Editorial: A year for remembering
I have a sixth sense. More powerful than any of the normal five, it reaches across miles and years. It brings me scenes, conversations, events, sensations and information from far distant times and places. It’s a superpower I share with the rest of the human race: Memory.*
Just as well. Without it, none of the things we see and hear around us would make the slightest sense. We would be unable to learn and we would have no real idea who we are. Memories sustain us through hard times and link us with those we have lost. They also bury us in pain and anger, and it can be very hard to make sure that the stories that we carry round in our memories are as true as they should be.
2014 is a year for remembering. Every November we put a little time aside to remember our wars, but now, remembrance of the First World War falls across the whole year. We need to remember our national past to make sense of the world we are in now, to learn from experience and to know who we are as a country. But we also need to question our memories: How true are they, and how much do they get sidetracked into wishful thinking, cynicism, self-justification, self-hatred, complacency or vanity?
The education secretary’s recent defence of the idea that the First World War, on the British side, was “for civilisation, for a better world, a war to end all wars, a war to defend freedom,” was perhaps a rather extreme attempt to create new memories when old ones don’t serve your cause, but it’s a temptation we all face, to hammer stories into weapons before we’ve taken the trouble to listen to what we have to learn from them ourselves.
You’ll find in this month’s Reform a number of variations on the theme of war and peace, which I hope will be an aid to remembering well and to turning the lessons of war into tools of peace. There are other reflections on memory too, from the personal to the denominational.
Somewhere near the heart of the Christian religion is the remembering of a meal. It says something about the dark side of memory that the question of how to understand that act of fellowship has itself caused devastating wars. More bad memories; more good lessons. I guess if we want to learn the most important lessons, we have to sit with the most uncomfortable memories. Whatever we do, if we are to do it wisely, the injunction applies, in one way or another: Do this in memory.
*Charissa has just pointed out that I have the worst memory in the world. I like to think my point still stands.
This article was published in the February 2014 edition of Reform.