The dead are dead. Except perhaps through our prayers, they are beyond our influence, whether good or bad. Which is why it’s baffling to hear people talk about ‘honouring the dead’. The dead are dead and so free of anything we can do to or for them, be that positive or negative. So when next Sunday there are cenotaph ceremonies ‘honouring the war dead’ of Britain’s armed forces, that claim on the face of it doesn’t make sense.
That’s not to say the ceremonies don’t make any sense. The various wreaths and bowed heads and military salutes and poppy-wearing are a statement that the things which in the past motivated those dead now motivate those who are alive. What is being honoured is not the military dead (an impossible task) but the values the dead once had and which the living now embrace.
Which is fair enough. What is not fair enough is to point the finger at those who don’t wear the poppy (assuming they have a choice, of course) or don’t attend Remembrance Sunday ceremonies, and say they are refusing to honour the dead. What such accusations are really saying is “You are wrong not to share my values - shame on you”. Which is an intolerant sort of thing to say. Would it be an idea to let people hold whatever values they choose, even - maybe especially - if we don’t like those values? Not only allow but respect their right to different values. Isn’t that supposed to be an important ingredient of democracy?
A final thought: since the military dead of Remembrance Sunday by definition are or were men of violence, does that send any message to those who’ve been erecting murals to their military dead in different parts of Belfast? Or is it a case of “My violence good, your violence bad”?