HOME     V O R T E X    V O R T E X    V O R T E X 3    V O R T E X 4    V O R T E X 5     P E R S O N A L  B L O G

Conference Papers
Conference papers

Paul Gough
Invited paper delivered at Public History Now, First National Conference, Ruskin College, Oxford, 20 May 2000

Forgive and Forget: the case against Remembrance Sunday.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, as the pacifist movement began to impact on public consciousness in Britain, the annual Armistice Day rituals in Whitehall, central London, were noticeably less militaristic in character: fewer service personnel took part and politicians argued that public rituals of remembrance should in future have more of a civilian flavour.

The event became a warning against future war rather than a reflection of past losses. It was even suggested that Remembrance Sunday might one day cease to take place.

Yet this has not been the case. The 1990s have been a period of sustained growth for the remembrance industry: the traditional Two Minute silence is now enforced in most public places; the wearing of poppies has once again become widespread, battlefield tourism is booming, interest in military fiction and war documentary shows no sign of abating. Across Britain there is an orthodoxy of remembrance that is finely attuned to the post-Diana mood of ‘emotional correctness’.

This paper will examine the many tensions in the commemoration of military conflict in Great Britain. Drawing upon fieldwork research in this country and abroad, the paper will explore the histories of military memory, its physical manifestations in memorials and monuments, and the surge of recent interest in rituals such as Remembrance Sunday.

The paper will argue that these rituals ignore the founding principles behind such events and, instead, asserts a new unproblematised reading of history and martial memory.