They Shall Not Grow Old

..and why not?
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They Shall Not Grow Old

Postby Toby » 12 Nov 2018, 10:20

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Peter Jackson's documentary on the British experience of WW1 was shown last night on BBC2. It was fantastic - restored and newly coloured footage with a new soundtrack of voices and explosions dubbed in. The moment when the footage went from black and white to colour was truly unforgettable.

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Re: They Shall Not Grow Old

Postby Dor-Relip Hotels and Bathings » 12 Nov 2018, 10:42

It was the sort of thing that plays in your head long after the credits have rolled. Really very special, and terribly moving.
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Re: They Shall Not Grow Old

Postby The Modernist » 12 Nov 2018, 11:05

I might watch it. I have major problems with the whole WW1 remembrances. Is it simply something we do as a society to make us feel good about ourselves? It doesn't stop us getting involved in wars does it?

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Re: They Shall Not Grow Old

Postby Toby » 12 Nov 2018, 11:11

There is something in the more recent politicisation of Remembrance Sunday that I also find difficult. The whole issue about wearing poppies (I don't) is problematic for example and that in recent times the identification of soldiers who fought in those conflicts in particular as "heroes" seems to have gained traction. I imagine that most of the soldiers who survived never thought of themselves as heroes at all; they were grateful to have survived and probably felt they were cowards.

But the film is extraordinary - just a rolling observation of life at the front from interviews undertaken in the 60s and 70s with incredible footage.

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Re: They Shall Not Grow Old

Postby Goat Boy » 12 Nov 2018, 12:37

The Modernist wrote:I might watch it. I have major problems with the whole WW1 remembrances. Is it simply something we do as a society to make us feel good about ourselves? It doesn't stop us getting involved in wars does it?


Feel good about ourselves? Hmmmm, I dunno about that.

Clearly some groups we all dislike have tried to co-opt the poppy and some, especially on the left - have naturally reacted against that. Some appear to view it as a symbol of Britishness and, by extension, military subjugation, racism, imperialism etc. Some people have a similar reaction to the union flag/English flag too and view it with similar suspicion.

I can understand some people feeling unease but some of the reasons people give for not wearing one strike me as a bit silly too (what the hell was Matic on about?) and the proliferation of poppies (white, purple) is a bit odd to me as well; I don’t think the red poppy precludes a pacifist position but some obviously want to emphasise this, fair enough, whatever. My basic point of view is that those who have tried to co-opt it and use it as some kind of nationalist symbol or whatever don’t get to “own” it in that way and in doing so spoil it for the rest of us who see it differently and as it was intended. It doesn’t belong to them, you know. It strikes me that the wearing of the poppy is largely a benign gesture, one of simple remembrance and thanks. A collective communion. On that basis I will continue to wear one.

I watched the documentary. I thought the technology really did succeed in making these people come to life in a way that hadn’t quite existed before due to the quality of film and the technology of the time. One thing that struck me was the relationship between those who survived and the civilians they came home to. I’ve always had a strong sense of their Otherness and how alien that must have felt for those who were lucky enough to return partly because the old man used to tell me stories of the veterans in his home town and he always emphasised this quality. It’s clear that those who didn’t serve often view those who did very differently to how they viewed themselves. Naturally this will rub up some veterans the wrong way but that’s just how it is I guess. They were different, they had experienced things nobody else could ever understand and they had to live with this the rest of their lives. The silence too. Nobody seemed to talk about it, which make sense but it must have created a strange....tension.

The old man used to tell me a story about a local man called George Ingram who survived the Great War. I’m not sure how many Germans George had killed but I got the impression it was quite a lot. When the old man was a boy he would go into pubs (bear in mind he wasn’t a young man by this point) and challenge anybody to a fight. He’d walk in and declare, “I am George Ingram and I will challenge anybody to a fight”. I doubt many took him up on his offer but he used to go round all the local pubs doing this. He used to do sit ups with men on his back too. A real local character. There must have been tonnes of stories. One thing he mentioned was they all had an incredibly dark and brutal sense of humour. They’d laugh at funerals. Shout out “good riddance to the bastard”, that sorta thing. I’m not sure what the civilians thought but they weren’t like other men. Another thing he said was that many of them "enjoyed" the war which seems such an odd thing to say but there you go. Real life was dull in comparison. I suspect George Ingram thought it was a great adventure!
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Re: They Shall Not Grow Old

Postby The Modernist » 12 Nov 2018, 12:49

Goat Boy wrote:
The Modernist wrote:I might watch it. I have major problems with the whole WW1 remembrances. Is it simply something we do as a society to make us feel good about ourselves? It doesn't stop us getting involved in wars does it?


Feel good about ourselves? Hmmmm, I dunno about that.


That we've moved on somehow, but we haven't. What sort of world did these soldiers return to - the mass unemployment of the 20s and 30s. We might venerate them, but do we consider what their sacrifice was for. What was the point? It's very sad but I wonder what the point is when we haven't learnt any lessons.

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Re: They Shall Not Grow Old

Postby Dor-Relip Hotels and Bathings » 12 Nov 2018, 12:51

Goat Boy wrote:It strikes me that the wearing of the poppy is largely a benign gesture, one of simple remembrance and thanks. A collective communion.
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Re: They Shall Not Grow Old

Postby The Modernist » 12 Nov 2018, 12:52

'oh bee' wrote:
Goat Boy wrote:It strikes me that the wearing of the poppy is largely a benign gesture, one of simple remembrance and thanks. A collective communion.


What are we thanking them for and what are we remembering. It's never actually stated is it?

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Re: They Shall Not Grow Old

Postby Toby » 12 Nov 2018, 13:12

That's the point though; it's not obviously stated because the very thing itself is ambiguous. Lots of men went and fought in both World Wars - the reasons for doing so were wide and varied. Many men fought, particularly in WW1, because they felt they had to, pure and simple. There's a line in the film where one man remembers "you just did it because it's what you did". We have a differing worldview now, where I think we'd question such an almost mindless drive to serve. That servility in itself is what we remember, because the reasons for fighting were from our point of view, tragic - the reasons for fighting WW1 seem faintly ridiculous (maintaining Belgian neutrality) , in comparison, to say, the good war of WW2 where we had an obviously evil person to fight. Remembrance Sunday is, like I guess a lot of ritual things nowadays, a malleable concept.

A growing aspect of WW1 history is that we were right to fight the Germans, rather than it being painted as a "tragic" situation that we couldn't escape. Even if we hadn't entered the war in 1914, the likelihood is that growing Prussian/German expansionism would have made us enter sooner rather than later.

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Re: They Shall Not Grow Old

Postby Toby » 12 Nov 2018, 13:21

Goat Boy wrote:The old man used to tell me a story about a local man called George Ingram who survived the Great War. I’m not sure how many Germans George had killed but I got the impression it was quite a lot. When the old man was a boy he would go into pubs (bear in mind he wasn’t a young man by this point) and challenge anybody to a fight. He’d walk in and declare, “I am George Ingram and I will challenge anybody to a fight”. I doubt many took him up on his offer but he used to go round all the local pubs doing this. He used to do sit ups with men on his back too. A real local character. There must have been tonnes of stories. One thing he mentioned was they all had an incredibly dark and brutal sense of humour. They’d laugh at funerals. Shout out “good riddance to the bastard”, that sorta thing. I’m not sure what the civilians thought but they weren’t like other men. Another thing he said was that many of them "enjoyed" the war which seems such an odd thing to say but there you go. Real life was dull in comparison. I suspect George Ingram thought it was a great adventure!


I don't think there is any doubt that many men enjoyed the war. For some, it was a huge adventure - particularly if they were lifted out of poverty and got to hang out, have a (relative) roof over their heads, free grub, smokes and shooting Germans. There is no doubt that it was also horrific, but there is growing evidence to suggest that the overriding sentiment of WW1 being an absolute hellhole for everyone concerned doesn't ring true anymore. The simple fact I suspect is that the whole experience must simply have been too vast and overwhelming for most men of that time to articulate to anyone. Perhaps nowadays they might be able to.

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Re: They Shall Not Grow Old

Postby Dor-Relip Hotels and Bathings » 12 Nov 2018, 13:25

The Modernist wrote:
'oh bee' wrote:
Goat Boy wrote:It strikes me that the wearing of the poppy is largely a benign gesture, one of simple remembrance and thanks. A collective communion.


What are we thanking them for and what are we remembering. It's never actually stated is it?


In people's minds we're thanking them for defending our country - otherwise we would have been overrun by foreign forces. It's a very simple concept.
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Re: They Shall Not Grow Old

Postby The Modernist » 12 Nov 2018, 13:32

'oh bee' wrote:
The Modernist wrote:
'oh bee' wrote:


What are we thanking them for and what are we remembering. It's never actually stated is it?


In people's minds we're thanking them for defending our country - otherwise we would have been overrun by foreign forces. It's a very simple concept.


Well it's not that simple is it? Our country wasn't directly under threat. That's not to say you can't forward a good argument for the war -containing the aggression of The Hatsburg Empire and so on. But that's what I'm questioning, is it possible to have this kind of remembrance when the questions are so complex - are we remembering them as naive cannon fodder or brave patriots? Can brave patriots in fact be naive cannon fodder? Should they be pitied rather than venerated? And what lessons can we take from this when as a country we willingly go to war in Iraq causing deaths in the millions?

It's actually very complex and not simple at all.

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Re: They Shall Not Grow Old

Postby Dor-Relip Hotels and Bathings » 12 Nov 2018, 13:35

G - I put that part of my post in italics for a reason.

What you or I think about the Great War is close to irrelevant when you're considering why we AS A NATION thank them. Which is the question you were asking.
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Re: They Shall Not Grow Old

Postby Dor-Relip Hotels and Bathings » 12 Nov 2018, 13:35

and my sentiments are closer to those of British citizens as a whole than they are to yours, for what it's worth
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Re: They Shall Not Grow Old

Postby Toby » 12 Nov 2018, 13:36

The official line is

Remembrance Sunday is held in the United Kingdom as a day "to commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts"

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Re: They Shall Not Grow Old

Postby Toby » 12 Nov 2018, 13:40

I don't think there is any doubt that the waters have been muddied somewhat by Iraq and Afghanistan. To a certain extent, the act of remembrance assuages the issue of people who were essentially conscripted to fight and lose their lives in conflicts - the ritual of Remembrance led by the State is important, particularly when the act of war is not morally so clearcut. When people volunteer to fight though, it does become more complicated.

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Re: They Shall Not Grow Old

Postby The Modernist » 12 Nov 2018, 13:44

'oh bee' wrote:G - I put that part of my post in italics for a reason.

What you or I think about the Great War is close to irrelevant when you're considering why we AS A NATION thank them. Which is the question you were asking.


I'm sorry that makes no sense to me at all. You'll have to explain what you mean.

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Re: They Shall Not Grow Old

Postby Dor-Relip Hotels and Bathings » 12 Nov 2018, 13:45

'oh bee' wrote:
The Modernist wrote:What are we thanking them for and what are we remembering. It's never actually stated is it?


In people's minds we're thanking them for defending our country - otherwise we would have been overrun by foreign forces.
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Re: They Shall Not Grow Old

Postby The Modernist » 12 Nov 2018, 13:56

'oh bee' wrote:
'oh bee' wrote:
The Modernist wrote:What are we thanking them for and what are we remembering. It's never actually stated is it?


In people's minds we're thanking them for defending our country - otherwise we would have been overrun by foreign forces.


So you're saying you don't believe this yourself, but it's what other people think...?

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Re: They Shall Not Grow Old

Postby Dor-Relip Hotels and Bathings » 12 Nov 2018, 13:59

The point is, when you're asking a question like 'why are we remembering them?', then the 'we' refers to the population as a whole, right? The fact that you don't see a reason for all the commemorative activities isn't really relevant.

I don't know how I can make this clearer! Unless I'm missing something...
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