Humanists on remembrance

November 1, 2018

Humanist Society Scotland will be officially represented at ten events across Scotland on the 11th November, and for the first time Humanists will be included at the London cenotaph service represented by our sister organisation Humanists UK.

Ahead of these events Humanitie asked two Humanist Society members their own personal reflection on what Remembrance means to them.

Eddie Kennedy

In pausing to think about Remembrance Day, it’s hard not to feel an immense, sense of sadness. Sadness not only at the loss of friends and family to conflict but also sadness at the life yet to come lost. As a Humanist, for me, there is no afterlife, no glorious sacrifice to be rewarded in some other place for doing the “right thing” – the expected “duty”. For those left bereaved by the spoils of war, no medals or dispatches can ever replace the void of a son, brother, sister, father, spouse or any other.

Eddie Kennedy in uniform during his time with military reserves
Eddie Kennedy, pictured in 1980’s during time with military reserves

My own experience in TAVR, while I never had to serve in any conflict, it nonetheless left me with memories of close friends and colleagues lost. And since taking the role as a Humanist celebrant again there is an impact of loss and grief, I encounter with the families I support. The sadness and the pain eventually will fade for most, no matter how hard that initial period seems, but the memories of those lost are still there, living on in family and friends, as precious gifts.

For me, there is a challenge around Remembrance events, which makes it difficult, in accepting that although many battles of the past have brought freedom and liberated many from certain horrific disaster. But also, with that comes the realisation of the human price paid for our freedom. I would challenge others to accept that war isn’t nicely split into a simple as good vs evil. And the individual Soldiers of both sides in any conflict are more likely to have more in common than apart.

2018 marks one hundred years on from the end of the First World War. How much actually separated those at either end of the battlefield other than language and who sent them there in the first place? Both foes were Human; they had lives to lead, families who loved them and dreams to aspire too – and both had those ended in the same way.

And although I still do agree with the principle of the right to defend ourselves, the armed conflict must be the absolute last resort. So, on Remembrance Day, I will stop, reflect and remember the lives of those I knew, and also on those I never had the chance to know.

Eddie was active for 20 years in the territorial parachute regiment, he is now a Registered Celebrant with the Humanist Society Scotland based in Aberdeen.

George Caldow

I cringed when in 2014 David Cameron ‘celebrated’ the start of the First World War and become almost incoherent with rage when many, especially politicians, talk about the sacrifice and how our lives today are better because of it, totally ignoring the fact they have plundered that legacy for their own selfish gain far too often.

When I look back at what ‘remembrance’ means, I can only see the broken promises. A land fit for heroes was promised yet within a few years when any possibility of the elite being overthrown as in Russia, it was back to the greed which still pervades today’s society for the richest amongst us. My grandfather was a miner and involved in the 1926 general strike as his pay had been cut almost in half and safety was not worth mentioning. In many of the books and articles which were written at that time, the lack of support to those crippled by the war led to them begging in the street to survive is the reality that far too many faced. In all the conflicts since, that has been the one constant, support for the troops when they are needed and forgotten about when no longer of service to their masters.

Humanist celebrant George Caldow reads from a folder whilst conducting a ceremony
George, at a Humanist ceremony

While I appreciate the sacrifice, bravery, stoicism and the efforts of those fighting on behalf of our country and I will support the armed services charities, I have nothing but contempt for those who gleefully set them off on a war, often for personal gain, ill-equipped and badly led by those from the ruling elite class. If all the millions who have died or been crippled saw what our society has become, ideology-driven and divisive they would not have fought. In a country where the poor and the disabled are denied benefits to fund corporate tax cuts, where policy is about the short-term gain for a very few rather than a better future for all would they consider their sacrifice worth it. I doubt it!

When I take time on the 11th to remember those who have died, I will thank them and apologise for destroying the hope their loss was supposed to give for their future generations.

George spent three years with the Royal Army Medical Corps in the 1970’s. George is a Registered Celebrant with Humanist Society Scotland based in Fochabers.

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