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Poltics of Remembrance

I have been reading a lot of histories written in the late 1960s and early 1970s recently. They say as much, if not more, about the late 60s and early 70s, as they do about the events they supposedly cover. The pre-occupations and prejudices of the historians and British, the books are mainly British, are to the forefront. All history is to a large extent political. About the only thing historians seem to agree on, and even not always, is the date of the event. Even deciding who really won can be a matter of debate. History as an academic subject is about the interpretation of events rather than a simple recounting of the facts. What is highlighted and what is swept under the carpet by historians is often a political choice. The same is true of Remembrance. What precisely is being "remembered"? Different people are actually remembering, honouring or commemorating different things in the days around November 11th each day. Is it only "our" dead or everyone's war dead? Should veterans who fought against us be part of the parade? Which conflicts are involved? Which recent ones? Only Just Wars? Some of these questions are matters of personal choice. Others are definitely  political. Australia's ANZAC Day started out as a celebration of those who volunteered to fight and in some communities the noses of those who had not were rubbed in the dirt - those of Irish descent have sometimes proven laggard when they regarded a conflict as "England's War". And in another twist, the Ozzies don't do much for November 11th, preferring their own Anzac Day for commemoration to the day selected elsewhere in much of the former British Empire for such events.  Here in Edmonton I remember the Italian veterans marching in the Remembrance Day Parade a few years back but not the Germans. I don't think anyone insisted that the Italians involved had fought alongside the Allies after Italy's surrender. Certainly there were Germans in the Second World War who were in much the same boat as the British, ANZACs and Canadians and basically were the same kind of guys whose uniform was a matter of chance. But the Nazi system promoted and even celebrated tremendous cruelty and inhumanity. Should "Good Germans" be given a place in their former foes' commemorations? How does one identify a "Good German"? And not all the British and Commonwealth dead were exactly angels when it came to how they treated defeated foes. Others want to remember on November 11th but cannot face the pomp and parade. There are those who feel that some ceremonies spill over from commemoration to celebration.  Some people like the parades. Others prefer to observe an individual two minutes of silence at 11am on the 11th. No-one should be forced to do anything they don't want to do, or prevented from commemorating the dead. Were these not two of the things "we" were supposed to be fighting for and purportedly still do? It's all politics with a small "p".


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