Sentimental thinking has the effect of smoothing the edges of whatever is being thought about: it’s a way of thinking in ‘soft-focus’ and as such is a type of euphemism in that it makes something seem less unattractive than it actually is.
We do this (at least) once a year on 11 November when the country sentimentalises the 1914 – 1918 carnage, and we are pressed, by media publicity and poppy-sellers, to all think and feel the same thing. This always strikes me as being fantastically sinister.
How many persons who served in the 1914-1918 conflict do we know sufficiently to ‘remember’ to begin with? We cannot remember persons we never knew, and the further in the past the First World War is, the more absurd services of ‘remembrance’ will become. Nobody is instructed to care about those who died in countless conflicts prior to 1914. When did you last hear of someone ‘remembering’ the dead from Agincourt or Alfred’s defence of Wessex from the Vikings? It’s because the passage of time makes the occasion absurd the scope of ‘poppy day’ has been changed to include ‘and all conflicts since’ or some formulation like that.
(There’s an interesting question, here: how far in the past does something need to be for it to not matter anymore? It’s difficult to answer.)
When I’ve asked how we can remember those we never knew I have been told that ‘remembrance day’ isn’t about remembering, it’s about something called ‘reflecting.’
At this point, I once asked why the day is called a day of ‘remembrance’ rather than a day of ‘reflection’ and the question was unappreciated. It always surprises me when a friendly face turns quickly lizard-like if there’s the scent of mockery in the air, but it shouldn’t. I’ve seen it enough times.
Some humans are extraordinarily stupid, and many more happily sacrifice their critical faculties when mob-behaviour is required. Why are we so easy to manipulate?
Anyone who genuinely cared about those who died in wars, and the unpleasantness connected to war, would say they didn’t need one day a year, and one or two minutes’ silence on that day, to be prompted to think about those who have been killed, they do it anyway, on their own account. Such a person would probably read for pleasure. Those who make a public show of their sensitivity probably don’t feel it as strongly as they make out, just as those veterans who really saw some horrible things don’t want to talk about them.
Always distrust public demonstrations of piety or emotion. Always be suspicious of groupthink.
A company will run regular ‘fire-drills’ every few months. These involve herding the staff from the office block out into the street or the car-park as practice for the day there’s a real fire. The staff stand about doing nothing while stupidvisers, wearing the obligatory ‘high-viz’ jacket, scamper about looking at a clipboard or something else equally important. The company does this because if there is a need for the staff to act in a controlled fashion, as one unit, then it’s better to have them rehearsed.
This is what ‘remembrance day’ is.
It’s the state rehearsing the public: keeping us used to herd behaviour, and using a sickly mixture of sentiment, patriotism and the human animal’s enjoyment of public emoting as a way of feeling good to achieve it.
That’s the first point.
The second is that by sentimentalising this war and those who were killed (they didn’t ‘give their lives’ they were slaughtered, with untold numbers dying in agonizing pain as their eyes bulged and their mouths foamed) in it, makes it easier to repeat when the state requires it. Nobody wears white poppies. Ask yourself why not? Nobody talks of the 1914 – 1918 conflict and says ‘never again’ – the sentiment doesn’t stretch quite that far, because ‘never again’ is not what the state wants us to think.
It wants us to think ‘again as and when required.’ There might come a time when the state needs to manipulate the public into action again. The groupthink encouraged every November by the state is its way of watering the mind-seed, maintaining it, until needed.