Remembrance as an act of citizenship

The many poppies of 2012 remind us again of the terrible conflicts of the last century and the fewer dreadful ones of this, lest we forget…

In a world where violent deaths are much less common the remembrance of war is sobering. It illustrates that freedom doesn’t come ‘for free’ to every new born citizen – even though it may look that way as a common entitlement.

The freedoms that we enjoy in the UK came at the price of the lives of people from this country, people from commonwealth countries, and people from allied countries around the world. It also came at the cost of innocents who were implicated in the grim ambitions of those like Hitler who proposed a world order enslaved by prejudices of race, religion, sexuality and more.

Also it tells us that fairness doesn’t come for free.

It reminds us that humans by nature tend to accumulate power unless stopped. And also the reverse: that we are more equal than we might know.

In that respect the Great Wars of the 20th Century were landmark moments in equality.

By the time a majority of the population had lost someone close to them they shared a visceral sense that we really are ‘all in this together’. Paying a similar price; giving and risking to similar magnitude.

Hidden from the everyday view, but much more present with us now, were fellow citizens of the commonwealth of that time. The millions from the Indias, the Caribbean, Australias, Southern Africa and more who joined this worldwide struggle and share our connection to the cost of today’s freedoms.

Both war struggles caused a quantum leap in democracy. An equal share in our loss led to a more equal share in our prosperity. After the First World War women were allowed to vote for the first time (though it took a while for this to become universal). And by the end of the Second World War the Welfare State, NHS, nationalised industries and United Nations came into being. Citizens of the commonwealth were also invited to become full citizens of the UK, beginning an era of diversity that acknowledged the unseen back-story of shared commitment to what began as a European conflict.

This year, in 2012, we are two years away from the centenary of these world shaping events.

We think it’s right to member the cost of freedom and fairness this year as ever, but we are also working up to a major occasion in 2014.

By the end of that year, just like at the end of this Olympic year, we hope that no young person will be ignorant of the significance of the occasion. We hope that they will recognise the reason to invest each citizen’s time and money in a peaceful negotiation of the world order: a price for freedom that should be forever kept in mind as we commit to a different kind of future. Working with British Futures we will be releasing materials that enable schools to mark the occasion with effective and affecting educational content.

It will be an extraordinary year, an important time for remembrance, and a chance to provide students with resources for a better future.

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

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