At Southampton Cenotaph I stand. Busses hiss as they travel past. Cars rev their engines waiting for the nearby traffic lights to turn green. The wind is clean, for a city. I stand, looking on this winter day. The sun illuminating one side of the monument.
To either side are glass panels, engraved with the names of the dead. From the Great War. From the Second World War. From the Korean War and the Mau Mau Upraising. From the Malayan Emergency. So many names. So many. Some from conflicts I’d never heard of.
“Our Glorious Dead” proclaims one inscription on the Cenotaph. Perhaps they are glorious, but War is not. War is bloody. War is violence. War is not glorious.
I stand there, and away fades the present, as I picture how they might have died. Cold and scared in the trenches. Screaming as their plane went down. In a Prisoner of War camp.
One can’t help but wonder. Are we glorifying war? “Lest we forget” we proclaim once a year on one day. And the other 364 days we pay it no mind. The simple poppy has itself become a battleground. It almost seems to have become a contest in itself, a contest to see who can be the most sad and the most respectful of deaths. It’s keeping up with the Jones’s for remembrance day. There are ways to respect the dead, privately and without fuss, without being loud and visible in wearing a symbol. But public remembrance has its place too. I am conflicted.
Is there a way to respect and remember the dead and the sacrifices they made without glorifying the conflict itself? Was there even any other way to end the conflicts, without resorting to war?
War has changed these days too. Now there are drones, and missiles launched from afar. How are we to remember future wars, when we aren’t likely to have so many familiar names to remember, but will likely have far more foreign names to remember?