Earlier this year I wrote about taking part in the Global Peace Meditation, along with over 100,000 other people on~line. When he read it, Lord David Prosser asked me if I would write a ‘peace piece’ for his blog The Buthidars.
It’s been a while now since David’s request and ~ although I’ve made several false starts ~ I haven’t quite managed to get it together, until now. He wondered why I became a pacifist at an early age and that question immediately brought up memories of my stepfather. A ‘gentle giant’ in every sense of the word, who instilled in my young mind a healthy respect for all living creatures.
As a veterinary surgeon in the Ministry of Agriculture, his was a reserved occupation ~ he carried out vital work on the Home Front during Second World War. But three of his brothers enlisted in the army and ~ although, thankfully, none of them were killed or injured ~ he expressed deep sadness that they’d had to put their lives on the line in the first place.
As I was growing up he would read me a few verses of poetry, in lieu of a bed~time story ~ discussing and explaining what they meant. (Might sound boring but I loved it!)
I particularly remember a couple of the poems we studied together. The first is Longfellow’s ‘Song of Hiawatha’ ~ about a Native American hero, whose arrival was prophesied by a ‘mighty’ peace~bringing leader.
The second is ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’, by Tennyson, in which ~ due to miscommunication in the chain of command ~ 600 British light cavalrymen were sent:
‘into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell’
with very few of them returning.
‘Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die‘.
(from the poem, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1854)
With the help of these comparisons my Dad taught me to love and honour nature ~ and to question the rationale for conflict. He also explained the concept of conscientious objection in sympathetic terms, fostering an embryonic pacifist conviction in me.
My first husband was a medic in the Royal Navy and in 1982 the ship he was serving on was engaged in a short but very dirty conflict, in the South Atlantic. Many of our friends were also part of that British Naval Task Force and although everyone I knew returned safely to joyous welcome parties, it was only later that the full extent of their trauma became evident.
This was a terrible time, made worse for the families at home by the on~board presence of the media, who reported back in gory and graphic detail. The experience brought home to me ~ quite literally ~ that It’s not just members of the armed forces who fall under the shadow of war. Wives, children, parents and siblings suffer as well.
Ordinary people are caught in the crossfire ~ of the three civilian women accidentally killed by British forces ‘liberating’ the Falklands Islands, one had attended my secondary school in Wales. Although she was a couple of years ahead of me, I knew her ~ she was the only daughter of our local greengrocer. I was shocked to the core by the ironic and senseless waste of her young life and it reinforced my belief that warfare is savage and immoral.
It is now a hundred years on from the start of the ‘war to end all wars’ ~ that worked out well didn’t it? Still ~ ever the optimist ~ I’ll continue to hold out hope for World Peace, for as long as I live.
Which is why ~ on this anniversary of Armistice Day 1918 ~ I’m choosing to wear a white ‘peace’ poppy. As a mark of respect to the millions of victims of senseless war ~ and in loving memory of the wise man who taught me to think for myself.