And the Trumpets Sounded

Blogging is a funny thing, often you end up having friends, all over the world, who you are fairly sure you’ll never meet. I’ve met people from every continent (but Antartica) and quite a few have become friends, and a fair number of them have been featured here, over the years.

One of them is TonyfromOz, who told us this week about his ten years of blogging. His actual career (and the reason he started blogging) is a fairly close parallel to my own, and I was going to talk about it today. But Tony got superseded today. I hope he understands, actually I’m sure he will. Maybe some other day.

This summer will mark my seventh-anniversary blogging, and yes, I still enjoy it, although it is occasionally a strain, to find something to say, and to keep it suitable for work, as we say. Over that time many other bloggers have come into my life, and sadly a majority of them have gone, almost all are missed.

Sometime in the fall of 2011, I got a like from an unusual source, danmillerinpanama, the Gravatar showed a gentleman about my age, in a quite nice Panama hat. The likes continued to come as did mine on his blog, and so did occasional comments both ways, and something unusual here reblogs both ways. As I came to know Dan, I found that in some ways our outlooks were similar, and in some, they were quite different. We were both wise enough to understand that did not preclude our friendship.

Dan’s personal blog is here. One could profitably spend some time there.

One of the more interesting things is that we both greatly admired Robert E Lee, not least for his conception of duty. Our outlook on the world was quite similar.

So today I was very saddened to read on Warsclerotic, where he was the editor, in addition to making some posts on his own blog, that he had passed over. They were kind enough to share what Dan’s wife, Jeannie had written.

Dear Joe,
Dan asked me to communicate with you should he not make it through the latest of his health problems.
He felt a deep connection with Isreal, with Warsclerotic, and with you, Joe.
Please forgive my delay in communicating with you.  It, as you must know, has been a tremendously difficult time for me.  I needed some time to recover even the tinyest bit of perspective.
Please keep him in your prayers.
Best,  Jeanie
Here is what I wrote to our families:

Dan and I started our adventures together almost 26 years ago. Over the years, we’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve won and we’ve lost. Always, our

​mutual ​

love and respect made it possible to overcome the inevitable obstacles that present themselves over a lifetime.

Dan died last Sunday afternoon. I will miss him forever. He has preceded me in this last and greatest adventure of all.

As was his wish, I will spread his ashes over the finca he loved so well.


Rest in peace

​ and
Namaste, My​Darling

Curriculum Vitae and subsequent life:

Herbert Daniel Miller was graduated from Yale University, cum laude, and the University of Virginia Law School where he was notes editor of Law Review and a member of The Order of the Coif. After he graduated, he joined the United States Army JAG Corp where he was Special Courts Marshall Judge for the Country of Korea. Upon returning to civilian life, he joined the law firm of Koteen and Naftalin in Washington, D.C. until he retired as a partner in 1996.

Thereupon, he and his wife cruised in the Eastern Caribbean as well as Trinidad, Venezuela and Colombia in their sailboat, Namaste. They achieved their Dive Master certificates in Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles. In 2002, they reached Panama, spending a month in the Kuna Yala Islands on their sailboat before settling in Western Panama.

He leaves behind his wife, Jean Fiester Miller, his son, Nicolas Miller, his daughter, Elizabeth Korchnak and his sister, Margaret Zilm, his nephews Andrew and Gregory Zilm, as well as three grandchildren.

There are a certain number of us around, who have known each other (through our blogs) for years, and have become friends. Dan was a leading member of that group for me. After all, not that many American bloggers post YouTubes of Harlech Men or Scotland the Brave and connect them to our posts. He taught me much, while never denigrating anything I did.

One of our favorite quotes from General Lee was this:

Duty then is the sublimest word in the English language. You should do your duty in all things.

You can never do more, you should never wish to do less.

Dan epitomized that outlook, he’ll be mourned and missed for many a day here.

Rest in peace, dear friend. As our Navy friends say, “Fair winds and following seas”.

We’ll take the duty, amongst us.

And may God give comfort to Jeannie and his family.


Progress is Dependant on Reason, Not Emotion

At CapX, Marian L. Tupy wrote about Stephan Pinker’s new book,  Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. It’s pretty interesting, and I suspect the book is as well. Pinker is a Harvard professor, which sadly is not the recommendation it once was, but neither is it a reason to ignore him. According to Pinker:

Tribal warfare was nine times as deadly as war and genocide in the 20th century. The murder rate in medieval Europe was more than thirty times what it is today. Slavery, sadistic punishments, and frivolous executions were unexceptionable features of life for millennia, then were suddenly abolished. Wars between developed countries have vanished, and even in the developing world, wars kill a fraction of the numbers they did a few decades ago. Rape, hate crimes, deadly riots, child abuse—all substantially down.

That is certainly true, and as Americans, we should note that our prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments” is in the vanguard of this movement. So is much else having to do with our founding.

Most people agree that life is better than death. Health is better than sickness. Sustenance is better than hunger. Wealth is better than poverty. Peace is better than war. Safety is better than danger. Freedom is better than tyranny. Equal rights are better than bigotry and discrimination. Literacy is better than illiteracy. Knowledge is better than ignorance. Intelligence is better than dull-wittedness. Happiness is better than misery. Opportunities to enjoy family, friends, culture, and nature are better than drudgery and monotony.

I certainly can’t find anything to argue with in that definition of progress. Kind of appears to be common sense, doesn’t it?

Being a psychologist, Pinker discusses the reasons for our persistent pessimism. As I wrote previously, Pinker’s explanations include:

  • The interaction between the nature of cognition and nature of news. News is about things that happen. Things that did not happen go unreported. We “never see a reporter saying to the camera, ‘Here we are, live from a country where a war has not broken out.’”
  • Overestimation of danger due to the “availability heuristic” or a process of estimating the probability of an event based on the ease with which relevant instances come to mind. When an event turns up because it is traumatic – as opposed to merely being frequent – the human brain will overestimate how likely it is to reoccur.
  • The psychological effects of bad things tending to outweigh those of the good ones. Psychological literature shows that people fear losses more than they look forward to gains; dwell on setbacks more than relishing successes; resent criticism more than being encouraged by praise. Bad, in other words, is stronger than good.
  • Good and bad things tend to happen on different timelines. Bad things, such as plane crashes, can happen quickly. Good things, such as the strides humanity has made in the fight against HIV/AIDS, tend to happen incrementally and over a long period of time.

Pinker’s is an 18th century understanding of progress. He believes, along with Hume, Kant, Montesquieu and Adam Smith, that people can gradually improve their lot through application of reason and science. The Enlightenment view of progress should not be confused “with the 19thcentury romantic belief in mystical forces, laws, dialectics, struggles, unfoldings, destinies, ages of men, and evolutionary forces that propel mankind ever upward toward utopia.”

And that is important. American conservatives occasionally speak of completing the revolution and bringing the country back on course. In a sense, this is what we are speaking of, a return to the rationality and sense, not to mention sheer intellectuality of our founders, contrasted with the mysticism, and searching for utopia (remember that ‘utopia’ means ‘ nowhere’ in the nineteenth century, bursting at the seems with Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Jung, Tolstoy, even Lenin, and Trotsky. All of whom have brought us, far too often to the brink of dystopia.

In any case, a good read, to make you think, this cold Monday.

A New Constellation

Usually on 31 December we look back over the last year, and plenty of bloggers have been doing that, and I might yet, but I want to look back a little further, to what all the noise is about, about Trump’s very good year, yes, but also the uproar in Britain about Brexit, and why it is all so basic. Yes, it is also why this blog is here, if I didn’t care about freedom, under God – well what would be the point, exactly? It’s what we and the rest of the Anglophone countries stand, and have always stood, for.

As we watch the demonstrations just getting going again in Iran, we wonder, do they have the dream of our ancestors? Well, we can’t know for sure, but our people have always been ready to welcome others “yearning to breathe free”, I rather doubt we have changed, although we are undoubtedly more chary of putting our young people at risk after the events of the last score years. For as John Quincy Adams said so long ago.

America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She well knows that by enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standards of freedom.

241 years ago last July, there was a new constellation to be seen, it looked a good bit like this


Although it had somewhat fewer stars to begin with. Here’s the musical version of its creation

But you know, it was a most unusual revolution, I call it a conservative counter-revolution because it sought to restore, not try anything new. True, it spun out in a direction that was not really planned, and it has worked out fairly well, but it wasn’t really what those men went to Philadelphia to do.

The American Revolution/War of Independence was fought by British Americans against a German King and a reactionary Prime Minister for British Ideals.

Lady Astor

Being a literate society, the American Revolution was pretty much written down, and considering the circumstances, the founders did well to make sure that the documents survived. In fact, they are all at the National Archives, in a case that is designed to survive an all but direct hit with a thermonuclear weapon, as in meet for documents that have built the modern world. What are these four irreplaceable documents?

  1. The Declaration of Independence, that we celebrate every Fourth of July.
  2. The Constitution that forms the backbone of a just society
  3. The Bill of Rights, the first 10 Amendments that guarantee the basic rights of every American

Important documents, aren’t they? They are officially called the “Charters of Freedom”. The very foundation of the United States of America, right there ink on parchment, written down for the ages. This is what John Kennedy was talking about when he said:

For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.    1
  The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God. 2
  We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world. 3
  Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty. 4
  This much we pledge—and more. 5
  To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided, there is little we can do—for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder. 6
  To those new States whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom—and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

That is what America has always been, it’s the dream. The dream of a society where you will be treated justly, not the place with the best free stuff. The place where you can earn anything you want, whether it’s a Big Mac, to own your own business, or be the President, you can earn it. In its basics, that is what America is all about.

But the concept didn’t spring full-blown from Jefferson’s forehead like some modern Pallas Athena either, the roots of freedom are uniquely rooted in the Anglo-Saxon heritage, which is why we share so much with our British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealander cousins, we are unique in the world, our heritage is freedom, not oppression.

For instance:

Excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

To an American, it sounds just like the 8th Amendment to the Constitution, except that the word ought is substituted for shall. So what is it? It’s from England’s 1689 Bill of Rights, and yes, gentle reader, like almost all protections afforded to British subjects, it has been revoked.

And that is the point. We Americans have always taken pride in our revolutionary past, and we still do. But we built on the shoulders of giants. Those Charters of Freedom we spoke of earlier, remember I said there were four, I only mentioned three, didn’t I? What could possibly be the fourth, to compare with our Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights? There’s only one candidate,

Magna Charta

images (1)That’s right, the fourth charter of freedom of Americans is the Great Charter that set out to limit the power of King John, way back in Angevin times. Nearly every right we prize today was set out as a right of the freemen of England in that charter. And that is what differentiates the Anglosphere from everybody else, that spirit of individual liberty. Americans perhaps say it louder and prouder than some of the cousins but we, and they know it is our common heritage, that we have fought millennia for. Back there in Philadelphia, they didn’t raise Betsy Ross’s flag (if she even made it!) They raised this standard, because we were very loud and proud Brits, until we had to go get some help from the French, who, as always, were willing to screw around in our affairs.

The colonists emigrated from you when this part of your character [love of freedom] was most predominant; and they took this bias and direction the moment they parted from your hands. They are therefore not only devoted to liberty, but to liberty according to English ideas, and on English principles.

Edmund Burke, 1775

Happy New Year, see ya next year!


What is America for, Mummy?

Well we’re coming up on Christmas, and while there is plenty to write about, I’m out of the mood. This has been a year filled with winning for the old America, that many of us remember and cherish so much. Along with that I’m remembering my dearest friend, Jessica, and how she so often filled in for me here, and how I enjoyed her insights. So let’s go back to her very first post here, actually a repost from her blog, and yes, it goes to the heart of why so many of us (and not all of us Americans) love America so dearly. The last best hope. Let us hope we can live up to our legacy. Neo

[This is one of Jessica’s first posts here, I was looking through our records and it struck me that we often become bogged down in detail, in theory, in the mundane day-to-day stuff that we deal with. We tend to forget what it’s all about, and we shouldn’t. Almost from the beginning America has been a dream; a dream of freedom above all, but also of material prosperity.

It was such a potent dream that Italian peasants told each other that the streets were paved with gold, although they knew what really awaited them was hard work, and bias against them because of their language and religion but, they came anyway, and if they didn’t have much but hard work and cramped tenements, their children did. And that’s really what the dream has always been: for our children to have a better life than we did. In the nineteenth century, Russian immigrants who had never had anything but black bread, except maybe on holidays, wrote home ecstatically that “in America, we eat wheaten bread every day.” And that too was part of the saga of America.

That’s what we have built over the last 400 years, a dream of freedom, of individual liberty, yes, but also of freedom from material want by virtue of hard work. And you know, as Jess is going to tell you again here, that is really pretty damned heroic as well. Neo, 15 February 2014]

When I was ten, I lived in America for a year – in the mid-West. I remember when we got to O’Hare airport looking at its size and marvelling; it seemed bigger than the town in which we lived in Wales. I recall going to St. Louis and seeing the Arch, and going up it and looking across the vastness of the city and asking my mother: ‘What is America for mummy?’ I can’t remember what she answered – she probably thought it was me trying to be clever; but it was a real question, and one I came to ask a few times whilst I was there.

I think I asked it for the reason many foreigners ask – there is something different about America.  I remember going with my mother to a Kiwanis Club and being struck by the way everyone put their fist on their breast as they swore the oath of allegiance to the flag. Indeed, I was so impressed that I memorised it so that the second time we went, I could do it too. I remember a nice man smiling but saying that I couldn’t do it because I was not an American citizen.  ‘How do you get to be one of those’, I asked? ‘Well, little lady, you could always marry an all-American boy’, was the answer.  I think I said something about ‘smelly boys’ and never wanting to get married because I wanted to be a nun. But a bit later I recall thinking that maybe the kind man had a point.  America, the very idea, seemed Romantic.

My father was fifty when I was born, and his tastes in movies became mine. When other teenage girls were swooning about Kevin Costner (really???), I was dismissive. John Wayne was my hero – and remains so. He summed up America for me. Strong, but never boastful about it. I remember crying when I saw ‘The Man who shot Liberty Valance’ – it was so unfair – it was Tom Donovan, not Ransom Stoddard who shot Liberty Valance, so why did the latter end up with the girl? Huh, I remember thinking, if I had been ‘the girl’ there was no way I’d have chosen Jimmy Stewart over John Wayne – what was she thinking?  But, as Tom Donovan might have said: “Whoa, take ‘er easy there, Pilgrim”.

The film’s message, which passed me by in my indignation, was about the passing of the old West, and the place of myth in the making of a nation. America is a nation build around myths and legends. That is not to say they are wrong, it is to say that those movies told a bigger story about the making of a great nation and what made it that. All nations need myths, and the point about the American one seemed to be encapsulated in my second favourite John Wayne film – ‘She wore a Yellow ribbon.’ Captain Nathan Brittles was the quintessential quiet American. A man who, having lost his family, was married to army, and who did his duty, no matter what. My teenage heart went out to him, and I was very sniffy about the heroine going off with those ‘boys’ rather than a ‘real man’.

What John Ford caught in those films – especially the great trilogy which began with ‘Fort Apache’ and ended with ‘Rio Grande’ – was the very idea of America.  Call me a Romantic (no, do) – but that idea of America remains with me to this day. God Bless America – the land of the free.

[I think Jess is very right, America is romantic, and yes, you can call me one too. But if we take the romance, and yes the legend and the saga out of our history, we are left with a strip of dirt, and just another group of people. That’s not my America, either. Here’s a piece of the legend. Neo]

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Voyages and Voyagers

Click to make bigly

Well, the Alabamans are electing their new Senator. I’ll be surprised if it’s much of a surprise, but that’s why they have the election.

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night and was listening to BBC Norfolk, as I usually do. The call-in show was discussing whether they should allow Trump to make a state visit. The host obviously (although I doubt he thought it obvious) favored not allowing it. I was surprised though, by the time I went back to sleep about five people had called in, all favored the visit, and several vociferously called out his obvious bias. Frustrated indeed, was he, and yes, it was a joy to hear.

The other day, you may have heard, NASA fired a secondary set of thrusters on Voyager 1. Yes, they worked perfectly. But let’s think a bit here. Voyager 1 and 2 launched in 1977, the year Star Wars came out. Voyager 1 is about 13 billion miles away now, well out of our solar system, it took 19½ hours to find out if the commands worked.

NASA back in the day was one of the glories of America and this is why, they simply did things right. Not cheap (even if built by the lowest bidder) they built for the ages and now the stuff simply works.

And now, I hear that President Trump has told NASA to prepare to return to the moon in order to mount a mission to Mars. I’m skeptical but pleased, remembering how it pulled us together in the sixties, so we’ll see.

You know overall, having him as President sort of reminds me of what Gordon Sinclair, a Canadian said back in 1972.

The United States dollar took another pounding on German, French, and British exchanges this morning, hitting the lowest point ever known in West Germany. It has declined there by 41% since 1971, and this Canadian thinks it’s time to speak up for the Americans as the most generous, and possibly the least-appreciated, people in all the world.

As long as sixty years ago, when I first started to read newspapers, I read of floods on the Yellow River and the Yangtze. Well who rushed in with men and money to help? The Americans did, that’s who.

They have helped control floods on the Nile, the Amazon, the Ganges, and the Niger. Today, the rich bottom land of the Mississippi is under water and no foreign land has sent a dollar to help. Germany, Japan, and to a lesser extent, Britain and Italy, were lifted out of the debris of war by the Americans who poured in billions of dollars and forgave other billions in debts. None of those countries is today paying even the interest on its remaining debts to the United States.

When the franc was in danger of collapsing in 1956, it was the Americans who propped it up, and their reward was to be insulted and swindled on the streets of Paris. And I was there — I saw that. When distant cities are hit by earthquake, it’s the United States that hurries into help. Managua, Nicaragua, is one of the most recent examples.

So far this spring, fifty-nine American communities have been flattened by tornadoes. Nobody has helped.

The Marshall Plan, the Truman Policy, all pumped billions upon billions of dollars into discouraged countries. And now, newspapers in those countries are writing about the decadent, war-mongering Americans.

Now, I’d like to see just one of those countries that is gloating over the erosion of the United States dollar build its own airplanes. Come on now, you, let’s hear it. Does any country in the world have a plane to equal the Boeing Jumbo Jet, the Lockheed Tristar, or the Douglas 10? If so, why don’t they fly them? Why do all international lines except Russia fly American planes? Why does no other land on earth even consider putting a man or a woman on the moon?

You talk about Japanese technocracy and you get radios. You talk about German technocracy and you get automobiles. You talk about American technocracy and you find men on the moon, not once, but several times, and, safely home again. You talk about scandals and the Americans put theirs right in the store window for everybody to look at. Even the draft dodgers are not pursued and hounded. They’re right here on our streets in Toronto. Most of them, unless they’re breaking Canadian laws, are getting American dollars from Ma and Pa at home to spend up here.

When the Americans get out of this bind — as they will — who could blame them if they said “the hell with the rest of the world. Let somebody else buy the bonds. Let somebody else build or repair foreign dams, or design foreign buildings that won’t shake apart in earthquakes.” When the railways of France and Germany and India were breaking down through age, it was the Americans who rebuilt them. When the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central went broke, nobody loaned them an old caboose. Both of ’em are still broke.

I can name to you 5,000 times when the Americans raced to the help of other people in trouble. Can you name to me even one time when someone else raced to the Americans in trouble? I don’t think there was outside help even during the San Francisco earthquake.

Our neighbors have faced it alone, and I’m one Canadian who is damned tired of hearing them kicked around. They’ll come out of this thing with their flag high. And when they do, they’re entitled to thumb their noses at the lands that are gloating over their present troubles. I hope Canada is not one of these. But there are many smug, self-righteous Canadians.

And finally, the American Red Cross was told at its 48th annual meeting in New Orleans this morning that it was broke.

This year’s disasters — with the year less than half-over — has taken it all. And nobody, but nobody, has helped.

As I write this California is burning, and fighting it is a huge effort. It is an American effort, as it always is. But not quite, there’s bunch of very brave men out there, who came to help, all the way from Australia. Friends indeed, as they always have been.

But the others should be a bit cautious, perhaps. As the Marines are wont to say, “No better friend, no worse enemy”. And our memories work just fine, why we remembered that the Voyagers are out there, still working, after all these years.


Poppies and Political Correctness

Brookwood American Cemetery

Here in America, sometime after Vietnam, the wearing of Poppies seemed to die out without even a whimper, just over a few years, something that was de rigeur became optional and then unusual. It is something I miss, but maybe it is for the best.

If you are my age, you will likely remember the ladies from the American Legion Auxiliary (or the corresponding organizations from the VFW or the DAV) coming to your school, and passing out poppies, and giving us a talk about how important those men were. And the good works their organizations were doing (yes, it was, and it is, all true). Always, their talk included this, written by Canadian Major John McCrae at Ypres in 1915.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The thing is, for those ladies, who took the time to come and talk to a bunch of kids who were more interested in recess than history, it was their father’s and uncles at (well not Ypres for Americans) but at Chateau Thierry, and the Argonne. And it was their brothers and boyfriends and husbands who fought all across Europe and Asia a mere 20 years before. Even as grade school kids a good bit sunk in.

My guess is, it was much the same in Britain, but where in America, for some undocumented reason, the poppy has retreated to a much-diminished place, in Britain it has become a required marker. I’d like to think that a good thing, but I’m not sure it is. Sir Humphrey had some thoughts about this lately at A Thin Pinstriped Line. They are worth a think.

[P]oppy season is here again, that time of year when politicians, celebrities and others compete to wear the biggest and most garish poppy. The media are on tenterhooks, waiting to spot a public figure without one, or even better someone wearing a white poppy or saying how they don’t believe in poppy day. The Guardian and Independent will run articles decrying the event, which will have the effect of raising the blood pressure of people across the country who have never served but feel the need to be OUTRAGED on behalf of those who have. Frankly I think this garish spectacle is getting worse every year, and I wonder if the time has come to rethink it.

I come from humble roots. Looking back over 100 years of ‘Appleby’ family history and you will find coal miners on Tyneside and farmers in Essex, all living in relative poverty. One direct side of my family has a long history of service with the Reserves. My great grandfather was in the TA before WW1, mobilising as a Private in a TA rifle Bn in 1914, before being invalided after the Battle of Loos. My Grandfather joined the TA in 1940, serving as an anti-tank gunner  in a long series of campaigns from Africa to Western Europe in 1945. Growing up I heard his stories of the war and thought they sounded exciting and fun.  I was too young and naïve to realise the deep horrors he saw and experienced that lurked beneath the surface of his bravado about nearly being killed at Alam Halfa, entering the minefields on the first night of Alamein, or going toe to toe with Tigers at Villers Bocage. To my youthful mind he had spent his twenties having a bloody good adventure, not risking his life in circumstances he didn’t necessarily want to be in

There were no decorations or medals for my family members. A citation recommending him for the Military Medal was found after his death. The award was never gazetted, and it was likely that he was written up at least twice for a gallantry award, but family legend being that his falling out with his Platoon Commander saw the end of the matter. What was telling though was that he never spoke of the horrific and desperate circumstances that saw him being written up for the award, only the circumstances of it going no further.

The other half of my family history involves many who were conscientious objectors, and who did not serve for strong and deeply held religious beliefs. As a child I did not understand this, nor what it meant to be a conscientious objector in the UK during the war. It was only as I got older that I began to realise the strength of moral courage required to not serve, to say the unpopular thing and to not give into peer pressure and sacrifice your deeply held beliefs in order to conform. To listen to how lifelong friends would refuse to talk to you ever again over your views was humbling. I am as equally proud of my family on this side, and use their example of courage and standing up for what they felt was right in my own approach to life. The manner in which this blog is written, challenging the status quo and pushing unpopular views is in its own way a small attempt to continue this tradition.

That sounds like almost any American Family I can think of over the last century, although Conscientious Objectors were quite uncommon here, but they certainly have always existed, and we have mostly honored them, as we should.

I have no particular emotional attachment to Remembrance Day, and feel no reason to get morose or withdrawn over it. It is a time of year to pause, give thanks and look to the future. But in recent years I feel that something has gone awry with the whole process.

Growing up in the early 1980s it was about watching parades of men from both world wars come together to pay respects. There was huge and genuine admiration from the crowd and more importantly a sense of humility. It felt that the day functioned as a national coping mechanism for a nation where most of the population had in some way lived through, or been impacted by the legacy of the war.

Today very few are left who remember the war – even the youngest babe in arms in 1945 is today well into their 70s. The youngest UK veteran of WW2 will probably be about 88-90 years old, and much as with the end of the First World War veterans, their numbers will soon dwindle rapidly and then pass forever into memory.

Watching the parade in London now seems to involve an ever more eclectic combination of random organisations, people with ever more tenuous links to the military and a growing number of post war veterans who may never have seen an actual campaign, but who feel the need to vocally campaign for a medal anyway. At the same time the whole process of remembrance appears to have been caught up in a wider process of ostentatious displays of poppy memorabilia and ‘proper remembering’ (as ARRSE users call it).

I think we have lost sight of what the act of remembrance actually is – a simple pause for two minutes to reflect, give thanks and look forward, wrapped up in a simple service. The growing ‘remembrance industry’ seeking to milk every opportunity to raise funds or be outraged at some manufactured incident seems to have lost sight of this.

About that parade, Sir Humphrey is simply correct, I watched it last year (on youtube) and it had little to do with the stalwart men who kept us free, it was virtue signalling central. I wonder if the Queen agrees, there must be a reason why she has decided to pass it on to the Virtue Signaller in Chief, Charles, Prince of Wales.

Not that this is news, really. Jess and I did a comparison a few years ago. her thoughts are here, and mine here.

All that said, where will I be, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th months for the 99th time? Where I always am, at my local cemetery, remembering those I have known, in olive drab, in khaki, in pinks and greens, in tiger stripes, in woodland, in BDUs, and ACUs. That is the meaning of the day, to remember, not just for those two minutes, but in our lives and in how we live our lives, those who laid it on the line for us all. Sir Humphrey is correct, the ones from the Great War are all gone, the ranks from the second are thinning quickly, we need to learn the lessons quickly, although they are the eternal lessons that these men lived so well. Duty, Honor, Country says it all, really. But we need to try much harder to live up to them.

And then I will retire with my friends to the local Legion Hall, for lunch, and a few (usually cheap) beers. The first toast will be what it always is, just as we stole it from the Scots, long ago.

Here’s tae us;
to which the assembly replies:
wha’s like us?
to which the hosts replies:

Gey few, and they’re a’ deid.

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