The American cemetery near Cambridge.
Today is Remembrance Day, known as Veteran's Day in the US, but celebrated quite differently. I was struck when I moved here by the dignity with which the British remember their fallen soldiers. A couple of years ago I wrote about a repatriation ceremony I watched on BBC that brought me to tears. In the US no coffins of dead soldiers are ever shown on television, for political reasons. Someone in the Reagan administration first came out with that edict, hoping to avoid the loss of public confidence in the war that happened with Vietnam.
But it's not the sight of our fallen, their coffins draped with flags representing the country they died to defend, that turns us from war. It's the idiocy of the war in the first place, the fact that "defense" isn't the proper word for what happened in Vietnam and now, Iraq.
Here it's hard to forget those who died, and not just on Remembrance Sunday. Today churches across England speak of honor, courage, all the qualities we associate with those who fell at Ypres, at Normandy, in Kabul. I'm listening to a service right now on BBC, and later this morning thousands of poppy wreaths will be gently placed in front of war memorials, the focal point of every small English town. During November, many people wear poppies on their lapels or pinned to jumpers, including TV presenters, teachers, and shop clerks. In the stone walls of ancient colleges are embedded memorial plaques to their dead, once bright hopes for the country's future, now sad stories of uncles and cousins who never came home. Even the fictitious Archers visit a cemetery on Remembrance Day.
Something happens, though, when it comes to remembering those who are still alive, those who've chosen to join the modern services. Suddenly honor and courage aren't such hot commodities. The pay of servicemen and women here is lower than their American counterparts, their living conditions much worse, their benefits not as generous, and often, they seem forgotten by their government, as well as their fellow citizens. Recently there was a controversy surrounding plans to build a home for families of wounded servicemen near a convalescent centre in Surrey. The locals were dead set against it, at least until the story made headlines and they were shamed into reconsidering their planning council vote. I've heard stories of shoddy base facilities, inadequate supply lines, and other life threatening conditions endured by service personnel. The front page scandal of Walter Reed is played out endless times, without so much as an embarrassed cough from those in a position to do something about it—namely, the British taxpayer and their anointed accountant, Gordon Brown.
I'm outraged whenever I hear stories of governments who send their bravest citizens off to war, then neglect to see to their needs when they come home. I recently read that one quarter of all homeless people in America are veterans, a shameful fact that shouldn't be tolerated by a country whose automobiles are adorned with yellow magnetic ribbons proclaiming support for the troops.
It's particularly maddening when our soldiers aren't sent to protect their homeland, but to fight for the rights of their governments to sell cheap gas to its citizens, and for multi-national corporations to make billions in profits for their shareholders.
That's what I remember today, how mad I am.