An exchange on an Open University forum.
‘Named, unnamed. Remembered, forgotten. They all did that trick the dead do. Whether they died immediately, more or less immediately or later, they all did that trick. From living human being to corpse – the fastest transition in the world.’
(Robert Mc Liam Wilson, Eureka Street)
As I lie here
crimson rivers stream by
painting obscene pictures on my brain.
half a young man’s face, open minded, sanguine
looks on. He was smiling
when he ceased to exist.
That girl has something recognisably human about her meat,
others have been blown entirely to bits,
soft unresisting flesh to be scraped up and shovelled
into plastic bags. Cajun dust settles on carnage.
Does a meld of politics ordnance and circumstance
explain all this? In the aeons after the blast
in the ringing piercing silence
in my head, I hear distant white coated voices,
‘Treat only those you think you can save,’
as the last sigh of life escapes my torn lips
unheard; the fastest transition in the world.
Sheena Bradley, 2012
Me: Lest we forget.
Sheena: Do you think there might ever be a time, a decade or a century when there is even a slight chance we could forget? I doubt it.
Me: There’s always hope.
I’m aware “Lest we forget” has different meanings to different people and in different contexts. With hindsight, it was an inappropriate response to your post, Sheena, and I’m sorry I made it. I was thinking of the Great War, not the Troubles.
For me, “Lest we forget” means “never forget the suffering we bring upon ourselves by blindly following orders to subject others to violence”.
For others it seems to mean “Never forget what sacrifices others have made for you, so be prepared to make sacrifices for them”. There “Lest we forget” is used to promote what was Veterans’ Day and is now Armed Forces Day – but why don’t we also celebrate Peace Day with parades and banners? There’s money and street closures made available to celebrate the military, but why not the Fire Brigade too, for example – they also put their lives on the line for us and they do it more often – what makes the military so different? I’m coming round to the way of thinking of Forces Watch, that such events are the marketing activities of the arms industry, making killing palatable and something to be proud of. And that way of thinking leads to “Lest we forget” meaning a demand for patriotism, nationalism and bigotry, where expressing a preference for peaceful solutions gets one called a coward or a “terrorist sympathiser”.
Then there’s the version of “Lest we forget” that seems to me to be the underling problem to finding peace in Northern Ireland, the perpetuation on both sides of “Never forget what those b~~~~~~s did to us”. The perpetual generation of hatred, especially as indoctrination of the young. Earlier this year we witnessed in Glasgow an Orange parade – bands and marching and banners and crowds coming out to watch the spectacle. All I could see were bitter old men and angry middle-aged men wearing orange sashes, and lots of small boys dressed in military uniforms looking all proud to be maintaining the tradition. The atmosphere was just anger and hate; it was appalling and pathetic to see. It is nothing like a Scouts’ St George’s Day parade and poles apart from the likes of Warrington’s Walking Day.
As well as talking, listening and reconciling, there’s an awful lot of forgetting needs to be done in and around Northern Ireland: forgetting to maintain the tradition of instilling children and young adults with blind hate. It makes us sick when Moslem extremists like IS do it, and when Christian extremists like the Lord’s Resistance Army recruit child soldiers in Africa. So why is it OK for religious extremists in the British Isles to recruit children to propagate and perpetuate their militaristic tradition of violence and hatred against their fellow people? And it would help if we quietly dropped Armed Forces Day in Northern Ireland too – it is counter-productive having the British Army setting an example of militaristic street marches.
For the love of God, as a society, can we please just stop passing on a tradition of hate and instead learn to forget?