Padre David C Haslem, a United Reformed Church minister serving within the Royal Air Force reflects on Remembrance 2023:
Lest we Forget are the words chiselled on the first main Cenotaph following the First World War.
The building of The Cenotaphs and the inscribed words came about from an outpouring of public consciousness and grief following the horrendous, murderous, vicious and callous calamity that all came to know and experience during The Great War.
Lest We Forget – the cost in human life, the loss of loved ones, the loss of a generation – the flower of youth, destroyed homes, family life, faculty, health, wealth etc all these things that war could and did bring upon so many.
Lest We Forget – to hold in our eternal memory our comrades and friends.
Lest We Forget – of the breakdown in politics and our understanding of “the Other” which then builds fears, prejudice, alienation, contempt and leads us back down the path of war in order to solve political failings.
It is said that they, the “glorious dead,” died that we might live and have a fuller life. Vague reference to John 10:10 “that you might have life, abundant life.” It is often spoken that we experience freedom and make good of what we have today because of their sacrifice. Comprehending this is and was their gift to us, paid through bitter tears and blood of their lives.
And what have and are we making of their gift to us in our society and world today?
This is where I have many difficult and challenging thoughts as I lead, and we observe Remembrance. Some of my thoughts are considering;
Putting aside the rights and wrongs of the events, circumstances and politics that led up to the First World War, I do wish to honour those memories and lives, or at least the sense of sacrifice made and the gift of life that so many made. Honouring them with how I live my life today. I am sure many understand and share this sentiment too.
But I am also aware that Remembrance is not observed or shared by all. There are many who do not share these values; don’t see the point, those who take life for granted, those who live in selfishness taking as much for self as they can get. And sometimes, I see standing in the parade: some of those of high status, privilege, position, power or influence, who once the solemn tones and event is passed go on with their ways of living, working and influencing to the contrary of the common good. More so, there are those who manipulate, scheme for ideologies and causes that are well… not for the common good but dressed up as such.
I have come to realise that the world seems to have worked this way since I was a child. However, I do live with a feeling that the situation we face is getting worse, year by year. All over, everywhere, there is tension, strife, upheaval, war, hostility. People, communities, countries and nations are losing the capacity to sit with “the Other” and listen to one another.
It’s as if there never is time, capacity, or willingness to sit down with each other and try to see things form another point of view, build friendship, trust, tolerance and so move forward to resolve issues before us.
For example, if only Americans could see themselves from an external lens, see their polarised internal political views which further isolates, builds animosity, and becomes toxic dividing families’ communities and the nation. There is scheming and posturing, thinking nothing of delighting in tearing the other apart. All this does not even consider how the USA tends to view the world outside itself, many Americans cannot conceive a life beyond their own community, country, and culture.
Here in the UK, we have, over recent years, had the dismay of political intrigue and fighting, political assassinations of character, leadership challenges where the other parties delight in the misfortunes of opponents.
Have you considered how USA and its NATO allies, over the last decades, have schemed and planned its vision of European boarders without reference to previous treaties with “the Other” neighbours of Europe, throwing the documents of peace out to pursue NATO enlargement? Did NATO listen to or consider ‘the Others’ fears, securities, rights to be and where red lines lay? Has NATO relied on its prejudices to formulate policies, and which has made a win-win situation for the owners of the means of military production, owners and investors becoming vastly rich in the process, a form of legalised corruption, and enabling a redistribution of wealth.
Our own political leaders along with western media become suspects of dealing in mistruth which infect the national consciousness, in turn enabling a righteous attitude that we are right they are wrong. We become a tribalized people led by a tribal God. Led into wars where God is on our side. For example, the response to 9-11. We are spun lines that build on fear and prejudice of the other which terrifies the population and brings head nodding parliamentarians to conclusions of war war better than jaw jaw.
As with the USA – Western viewpoints on world affairs becomes more isolated and a fringe thought the Global South and Asia regions grow stronger allegiances which are less accepting of USA, British and Western European values and influence. The West uses sanctions, bullying actions, which diminish in effect and are often hurting our own economies more than our opponents for example energy, oil and gas prices – inflation, devaluation etc.
The Global South, working closer together are bringing their own solutions, they are driving their own economies as they expand and grow. Western ideology increases our own isolation from them, the rest of the world, to work closer with our allies. No wonder the USA is concerned that it’s losing its grip on running the show, the world, and tries to rattle the cages of its competitors.
Well, what has this got to do with Remembrance I hear you say. I think it has got everything to do with Remembrance, because… Lest We Forget.
The cost of isolation, mistrust, prejudice, not listening to the other, at its end is… war.
Lest We Forget!
Lest We Forget – the cost of getting it wrong will and is presently costing human lives. It is happening in Ukraine, Israel, Palestine, Gaza, Syria, Iraq right now. As refugees get into boats and cross the Mediterranean Sea or the English Channel in search of a new home where there’s stability and possibility where life can be lived… Lest We Forget.
When bodies of UK forces personnel are repatriated to the UK – Lest We Forget.
It is and has been an immense privilege and calling to be a Forces Chaplain, conducting service funerals, dedicating new memorials, presiding at long standing memorials, or leading many acts of Remembrance everywhere throughout the British Isles and deep down into the South Atlantic, on land and at sea.
I am glad to be alongside ministering to and sharing life with our Service personnel. As we perform our duties let us all, civilians and forces personnel, make every effort to be awake to the issues of the world, opening our minds to life and cultures beyond our boundaries. To see common humanity and dignity in all peoples and in this we may realise and see God in the other. For God is in all and then more than this. Destroying the other we are destroying that which is God. Let us make every effort to educate ourselves, study the world and from this inform and lobby our political leaders.
The Church has a unique role to play in all this; at its simplest it is reminding the world that every human life is sacred, there is difference, so many differences, but one life is not necessarily better that the other, it’s just different. It’s all what God has put in place to be.
Let churches lead the way in building bridges between nations, take down walls, scrap the barb wire that divide and separate us. Let’s listen, learn, be caring, patience and most of all love. Church can be Faith, Hope and Love.
Faith – belief of who we and others are in God. All are God’s blessing to each other.
Hope – in the tearing down of divisions and find commonality in God-ness of all life.
Love – costly selfless giving, sacrificially, for the others benefit.
Love … Lest We Forget.