Military parading degrades peace;Opinion;News amp; Opinion

12th November 1999 at 00:00
THIS Sunday we won't be going round to my parents' house because if we do I know the Cenotaph Service will be on the television and the children may ask again why their grandparents are watching a lot of servicemen marching about to brass bands. The answer - that we are "honouring our war dead" - is one of those vague, respectable phrases that I never challenged in my own childhood but I'm glad to say my younger daughter does.

It was last November that Ginny asked her grandmother what "honouring" meant?

"Thanking them, dear," said Grandma. "Remembering them because they died so that children like you could be free."

"But why do we need the army to go on parade so we can thank them?" Ginny asked, and it was a good question. Why after all do we use young professional soldiers to commemorate the huge losses incurred by Britain's two conscript armies? And why is it only those who defended Britain in the services who march past? What about the young girls with whom my mother worked on munitions, many of whom were killed? Or the civilians who had to put up with six years of aerial bombardment? If we are going to commemorate those who died why only the ones in uniform? Why do we march at all?

There is something disturbingly militaristic about Remembrance Sunday. When it began - after the war that was supposed to have ended all wars - this nation was in deep shock. The ideal focal point for our collective grief and anger was a sombre victory parade. For that is what the Cenotaph Service plainly is: the ancient ceremonial of victory overlain with pain. These days we recognise that war does not end wars. War is a mistake and our armed forces nothing more than a sad necessity. The presence of soldiers on Remembrance Sunday is tactless, to say the least. If this country is truly committed to peace then it would be more appropriate to abandon the idea of sides, give the Coldstream Guards the day off and invite representatives of the German government - and their bereaved - to the Cenotaph instead. This is Ginny's view and I must say for once I think the younger generation has seen something I missed.

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