Remembrance isn’t about you

Anthony Shaw, KCLSU Vice President of Representation and Communication, responds to the ULU ban on officers attending Remembrance Sunday in an official capacity.

 

This week ULU, the student body that represents London’s students, all 120,000 of them, issued a blanket ban on elected student representatives attending remembrance services in an official capacity. Michael Chessum, President of ULU, stated that “ULU has democratically established a policy on its engagement with official Remembrance which leaves room for officers and students to act freely.” Either attending or not attending official ceremonies is a political act. “Personally, I will commemorate the dead killed in war by fighting for peace and challenging the policies of governments, not by standing next to war criminals like Tony Blair on plinths, pretending that these acts are ‘triumphant’.”

I am writing this piece as I want to express my outrage at this decision. This decision is one that isn’t good for student democracy and is harmful to the student movement as a whole. I was reluctant to enter into this debate as it gave the student leaders undeserved and self serving media exposure but my outrage at their willingness to score political points at the expense of such an important and solemn occasion will not allow me to sit back and allow this to go unchallenged.

Last year, Daniel Cooper, ULU’s Vice President, refused to attend a remembrance service as it went against his ‘socialist principles’. Well I need to say that I consider myself a socialist and I am very much opposed to this ULU decision. My main issue with the ULU decision is that it claims to be democratic. Its executive were elected on tiny majorities and none of them put this on their manifestos, the Senate consisted of representatives from each college who had no mandate from their students or from their democratic structures and last year, when Cooper refused to attend, the sheer weight of outrage from the student body should have been enough to at least make the exec put this to a referendum or vote.

This entire episode also stinks of politicking by student politicians and the politicisation of a non-political event. This event is to remember the dead, it is not to glorify war or to celebrate our successes. People attend these services not to support war – it is in fact the complete opposite. A reminder of the true horror of war. You can oppose wars and why they are fought and still attend a remembrance service and remember the dead.

I for one was completely opposed to the wars fought in Iraq and Afghanistan and numerous others but the point is I am not there to give support to these wars but rather I want to remember all those who suffered during them. The logic given, that by attending a remembrance service we are supporting war, wouldn’t giving money to a military charity to help the victims of war or one to help veterans recover not also showing support for war? Wouldn’t this mean that governments and people should offer no help to soldiers returning from war?

It is not right for the legitimate and strong voice of the student body to be ignored simply because of the personal politics of a few officials. A large proportion of students want to be represented officially and while I am not saying that people should be forced to go, they shouldn’t also be forced not to go. How is it sensible to blanket ban all representation at a remembrance service when students want to be represented and where some officials want to attend these events?

I don’t agree that we are remembering the dead because they fought for ‘our country’ or that they fought for our liberty. Rather, we are remembering them because they went through something so harrowing at the ask of a democratically elected government.

What do I want to see now? I want to see the student voice coming through. I want to see London students’ unions taking this matter to their students and asking them what should happen. Our union, King’s College London Students’ Union, passed a motion tonight condemning the ULU action. I urge other students’ unions to do the same.

And finally a message to the general public: I beg of you not to let this affect your view of students and I ask that all criticisms are made purely against those few at the top who made this disgusting decision and are constantly dragging the name of the student movement through the mud with their politicking. This is a shameful moment for London students and I for one will be doing my utmost to fight it.

You can oppose war and still remember.

 

5 Comments

  1. Emilian

    30 October, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    My aim in this message is to demonstrate that you are making unfounded conclusions. However, I agree with your general view that what has occurred must be revisited and perhaps changed. In all fairness, I couldn’t give a toss about remembrance since I adhere to a personal and narrow view of life where my self-interest reigns paramount. However, I feel compelled to warn other students to not be swayed by emotional arguments and conjecture.

    1) Just because their manifestos did not mention this decision, does not mean they shouldn’t undertake the endeavour. If we were all bound by our manifestos, our careers would be over upon completion of our aims. Moreover, we didn’t vote for their manifestos (as you clearly illustrated) shall we just invalidate all their aims as a natural consequence because they are not “representative” off our general will?

    2) If we are to use the logic of representation, then we should follow it consistently; if the great majority of students do not participate in commemoration, then neither should the representatives do so in their official capacity. This therefore brings to light a need for us to have an understanding of what the majority of students think, otherwise, your claim that they are not representative of the student voice on this issue is conjecture.

    3) There is a greater burden of proof for US to show why THEY must adhere to remembrance day, rather than THEM showing why THEY must adhere to it since the only valid reason is cultural precedent, which doesn’t qualify as a rational reason but an ideological one. I thought we wanted decisions based on rationality.

    4) “The logic given, that by attending a remembrance service we are supporting war, wouldn’t giving money to a military charity to help the victims of war or one to help veterans recover not also showing support for war? Wouldn’t this mean that governments and people should offer no help to soldiers returning from war?” This is an incomplete syllogism for there is not firm link established between both sets of actions. But I think you mean well by it. However, the bit I want to emphasise is that governments and people are two different groups with different interests and aims so they cannot be used in the same context without appropriate parenthesis justifying why.

    5) “they shouldn’t also be forced not to go”. They are not being forced not to go. They are allowed to go in a personal capacity.

    6) “Rather, we are remembering them because they went through something so harrowing at the ask of a democratically elected government.” I don’t think this is what remembrance day is officially for. I think this is your personal view, which you are allowed to, but change your language since it means we are submersed by your view of the event. On a philosophical point, if a democratically elected government asked us to commit genocide and we just happened to lose some lives in the process, does this mean that we must should remember the dead owing to that specific sentiment?

    7) “What do I want to see now? I want to see the student voice coming through. I want to see London students’ unions taking this matter to their students and asking them what should happen.” Couldn’t agree more!

    • Anon

      2 November, 2013 at 11:53 pm

      Fantastic response! Let’s hope Mr. Shaw reads it and removes his poorly written article

  2. Emilian

    30 October, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Forgot to say something (and this links to the essay I’m supposed to be doing) else:

    8) “Remembrance is not about you”. Actually, remembrance is about us as individuals. Having a national “memory” framework for cultural points of reference is allusive of a point that we are failing to truly remember (read Maurice Halbwachs, Pierre Nora, Benedict Anderson and Hayden White for reference). The true sentiment should be for us to ensure that memory is not collectivised but remains individual to allow us to be rational beings. Collective memory is not real memory for the individuality of it is eroded. It’s a really interesting thesis I wish for you all to look into, especially given the commemoration coming up.

  3. Anon.

    31 October, 2013 at 12:32 am

    Spot on. We must allow people to value remembrance events only as functions of the soft, ‘social memory’ they represent. They are NOT entirely political occasions, and to see them as such is to misinterpret their intention.

    It is also somewhat ironic that the ULU student leaders claim to be representing a democratic voice by refusing to allow participation in remembrance services and yet it is precisely democracy as institution for which these soldiers laid down their lives.

    By refusing to acknowledge their sacrifice, we are spitting on the foundations of our freedom today. It reflects so badly on us as students!

  4. Rachel

    8 November, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    Remembrance is certainly not about you, Anthony Shaw. Neither is it about hijacked pomp wrapped up in the veneer of war-apologist propaganda, distilled into a cheap paper/plastic totem, made in China. Check your privilege and shove your phony politicking poppies up your poop chute. Now here is a real discussion about remembrance by an actual veteran who you purport to speak for, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/08/poppy-last-time-remembrance-harry-leslie-smith – Will you be wanting to troll him next for wanting to remember in private?

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