Remembrance Sunday has never glorified war

All photos by Olly Trapnell (photographer)

Cambridge University’s Student Union has voted to not promote Remembrance Sunday this year, arguing that the event glorifies violence and war. In this decision, Cambridge SU have only managed to demonstrate that they have no understanding of the event.

Remembrance Day has been a yearly tradition in the UK, in one form or another, since the year after the closure of the First World War in 1919. This conflict was possibly the most inglorious conflict in history. In four short years, at least 15 million soldiers were killed. These men died in a hellscape, surrounded by blood, dirt and gas. Even those that survived suffered deeply, often with severe wounds both mental and physical. This is what Remembrance Sunday asks us to call to mind, for two short minutes every year. It does not ask us to remember the valour of soldiers, or the glory of victory. Instead, it asks us to remember the very opposite, the blood spilt and the suffering caused.

This is beautifully summarised by the poppy, the symbol of the day. The poppy grew on Flanders fields, over the corpses of millions of ordinary men. There is no glory in the poppy, and wearing one should in no way inspire positive thoughts of war. Remembrance Sunday is observed for one simple reason: to remind us that war on the scale of the two world wars can never be allowed to occur again.

Cambridge SU have entirely missed the point of Remembrance Day. They have since released further justifications for not promoting the annual event, but these all fall similarly short. One spokesperson argued that they were not trying to erase the British sacrifice, but instead widen that sacrifice to include all victims of war, everywhere in the world. Quite apart from the fact that not promoting the event at all does nothing for international victims either, this argument implies that the poppy is somehow a nationalistic flower. It suggests that the poppy only grew on ground where British corpses lay and only remembers the deaths of British soldiers.

This is ridiculous. The poppy grew on fields over the corpses of Americans, of Frenchmen, of Germans, of Italians. It grew on fields littered with soldiers from around the world, on both sides of the conflict. Since that war, it has gone on to be the symbol of remembrance for victims of every war, anywhere. It represents the American killed by an IED in Afghanistan, and the Afghan who planted it and was shot weeks later. It represents the Cambodian civilian executed in the terror of the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese soldier who died to overthrow that same tyrannical government. Remembrance Sunday does not need to be expanded. It already represents all victims of war, and disputing this so heavily as to not promote the day whatsoever is petty and disrespectful.

Remembrance Sunday is ultimately a couple of minutes, on one day, once per year. All it asks us to do is stand in silence and

remember the sacrifices that have been made, that should never have to be made again. To not promote it is absurd.