It being "Remembrance Sunday" I thought it was timely moment to share an extract from "Echo Hall" in which Joseph Clarkson, a former conscientious objector reflects on remembrance a few years after the end of World War 1:
"'Lest we forget'. How often have heard those words in the last four years? Particularly at this time of remembrance. 'Lest we forget.' But what do we mean when we say them? Some would have us remember sacrifice, courage, struggle. And I wouldn't disagree...we all know the soldiers who fought in the trenches were brave, that they suffered, that many of them still do. The generals and politicians who sent them into battle would argue that their suffering was not in vain. Those that fought, were injured or died, were acting in a greater good: "Dulce et Decorum est, pro patria mori." - It is sweet and fitting to die for your country. Noble sentiments? Or as Wilfred Owen put it "The old lie?" He paused, adjusting his glasses so he could read his notes better, "I would argue that it is Owen we should listen to, not the governments who drive wars, the generals who run them. We should remember struggle, sacrifice, courage. Of course we should. But we should also remember that the war cost the lives of millions of soldiers and civilians on both sides, leaving twice that number wounded. We should remember that after four years of fighting in the most appalling of conditions, the British Army advanced less than a hundred miles. We should remember the sound of women weeping in the streets on Armistice Day. And we should ask ourselves what it was all for? Whether it was worth it?"
"We'd all be speaking German if everyone thought like you." A man called from the back of the hall. "How dare you disrespect their memories? They died to give you this freedom to spout your conchie nonsense."
"I mean no disrespect," said Joseph placing his glasses on the lectern. "I am merely suggesting that perhaps the conflict might have been resolved without so much suffering and death."
"It's all very well to have your principles, and very fine they are too," said another, "But principles don't stop soldiers with bayonets, soldiers do. Others were brave enough to do this. Why weren't you?"
Joseph was about to respond, when a different voice spoke, "I was at the Somme. I saw the waste of life there. I killed soldiers myself, I had to, to save myself. But I asked myself then, and I ask myself now, why? What was it for? I think Mr Clarkson is making a very important point."
"Thank you," Joseph picked up his glasses and continued to speak,. "Lest we forget. I agree, we should not forget. We should never forget. We owe it to those who died, to those who survive and struggle now, not to do so. To remember that our leaders enticed us into a foolish, pointless war. That they preferred to suffer heavy losses on our side, than give up even a tiny inch of land. We should not forget. We must not. For the sake of our children, and our grandchildren, we cannot let the unjust peace carved at Versailles ferment into another conflict. We have to say never again. The world must find other ways to resolve its disputes. War is too crude, too bloody, too cruel a solution."