On the 4th August, 1914, Britain declared war on Germany to defend Belgium, and by proxy France, after Germany had set its ‘Schlieffen Plan’ in motion (a military operation intended to defeat Belgium, France & Russia in six weeks).
On the 3rd September, 1939, Britain declared war on Germany again, this time to defend Poland from Hitler’s search for ‘Lebensraum’ (living space) for the German people in the east.
In June 1992, a UN force, including British soldiers, entered the Bosnian war to protect Bosnian Muslims from the unfolding massacres being perpetrated upon them by Serb & Croat forces (with the encouragement of at least some Catholic Priests).
Currently, our soldiers are in Afghanistan and Iraq attempting to help re-build those societies and protect their people, having freed them from the suffocating, violent and all too often deadly consequences of living under religio-fascist dictatorships. Whether you think this is a good thing or not, this is what they are doing. They are risking their lives to protect the rights of women, to defend freedom of speech and to advocate the necessity of democratic, secular governance for a peaceful world. As it’s a particular passion of my own, I think it’s worth mentioning that they are also saving animals from cruel practises such as bear baiting and dog fighting.
Of course one should never forget the vital contributions made from across the commonwealth, in the first and second world wars in particular, to assist the propagation of our most deeply held principles. People from India, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada for example selflessly gave their lives alongside British troops.
And so it goes on. Our shores have not been seriously threatened since 1588 and have not been breached since 1066. The proudest moments in the recent history of our armed forces are represented by its defence of others, whoever they maybe, against nationalistic or religiously inspired aggression. Whenever we have let ourselves down on the international stage, as for example we’ve undoubtedly done so on occasion in Northern Ireland, it has largely been due to us forgetting the core values for which we are generally, sometimes begrudgingly known for across the globe.
How distressing it must be then for those who’ve sacrificed so much for such noble, liberal, humanist causes, to see their legacy distorted by a section of the remembrance fraternity. Some members of certain organisations (you know who they are), often whose essential business it is to ask for respect and support for our soldiers, far too often stain their reputations with racist, xenophobic and Christian rhetoric that are precisely not the values our soldiers fight and die for. They are in fact the very evils being resisted.
So please wear the red poppy with pride this Remembrance Sunday. But be sure to take a moment to consider what it truly stands for. Let’s take back this fitting occasion from those who are perpetually angry and fearful of a changing world.