There are quite a few stark discrepancies regarding Remembrance Day
The Remembrance Day to pay homage to soldiers killed in WW1 and successive conflicts across the world was observed recently.
Poppies were sold in several Commonwealth nations, with people wearing them as a mark of respect to the dead soldiers.
However, there are quite a few stark discrepancies in the whole event -- compelling one to question the rather dogmatic interpretation.
In Bangladesh, there was the laying of wreaths at the Commonwealth War Graves in Comilla.
For about two weeks, the BBC has been showing glimpses of WW1 era footage, remastered with colour and sound to make trench life during WW1 appear more alive. In addition, there have been several virtual reality-based programs that allow someone to wear a gadget and experience the hellish condition of the muddy, diseased, and squalid trenches of Ypres or Somme.
A close look at all the Remembrance Day programs across the globe shows that many events actually attempt to glorify and justify the political ideology of that time which in fact was based on brazen imperialism.
Pay homage to the dead, not the ideology
There is nothing wrong in paying respect to the fallen because soldiers die to implement the strategies of politicians who normally remain secure, thriving on demagoguery.
Troops are sent to die for a political principle which is forcibly injected in them as the correct dogma. Hence Tennyson’s famous line: “Ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die.”
Indoctrinated, the men in uniform march to the battlefield, take on the enemy, and get killed. That’s what happened in the two world wars, different sides proselytized with separate sets of political beliefs.
With blatant imperialism becoming a thing of the past, and economic dominance through trade deals and commercial concessions becoming the prime strategy, Remembrance Day should also be a platform to vociferously denounce military force-based imperialism that was the order of the time when the World Wars erupted.
The dead soldiers have done no wrong, and a tribute to them is laudable, though the political dogma that drove them to death needs to be condemned, not glorified.
Shockingly, the deliberate avoidance to excoriate the grossly iniquitous imperial political structure during the Great War often provides the main impetus behind the development of a pro-empire cult.
To look at the Remembrance Day dispassionately, as we salute the soldiers and remain silent on the grossly prejudiced political order of the period, we are, in fact, giving tacit approval to it.
In no way can the political philosophy be given any endorsement, because, at that time, Britain was a colonial power, subjugating a large part of the world, including the Indian sub-continent. The war’s main objective was to sustain that empire, based on prejudice, driven by racism, and fuelled by a false sense of superiority.
Therefore, when flowers are laid at the graves, there needs to be an unvarnished denunciation of the imperial policy during the world wars, sending a united call for a world where powerful nations will refrain from trying to control and manipulate other countries.
Indians won the wars, don’t forget
What one may find most irksome is the absence of any Indian perspective in the whole Remembrance Day extravaganza that is showed on international media channels. Come back to the remastered video of soldiers resting at the Western Front. Though more than one million Indian troops fought for the British (India was promised more self-governance if her soldiers fought), most footage that was and is shown never portrays Indian soldiers. In the recent remastered video, there isn’t a single Indian face to be seen, though Khudadad Khan, an Indian soldier, received the Victoria Cross for valour and courage at Ypres.
The virtual reality game is also highly partial, showing only British soldiers, never a person from the Africa Rifles or the Indian Army. Not to forget, Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, asserted several times that Britain could not have won both the wars without the Indian Army.
Incidentally, after WW1, Britain reneged on the promise she had made earlier, introducing the draconian Rowlatt Act which gave immense power to the police to arrest and detain without warrant and trial. Later, in a protest against the act, scores of unarmed people were killed in cold blood in Jalianwallah Bagh.
No point in beating a dead horse some may say, but there’s a rationale for not letting the past slip away because Remembrance Day observance tries to justify the political setting of a period which allows current empire apologists to thrive. One has rarely seen the international media bodies ask modern day British South Asians about their interpretation of Remembrance Day, and what they would want portrayed in what now seems to be a gathering of all imperial powers.
As an expiation to centuries of colonial oppression, Britain, France, Belgium, and all the other nations that either pursued a policy of subjugation or were indirectly involved in sustaining it (Australia, New Zealand), Remembrance Day will only be a global one when these nations state unequivocally that the political ideology of that period triggered global wars, was morally wrong, institutionalized prejudice, and served the selfish interests of a few.
The poppy appeal that precedes Remembrance Day should also provide the real history of the colonial past so the young of today can understand that millions went to war and died, often to uphold causes that may seem abhorrent today, against a much publicized social credo of human rights, equality, and pluralism.
Give us the truth, not propaganda.
Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka