From the outset I am going to state that this post may touch upon one or two raw nerves within some readers, but I hope that all readers will have the strength and open mindedness to read through until the end
In essence this post is about the acts of remembrance and reconciliation, and whether remembrance is, at times, wasted, if subsequent reconciliation does not occur
The reason for talking about this now, well, throughout Britain, the Commonwealth, and in many other countries the events of WWI are in sharp focus, and the ongoing crisis between Russia nad the Ukraine, and Israel and Palestine, are very much in the news.
In both cases the bravery and sacrifice of all men, women ,and children, involved or affected by such conflicts , are uppermost in people’s minds, as well as the horrors that all combatants and noncombatants have endured
In both cases attempts have been made, or are being made, to resolve of fully understand such conflicts in order that a peaceful resolution can finally be made.
But is this really possible without changing how nations and individuals think, and by doing so, to make them look at the past in an entirely different way?
Lets get one or two facts out of the way first, as they will show us just how severe the problem has become. According to figures collated by the Polynational War Memorial
- there have been 72 wars fought since 1900 and
- at a best estimate there have been 77,174,583 battle deaths during that time, but
- such a figure excludes deaths due to famine and disease, factors often associated with war
Sounds bad, doesn’t it, but what if we add to those figures the inner long term hatred or antipathy that some people individually or communally feel for other individuals or communities around them. Unless things change will not such a list stretch out until the end of time?
I’m not too sure whether we, as a species, will ever change, which is a tragedy, as the answer, to my mind, the only real answer, lies right in front of our eyes. It always has been there, it always will be there, the only difficulty is us with our stubborn, obdurate and unforgiving minds
Reconciliation, that is the answer, but how many of us as individuals, as communities, and as nations, are truly prepared to take such an answer on board
In 1915 an English nurse called Edith Cavell was court martialed, found guilty of treason, and then executed but her word are still with us, and one of her quotes can be seen below
“Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”
If truth be told may not the word remembrance, under some circumstances, be substituted for Patriotism?
It is all to easy to harbour a grudge or a unacceptably painful memory against an individual or a nation, and of course I can understand why such a thing occurs, as well as accepting that certain memories will never go away. Yet what is the point of hanging on to such bitterness and hatred when such actions hold back or completely stop any healing process that might otherwise occur?
If you will allow me to do so let me relate two incidents so as to show you what I mean
When I was growing up in North London, I grew up within a strong Jewish community. I was not of their faith, as were none on my family, but a strong neighbourhood rapport was established within the street we lived in that remains to this day. What was very apparent though was the Jewish view of the Palestinian conflict, and numerous examples were given of war crimes and inhumanitarian treatment by Hamas against the Jews.
We listened very carefully, and agreed that such horrors should never have occurred, but then I worked with a Lebanese lady, and I heard her side of the story. I heard about the war crimes committed by the Jewish nation, against her people, and about the subjugation her people suffered under the yoke of the Jews.
What I came to see, very quickly I might add, is that in both instances, the individuals were all to keen to remember and honour the fallen of their respective countries, and to dwell upon the crimes against their respective nation; but they were loathe to embrace the idea of reconciliation on fair and equal terms.
There was no middle ground, in their eyes, where both sides might really start talking and then building toward a better future. The imagery was pure black and white without the vaguest hint of grey.
Under such conditions, what hope was there for peace, and what chance was there that they might appreciate and come to tolerate their opponents point of view
Am I saying that both sides should forgive and forget? Nice thought but wholly impracticable, but if both sides truly seek peace then, at some point, they must come together, and achieve a degree of reconciliation that will hopefully stand the test of time
If nothing else the Isle of Man is peaceful kind of place. It gives you a chance to think about life, and to view things in a different kind of way. One night, after my late shift in the hotel had finished, I stood alone on Douglas Prom. It was a calm summers night, the prom was nearly empty, and the soft slow swell of the incoming irish sea caressed the sea walls almost reluctantly, as if not wishing to awaken the sleeping stones.
Then I heard a penny whistle, a sad lonely, yet desperate penny whistle, hammering out an ancient tune. As I looked towards where the sound was coming from, I espied a gentleman marching towards me, a wretched hunched up tortured figure playing the penny whistle, desperate that other might heed his tune. I checked my phone, it was the 12th July, the most important day of the Orange day parades,
I watched this figure for a moment until he was stopped by a policeman
“Come on now”. The policeman said kindly”It’s a lovely summers night, nobody’s marching with you, nobody’s really listening to you, so why not go home, and put the whistle away!”
“I can’t do that.” Came the reply from the whistle player “I’m an Orangeman, my dad was an Orangman, and I have to remember, and stay true to the cause!”
The policeman watched as the whistler once more marched forward, and then, liked me shrugged his shoulders as a drunk stumbled up by the whistlers side. One whistled, one sang, and both were oblivious to the serenity around them, and all because of to much drink, and remembrance of a cause long lost in time.
So it is that, once again, I ask whether whether remembrance is, at times, wasted, if subsequent reconciliation does not occur.
Of course it is not easy, of course it is only natural to harbour a grudge, and to do so blindly, so as to mitigate any further pain, but what is the point of doing so if such a cycle of negativity keeps on going so that you have to revisit such pain again?
Does that mean that we should forgive and forget, no that is equally stupid and unrealistic, but if we don’t learn and move forward, there will be more wars, more deaths, and more misery over many years to come.
To close this post I leave you with a video which I urge you to play
Ignore my words and my views if you care to do so, after all I’m no expert and I may well be wrong, but listen, if you can, with an open heart to archbishop Desmond Tutu; I think he has a message for us all