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Remembrance Day: a rare moment of unity

The British show their respect in "strange ways", said the Daily Mail. On Remembrance Sunday last week, thousands of former servicemen marched to the Cenotaph to commemorate our war dead. Yet all over the country, memorials to these brave men "have been vandalised or are in need of repair", while their graves are under threat from a "mean spirited" plan to cut the allowances of the gardeners who "lovingly tend" British war cemeteries abroad. Even Armistice Day is in danger of falling into obsolescence, said the Sunday Express. In a recent poll, only one in four of 12-15-year-olds knew the significance of the 11th hour of the l1th day of the 11th month. One 15-year-old thought it meant that 11 people died in the war; a 12-year-old said it was because the war lasted 11 days: At this rate, the sacrifice made by the millions who died in the two world wars will soon be forgotten.

What nonsense, said Graham Stewart in The Times. If anything, we are remembering them more than ever. A staggering three out of four Britons observed the two-minute silence last year, while the Poppy Appeal - fronted by the Spice Girls and Vera Lynn in 1997 - raised over 17 million. The Great War poets are taught in Britain's schools, and both fictional and non-fictional accounts of the war frequently top the bestseller lists. At 11am on Remembrance Sunday, the country experiences "its one moment of genuine unity". Far from losing its significance, it has become a "surrogate for a National Day".

But is that a good thing, asked Robert McCrum in The Observer. The "colossal sacrifice made amid the horrors of Passendale" is certainly a "heroic chapter in our history". But that doesn't mean we need an annual act of remembrance. We live in an era of European integration. It's time to put Britain's "life-and-death struggle with Germany" behind us. Alas, time will do that for us, said Kevin Myers in The Sunday Telegraph. "Amnesia, sooner or later, must claim the two world wars, as it has claimed plague, famine and cataclysm before." And Remembrance Sunday, like Christmas and Easter before it, will gradually become divorced from the "awesome events" it commemorates. "Only tyrannies compel remembrance: the men and women we commemorate today died that we might have the right to forget them. For that, too, they deserve to be remembered."

SOURCE: "The Week"

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