Saturday, November 07, 2009


The last few days have been a cause for remembering different things with grateful thanks to different people. First of all my mother reached the grand age of 92 having flirted with death several times in the last 12 months but now in the words of her grand-daughter seeing the birthday photos "she looks as well as she did 10 years ago". Many thanks to the staff at her care home for the TLC they lavish on her day after day.
Yesterday marked 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. I remember not quite believing my eyes and ears when it happened, waiting for the catch and being a bit stunned when it didn't happen. Then the following summer my daughter was part of a group of Guides at a large camp in (West) Germany. She was told roundly and firmly by her hosts not to refer to it as West Germany any more "We're all one country now". How strange it sounded to us who'd grown up with two halves all our lives to have teenagers telling us that it was all one. How difficult it was to get used to saying it and writing it on envelopes at Christmas. Now of course there's a whole generation who don't know what the fuss is about and that brings problems of its own - how to remember enough to make sure it doesn't happen again while looking forward and building for the future.
That same difficulty arises every November as we approach Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day. How do we ensure that the sacrifices made by people 90 years ago aren't forgotten or, even worse, minimised by the knowledge and understanding we now have of wrong decisions taken by commanders or the fact that politicians didn't learn the lessons. We can look now at the world and see many of the same kind of mistakes being made but it doesn't take away from the heroism on the spot of the people doing their job under incredibly dangerous circumstances. But how do we as politicians ask the awkward policy questions, ensure that the strategies are correct and based on proper evidence and decision making without it sounding as though we're denigrating the work of the armed forces? Nick Clegg tried it yesterday but journalists want instant sound bite answers and despite his efforts they were reducing it to one line at the end.
The arguments around the wearing of poppies seems to be even more dippy this year. Why do some people think that they're being bullied into wearing one? Surely what's important is that in some way each and every one of us makes an effort to ensure that those who've suffered in the armed forces are properly looked after no matter what we think of the politics which sent them into the war in the first place? Whether we do that by donating to the poppy appeal is irrelevant as is whether we wear the poppy having made the donation. Even less relevant is whether we wear the poppy in the "right" way for heaven's sake. If we ever reach the point where there's so little conflict in the world that we've got time to worry about whether the poppy leaf is up, down or sideways I'll be the first to rejoice.

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