itself the point, something private and introspective, something we do in silence and alone. And I think that I’ll think the same thing next year.

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