The Feast of All Souls and Remembrance Sunday at the beginning of November always mark a period of time when we are reminded of our departed loved ones and those who have fallen whilst serving their country. Remembrance Sunday is the day traditionally set aside to remember all those who have given their lives for the peace and freedom we enjoy today. On this day people across the nation pause to reflect on the sacrifices made by our brave service men and women. However, I often feel that the importance of remembrance is belittled by many people today, and indeed, by many at Oxford.
There are people who feel that wearing a poppy or attending a remembrance service is wrong. They believe it encourages militarism, hatred and blind nationalism. I think that those people have a very skewed understanding of what remembrance is all about. Remembrance has nothing to do with celebrating war or militarism. It has nothing to do with reviving old imperial tendencies, or even with drawing more and more lines between nations who have in the past fought against each other. It is about gratitude to those who have payed the highest sacrifice so that we can live our lives in freedom and safety.
The poppy is not a symbol of hatred or violence: it is a symbol of great humility, humbleness and hope. Humility before the power of nature to heal what we as humans have destroyed, as seen in Flanders Fields. Humbleness before those who have had the courage to defend our rights and liberties, and asking ourselves whether we would have the courage to do the same for our children. And hope for reconciliation between nations, as manifested by the unprecedented post-war cooperation in Europe. Whilst I disagree with those who oppose the idea of Remembrance Sunday, I am extremely glad that they have the right to hold and publicly present that opinion. Being from a family which has been affected by both of the great evils of the 20th century – National Socialism and Soviet-led communism – I am always extremely conscious of the fact that freedom has had to be defended in the past, and that unfortunately, it is still the case today.
Living in Eastern Europe taught me that freedom must never be taken for granted – in fact, it must be defended every single day. Sometimes, this is very easily forgotten in the relative security of 21st century Britain, and perhaps even more so, in the comforting peculiarity of the Oxford bubble. But without those brave men and women who have died in the past and still dying today, the values which we hold so dear – freedom of speech, of thought, of religion, equal opportunities for all – would be but a distant memory.
I know personal stories should never be mentioned if one aspires to be a good journalist, but I hope the reader will forgive me on this occasion. My grandfather lost his father when he died fighting for the idea of a free Czechoslovakia in the Great War. I have always been led to hold an enormous amount of respect to those who experienced firsthand the horror that is war. They have given – and still give – so much, and we have benefited – and still benefit – so much. Is it really too much to ask that on this day we don a little crimson flower to honour these men and women, before they fade away forever?
May we remember them.
PHOTO/ Cath in Dorset