As Armistice Day comes and passes us, it is worth thinking about what it is trying to achieve. It can be said that our society, our culture, our way of life is shaped by the collective memory we hold - our common understanding of a shared heritage. Equally, it is moulded by a collective forgetting. What we remember and what we forget is intrinsic to who we are.
Naturally, what constitutes as the collective memory has political implications. This is shown time and time again by regimes trying to increase their power by rewriting history. The importance of the past’s power to those who have the chance to shape it is well put by Milan Kundera in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting:
“People are always shouting they want to create a better future. It's not true. The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone. The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past.”
This obliges each and every one of us to be the guardians of what we were taught to remember and be the miners for a new, clearer and deeper understanding of the past and its relevance to us. Remembrance helps us know who we are and how we were made.
For me, Armistice Day conjures up thoughts of my Grandfather and his light-hearted attitude to the ‘5 year gap-year’ he took when serving in the Second World War at the prime of his youth. And yet, trying to grasp a sense of what the First World War was like for his father (my Great Grandfather) has proved deeply difficult. My family found out the hard was just how quickly anecdotes and facts, stories and records, slip away so soon after they took place. There must be a conscious effort to remember to ensure others can remember too.
For those who have knowledge to share, remembrance should be a shared effort, as well as a personal experience. We are custodians of a collective memory as well as a personal one (and a personal debt to those who served). To remind others, potentially through the sheer act of reflecting ourselves, helps us keep a tradition and memory alive for those who died for it.
Michael Goode works in the food industry after graduating from Cambridge, where he was Chairman of the Cambridge University Conservative Association. He has recently finished a book exploring a personal account of the First World War, due to be published in July 2016.