1 ‘Be careful not to parade your uprightness in public to attract attention; otherwise you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven.
2 So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you; this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win human admiration. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward.
3 But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing;
4 your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
5 ‘And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward.
6 But when you pray, go to your private room, shut yourself in, and so pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
7 ‘In your prayers do not babble as the gentiles do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard.
8 Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
– The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 6
Every 23rd of August, I commemorate the death of William Wallace. Sometimes it’s something public, be it a simple post on social media, or an article. Others, I simply take a moment to reflect, read a section of The Scottish Chiefs, or one of David Ross’s books. I have a broad enough sense of humour to laugh and make jokes about Wallace, but not on that day, and not about his death. I don’t expect all Scottish nationalists, independence supporters, republicans, or whatever mast of the ship with which you align, to do this; nor do I think it should be mandatory. Freedom includes the freedom not to observe or commemorate anniversaries: I’m only interested in how I mark the occasion.
Similarly, I do commemorate the deaths of all those who lost their lives in war – all deaths, be they soldiers or civilians, human or animal, in the immediate carnage of battle or in the aftermath of sarvation and disease and ruin. But I do not wear a poppy; I do not watch the Cenotaph processions; I do not listen to politicians and civic leaders and celebrities pontificate. I remember in my own way.
If you wish to make your memorial public, ostentatious, grand and pompous, then that’s your prerogative – just don’t expect me to congratulate you for it. If you wish to cover your car in poppies and tattoo “Lest We Forget” to your forearm, go right ahead – just do not presume to think yourself superior to those who do not. If you wish to speak in solemn, grave tones about sacrifice and reconciliation between singing jingoistic anthems and firing cannon, then you’re welcome to it – just don’t dare accuse those who do not of displaying insufficient respect, sympathy, or patriotism.
I think of those who died in war other days and months of the year. I think of those who’ve lost their lives decades after “Never Again.” I think of all those lives ruined and neglected after “We Will Remember Them.” I think of those who will die tomorrow, and next year, and next century, because the people who rule and control our lives have not changed since the time Matthew wrote his Gospel. They are still hypocrites who love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them.
Remember how you will – as long as you remember.
Sixteen years old when I went to the war,
To fight for a land fit for heroes,
God on my side, and a gun in my hand,
Chasing my days down to zero,
And I marched and I fought and I bled and I died,
And I never did get any older,
But I knew at the time that a year in the line,
Was a long enough life for a soldier,
We all volunteered, and we wrote down our names,
And we added two years to our ages,
Eager for life and ahead of the game,
Ready for history’s pages,
And we brawled and we fought and we whored ’til we stood,
Ten thousand shoulder to shoulder,
A thirst for the Hun, we were food for the gun,
And that’s what you are when you’re soldiers,
I heard my friend cry, and he sank to his knees,
Coughing blood as he screamed for his mother,
And I fell by his side, and that’s how we died,
Clinging like kids to each other,
And I lay in the mud and the guts and the blood,
And I wept as his body grew colder,
And I called for my mother and she never came,
Though it wasn’t my fault and I wasn’t to blame,
The day not half over and ten thousand slain,
And now there’s nobody remembers our names
And that’s how it is for a soldier