Posted by: rogermitchell | November 9, 2013

the deception of remembrance day

The deception that lies behind remembrance day and the accompanying red poppies is the epitome of the false belief behind our Western world. It is the fact that the day and the poppy identifies that deception that makes them such important means to disclose this false belief and explains why I keep returning to it every time this annual occasion comes around. It is the redemptive potential of an ugly season that otherwise underlines the utterly unacceptable quantity of lives wasted through political pride. We need some way of dealing with the grief and pain that this has embedded into our social and family life for generations. But strengthening false belief does not help.

What makes it so particularly shocking is that it is one of the few apparent manifestations of Christian religion in public view, yet it conveys the utter opposite of the message of Jesus.
The Remembrance Day ceremonies honour human sacrifice as the means to preserve one’s self, people, way of life, religion, nation and political system, whereas Jesus laid down his life to save his enemies. War amounts to insisting on our own way at the cost of the lives of the next generation, both ours and our enemies, however willing they may be to pay the price. We then dress it up to look like they sacrificed themselves for our freedom. They did not, because insisting on the sovereignty of our own way of life over that of others does not and cannot bring peace, it can only lead to more violence. What is paid for with violence is not freedom, and certainly not peace, because it simply justifies the ongoing violent military and financial cost of maintaining our own political system over that preferred by others.

Basically, as I have argued elsewhere and in many previous posts on this blog, our Western world is a system developed out of the insistence of the rich and powerful on their own way and advantage by means of law, war and money.
This has been intensified over the years by the necessity of making room for more and more people who are motivated by the same selfish desire to emulate the example of the rich and powerful. It is a situation more or less acceptable for those content with a certain measure of personal freedom and money despite the disparities of income and lifestyle between those at the top and those at the bottom. However, the extent of these disparities between the poverty of the majority world and the West has now come home to roost and over the last five years has become increasingly obscene here in the UK and the USA for those with eyes to see …. It is my prayer that the blood soaked myth of Remembrance Day will cry out against the economic oppression of the poor and disabled by the rich and powerful in today’s Britain and America. I long that the breadth of economic disparity will soon uncover the truth that what we call the free, democratic West is actually a selfish and inequitable system sustained by violence and bloody myths.

Kenarchy, on the other hand begins by facing the cost of refusing this way of life, what the Jesus’ story describes as taking up the cross and dying every day.
Absolutely not in the twisted sense of risking death to get your own way, but fully in the cause of reaching across to one’s fellow human being, whoever they may be, even when they prove to be one’s worst enemy. A stretch measured by what Miroslav Volf describes as “the will to embrace” even to the point of the worst that your political system or theirs can do to you. This creates the space for a whole new inclusive politics that the world has yet to see the fulness of, but of which the prophets have dreamed. Thank God that despite the horrors of the Western wars of empire we live in a generation that has seen some of the fruit of those who have decided to live this way, sons of peace like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, and many others whose sacrifices in the cause of peace we have serious reason to honour.



  1. Amen to all of this Roger. I have always refused to wear the poppy. It offends me greatly even as I know my lack of social conformity offends others. There is such a pressure here in Canada to wear it. I actually kind of dread it when I begin to see boxes of poppies all over, at every store counter, even the butchers. You cannot escape it. But I continue to refuse to wear it – I will not validate war, especially one that used the poor as cannon fodder to preserve the lifestyle of the rich.

    There was an interesting article yesterday in the Guardian by a elderly fellow born after WWI. He declared this is his last year to wear the poppy as he cannot support the way it is used to validate contemporary wars. And he pointed out that his father and other family members who fought in the war were poor or working class and economically had no choice but to enlist and fight. It is good to see people begin to question the tyranny of the red poppy and what it represents. c.

  2. Thanks Cheryl. There are some encouraging signs of a shift in public perception over this. All the more reason to keep on about it!

  3. The Guardian article has been doing the rounds, but makes the case against wearing the poppy well – and from a source that might just be listened to….

    • Harry Leslie Smith’s Guardian piece is ace. Thanks for providing the link. I hope I have the guts and clarity to challenge the quite literally bloody powers of government and media when I am 91! Thank God for him.

  4. Well, here is a rather exciting account of the power of following Jesus!

    Here is what ‘no violence’ can accomplish. c.

  5. I appreciate this perspective, but over here (USA side) the poppy is not quite as revered as there and is connected tot he much older WW wars…which will naturally elicit a question: In the case of WWII from our limited historical perspective our involvement was surely abut preserving a way of life, but it was in opposition to a much more monstrous way of life being imposed upon innocents…are you suggesting that kenarchy could have defeated Hitler without armed force? I haven’t really thought it through…and of course it is much deeper than that simple question, Hitler himself being the product of other wars less about defending innocents than the second was… I suppose if you go back far enough, it is true, kenarchy could have stopped it…but it seems there are some forces that get to a tipping point in momentum that kenarchy cannot exactly stop without other means…or perhaps that is to shallow a view…?

    • Thanks for this Mark,
      you are dealing with the nub of the issue, which is the mythology surrounding the world wars and particularly the joint involvement of the allies with the UK and the USA in that ‘special relationship.’ I am not questioning the evils of the Third Reich, but I am challenging the idea that our societies were qualitatively different. I suggest that the difference was one of degree not kind, and our resort to violence only exacerbated the problem. It is interesting that the evils of Soviet Communism were not overcome by violence and under Stalin they were hardly better than the atrocities of the Nazis. But they only lasted 70 years and were overcome by a mixture of resistance, attrition, diplomacy, systemic weakness, and as the previous comment indicates, prayer. No-one asks the question of what non-violent resistance to Hitler would have looked like and how long the Third Reich would have survived in the face of it. I’m suggesting that the outcome would have been preferable to being party to killing 60 million people (2.5% of the world population) and claiming the moral high ground for doing so, which is what we allies did. Now we maintain our selfish and inequitable system in part by mythologizing the memory of all that violence and the bloody myths that surround it. It’s time to do something different…

      • What’s tough about nonviolence is that we have to give up control. The possibility of using violence gives us a sense of security in case the situation escalates. We can act to protect ourselves/others as needed. Once that is given up as a possible action one is then thrown upon the mercy of God and the response of the other. And we are in control of neither. Hence the fear of nonviolence as a response to the threat or reality of violence.

        I heard an interview with Senator John Lewis the other day. He was an active marcher/organizer/activist in the southern US during the civil rights movement and spoke at the famous MLK led protest where MLK delivered his “I have a dream” speech. John Lewis was the youngest speaker in that group. In the interview he spoke about how he was trained to act nonviolently in the face of violence and how the most difficult thing was to look his attacker in the face and love him. However, he also stressed that nonviolence meant looking your attacker in the eye and engaging him as a human being and that often de-escalated the violence. The American civil rights movement and how it changed the country is, of course, an excellent example of the power of nonviolent engagement.

      • I am seeing it a bit more clearly now. It really is entrenched even beyond anything political.I have a friend I have been communicating with who was in a marriage where she was raped, physically abused and even with-held food from…by both her father and her husband…she finally had to flee for her own safety…she is an amazing example of not being bitter or wanting revenge or pain…she still has love…so I suppose my looking for balance is an exercise in futility, balance is an illusion…Jesus command to love our enemy is not as much about self sacrifice as it is about curing the core issue…I still need to process it…thanks for the insights.

  6. You wrote “We need some way of dealing with the grief and pain that this has embedded into our social and family life for generations.”
    Like you I am a Londoner but a bit older, able to remember rationing after the war and some of the working class emotion in Islington from my mother and grandmother. For Gran wearing the poppy was a continuation of the grief of losing her Harry, gassed in the trenches who eventually died a miserable death in 1922; for the safety her son Lenny who in 1942 patrolled the channel in a motor torpedo boat at age 20; and her son Hal who got isolated for years in the Middle East. Easy for me to say it was futile and grotesque but I could never say it to them. They showed respect with gratitude and got on with life with dignity, how could they otherwise? I would wear a poppy for them.

    But then there is the other issue of the just war. Or defending your family if the house is broken into. It would have been so easy to ignore Poland and let Hitler and Stalin fight it out, but what if Hitler had beat us to the Bomb? What if we knew that Alderney was being prepared with concentration camps for after a successful invasion of Britain. Would we have joined Dad’s army not to protect the Banksters but our daughters? Is not that a moral high ground?

    Appreciate your thoughts. Brian M gave me a copy of your book recently and I will enjoy reading it.

    • I’m sure Roger will reply in due course, but if I may offer a few thoughts? This us a difficult area because of the emotional traction it has in the lives of so many. I appreciate your ‘I would wear a poppy for them’ comment and feel similarly about my own family members now gone from us – and, indeed, hearing some of the sad stories told at this time of year. I wear a white poppy for peace instead, to acknowledge this shared grief. My wife wears both red and white as a sort of transitional gesture.

      But our compassion for the profoundly affected must be matched by a godly outrage at the philosophy and power brokering behind violence and war itself. As I understand Roger on this matter, yes, we need to acknowledge the presenting issues – including the defend your own home and family scenario (which is actually quite flawed in practise, as it insists there is no alternative when in real life there are always alternatives). But we must see them from the standpoint of the originary Gospel message, not the gross deviation from it which lies behind the machinations of those wielding political power. Violence is a means to express, maintain or gain power over others. War is the same thing writ large. It is not something that sits well with the poured out love in the spilt blood of Jesus, however much folk make this obscene connection.

    • Thanks for your comments Dave, and for the response it drew from you Phil.

      I too am from a working class London family, and I had a ration book, so I may be a tad older than you think! For me, the dignity with which many ordinary British families accepted the awful cost of the war deserves a mixed response. I grant that many knew no better than to assume that violence was the only way to deal with violent enemies. But many working class people knew full well from first hand experience that the foundations of our society were inequitable and unjust. Why did they think that defending our empire against one that was only worse than ours by degree was worth dying for? I can’t find the slightest grounds for a just war in the testimony of Jesus, and for me that’s where practical faith begins. So why didn’t more Christians teach that? Even if the state church were confused about the relationship between church and government how come nonconformists were so conformist? Many of my forbears were Christians from the Christian Brethren movement. Why weren’t the leaders of that movement more faithful to the clear instructions of Jesus to love your enemy and do good to those who hurt you? Why didn’t they oppose violence as a means to overcome ones enemies? Why, at least, didn’t more of them become conscientious objectors like my wonderful friend and mentor Herbert Pope? They should have. These are the kinds of questions that have disturbed me since my youth and my research has been grappling with.

      Thanks for planning to read my book the Fall of the Church. I hope it makes some sense to you. I shall be very interested to get your feed back!

  7. Thanks for this blog and all the comments- really helpful. I have spent this last week feeling so angry about Remembrance day and how it glorifies and lies to people about war, telling people that killing is heroic. I was angry when walking through the Cathedral they were giving children a lesson on Remembrance day and using John 15:13 as a scripture underneath a picture of a soldiers funeral. It pointed out to me the stark difference between Jesus life, work, teaching and peace bringing through the cross and resurrection with that of what war tears apart and destroys, both for civilians in nations having their lives ripped apart and soldiers and their families who do too.
    Other than wearing a white poppy, which I will next year, what can we do now? Pray. What else?

    • Prayer does work, as several welcome comments on this post have underlined. For some years a bunch of us have been carrying out a whole variety of intercessory acts that are made in the opposite spirit to empire, and I believe that there are positive signs of a gradual shift. But we need to be more openly political in our discipleship. Hence the work we are doing to encourage kenarchy at a variety of different levels. I am hoping that the coming book Discovering Kenarchy will help too.

  8. Thank you for this blog, it’s a voice calling in the wilderness, a voice we all so desperately need. The following video makes my spirit soar, may we all take the opportunities when they arise to call out, to have the courage to say no more.

    • Great to hear from you! Are you Brandon, or is the ace video link only via him? Please keep in touch down there in wonderful NZ!

      • Hi, no I’m not Brandon, the video was through a link from Upworthy. My name is Carol and I’m originally from Coventry, used to go to CCF, but I’m now a voluntary ‘exile’ from both church and England as an expat in NZ. I have followed your blog and I’m fascinated by the Kenarchy stuff. I have been exiled from ‘church’ for over 15 years but the Kenarchy idea I find fascinating, exciting,scary and challenging, there are days I read your blog and I wrestle with the ideas for hours, and I mean hours, in fact one day after reading what you had to say I was walking the dogs wrestling with aspects of Kenarchy and got back to the car and realised I had left them swimming in the river.
        The scary part for me is because first and foremost, I just don’t know if I could ever be a person who could love and live that way. I would like to think I could be, but in reality I’m just not sure. You see, I’m just an ordinary person who has battled through life with many scars, including being the daughter of a child migrant who was sent to Australia under the empire scheme which robbed my father of any fatherly goodness. For me it was also a scheme that robbed England of it’s ‘Father Heart of God’ and those sins were certainly visited upon the children. Now that was a sacrifice, these poor children, the sacrificial lambs of the empire, that sin must surely have wounded the nation. One thing I always struggled with in the church was believing in this person Jesus, but finding myself yearning for the real expression of him in the church, almost grieving for the ‘Father heart of God’ that seemed to be absent. But I believed it was also absent in the wider society itself, almost as if England had been abandoned by The Father God. Maybe it was just me, and by some alchemy of perception, I saw the church through my own orphan eyes. Maybe making it in my own image. So I’m sorry for going off topic, but can ordinary, rebellious, sometimes hurting people like me really know Jesus in this Kenarchic way and love and live Kenarchically?

    • Hi Carol, sorry not to have responded before now. I’ve been with my great friend Andy Knox engaging some pretty similar issues with an amazing bunch of very real and down-to-earth folk like you in Mississauga, Canada. Hopefully the coming book ‘Discovering Kenarchy’ will delve into some of these profound matters helpfully. In the meantime have you managed to check out my recent book ‘The Fall of the Church’? I’m encouraged to see that Amazon are currently giving it a 5 star rating

  9. Thanks for this perspective, one aspect that I think feeds into this massively is the huge increase in a culture of violence that is drip fed to young people. A recent study has found that violent shootings within PG-13 rated films have tripled since the rating was introduced in 1985. Surely one cannot help but think this numbs and desensitises the younger generation as these films teach young people how adults behave.

  10. Just wanted you to know I appreciated your comments here, Carol. I have also been in ‘exile’ from organised church for over 15 years – though feel still very much part of Church as I believe it to be, but that’s another story! Bless you.

  11. Dear Roger V thought-provoking stuff! It reminded me of the poem by Wilfred Owen – I’ve attached it, a chilling retelling of the Gen 22 story. On another, yet parallel track, I have just finished ‘Faith and Feminism’, by Nicola Slee; from my limted knowledge of both Kenarchy and Feminist theology, there would seem to be quite a bit of common ground between the two areas. Looking forward to vol 2 of the ‘street-level’ version. Love to you both Mike Love has just emailed to say you might be this side of the Pennines soon – hope to see you Alan

    • Thanks for the recommendation. Sorry not to respond more quickly, I’ve been busy in the US and Canada. I don’t suppose you’d like to be one of my first guest bloggers and write a brief review of ‘Faith and Feminism?’ I’d love to know what the redoubtable Julie Tomlin makes of Nicola Slee – I’ll ask her. Looks like I’ll be in Leeds later this coming week. Hope to see you if so…

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