I took my son along to the Act of Remembrance in Battersea Park this morning.
It might, at first sight, be a slightly odd thing to do. He has just turned one and I can’t claim he showed much awareness of the service – the passing ‘planes interested him far more. But I felt it was an important thing to do. Now, more than ever, we should observe these small acts that force us to stop and think.
This was the first Remembrance Day for which there were no veterans of the First World War alive in this country. Indeed, we will soon be in the situation in which the ‘war to end all wars’ will have moved out of living memory. Even for the Second World War a veteran will have to be in their eighties (or have enlisted illegally) to have seen active service.
For people born in my generation such wars are unimaginable, and our links to them fairly distant. While my mother was old enough to remember WWII most of my classmates’ parents were either born after the war or were too young to recall it. Growing up the Falklands Conflict happened at a time when I was young enough to see it as exciting, and would watch the news marvelling at the Harrier. Our first involvement in the Gulf came when I was a teenager, and while I could intellectually grasp the issues I fear I had neither the age or the life experience to fully understand what a war really entailed.
Even now, with our troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, we perhaps allow distance and trivialities to crowd out what is happening and what our troops are facing on a daily basis.
We have, perhaps, become slightly arrogant. I think the UK, in particular, views relatively peaceful Western-style democracy as a stable end-point of a country’s development. In fact, it isn’t. History, both classical and modern is littered with examples of democracies failing or being overthrown, by internal and external forces, to be replaced by dictatorships and tyrannies.
If we value our freedoms and our liberty we must be vigilant and fight for them just as much now as our armed forces have done, almost continually, since the first Remembrance Day in 1919. As those terrible, all-encompassing, wars fade from living memory, those two minutes and everything they represent becomes all the more important.
We will remember them.