Everbody stops doing whatever they’re doing and stands silently for two minutes once a year on November 11, or on whatever day near that date is convenient for such a disruption of their activities. Usually there are bugle calls, flag lowerings, the laying of wreaths, the playing of anthems, the wearing of uniforms, and other such things associated with this two minutes of silence. Often too somebody reads a list of people who were killed in action during certain of the many wars in which the world has been engaged as long as most of us can remember.
All this colourful demonstration of remembrance, especially when it is wrapped up with prayers and clerical blessings, satisfies numerous people that they have “done something” about how terrible war is and have made it all worthwhile for those who died “so they could live,” as the saying goes.
At the same time, there is always an abundance of “war is hell” movies and “war is glorious” movies on television to keep people thinking about those old-fashioned wars as a respite from the immediate confrontation with the facts of the current wars. It sure gets your mind off Biafra and Chicago and Viet Nam to watch rollicking airmen fight the Battle of Britain and tough smiling privates crawling out of World War I trenches.
The two minutes of silence imposed on everyone who gets involved in any public demonstration of remembrance are a terribly private two minutes. No matter what the build-up has been and no matter what follows there is absolutely no way of knowing what a person is thinking during those two minutes.
A lot of the ladies are running over in their minds what procedure they will follow the minute they hit home to get dinner on the table as fast as possible for a cold, hungry family of rememberers. Lots of people are concentrating on their fingers and toes, wiggling them surreptitiously to keep circulation going. Children are supressing fits of giggles, clergymen are reviewing their parts in the rest of the program, musicians are keeping their instruments from freezing up by blowing silently through them, group leaders are surveying their charges. Some people are fighting back tears so that nobody will know that they actually become emotional when the memory of men and boys marching to war is forced upon them – to keep from breaking down altogether they will set their minds on any trivial matter they can which will help them regain their composure.
There are bound to be some people who spend those entire two minutes thinking of how dreadful those old wars were and feeling that they owe a debt to the people who died in them.
When the two minutes of silence are over, is the debt paid? Do we rush for warmth, eat dinner, go back to our social affairs laying aside all thoughts on the subject until the next convenient day nearest to November 11 the following year?
The two minutes are a part of accepted custom. What in the name of God could be done with these two minutes multiplied by an entire population each year which would benefit peaceful progress and work to stop the wars.
If the minutes were taken at exactly the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, without the fanfare and the medal polishing and the public display of bereaved mothers, but on the same moment by everyone including the Defense Department, the munitions makers, the stock brokers, the armed forces, the Members of Parliament – and if one question were presented beforehand for consideration during those two minutes – could such a wave of concerted thinking be useful?
The question would be “How can peaceful solutions be found?” Not “War is Hell” but “War must be made obsolete”. Turn the whole two minutes into a majestic “Think-In” on monumental lines and expect a changed outlook and changed behaviour on the part of anyone who is capable of thinking. Some of the world’s best thinkers spend all their day thinking hours on this plane of thought. Surely it would be useful if everyone joined them for those precious two minutes. Could it change the world?
By Rosaleen and David Dickson.
Reprinted from THE EQUITY of November 14, 1968
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