‘Lest we forget’ is an emotionally charged line, a patriotic virtue. Ask any child of school age in the lead up to Remembrance Day or ANZAC day, which is approaching us this Wednesday, the significance of the expression and an all too common response would likely be: “The importance of not forgetting ‘our’ war dead- those whom were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, laying down their lives at the altar of freedom, for us”- or something along those lines.
However, forgetting and remembering are part of a continuum where all too much focus and attention is given to the former, not forgetting ‘our’ soldiers sacrifice, and all too little applied to the act of remembering, what they were doing where and why they were placed in the line of fire by the government of the day in the first place.
The ease of not forgetting is quite simple; we have been given something to fixate on, sacrifice and death, and to not forget, once or twice a year, is easy. However, doing this in isolation remains a task for the indolent. Lest we remember, on the other hand, is far more challenging and demanding of our time and energy. It entails a quest to seek answers to myriad questions, the answers to which require thorough thought and analysis, probing into the ‘official line’ to find what lurks beneath, the uncovering of truths we might not actually like, truths governments may certainly not like- truths that I am willing to concede will at times meet the ‘official line’ but that all too often don’t.
Furthermore, the idea that ‘we’ should unequivocally support ‘our’ troops once in the line of fire is a deeply and historically ingrained fallacy- a political tool and lie designed to make the act of questioning, let alone criticism of where our troops are and what they are doing, tantamount to treachery- akin to pulling the trigger ourselves and shooting ‘our own’ in the back. I would argue not. Indeed, if we remembered the horrors of war- most importantly, that death was a risk associated with soldiering, were more demanding and questioning of our government on certain foreign policy issues and were to hold them more to account- and they were therefore, more selective over the instances we were prepared to allow our troops to stand in dangers way, perhaps there might be fewer extra war casualties to remember come next ANZAC Day.
Wilfred Owen wrote Dulce Et Decorum Est in response to British government, and in particular Jessie Pope’s, propagandising in the lead up to and during World War I, the Great War, ‘the war that would end all wars’. Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori (how sweet and noble it is to die for ones country) is a Latin phrase that had adorned banners held aloft in the march toward battle for millennia. The juxtaposition of the poems title against the graphic and sorrowing depiction of the soldiers’ death awoke people to the realisation that there exists a gulf in difference between the glorious-imagined and the harrowing existential-truth, the government line and the extant realities of war, something that sadly seems to have been forgotten, lest we remember, and that I believe we should try to remember, lest we forget.
If you haven’t, read Wilfred Owen’s poem. I do not question the importance of the ideal of lest we forget per se nor am I suggesting that no danger rests in forgetting, merely that a far greater danger exists in forgetting, or being simply too indolent, to remember.
This ANZAC Day: remember, lest we forget!
Benjamin Moles has recently completed his Masters in International Security Studies at the University of Sydney. (firstname.lastname@example.org). Follow on Twitter @bwmoles