The importance of remembrance

Today marking Remembrance Sunday, I felt it valuable to reflect more generally on this past week. Thankfully, services will be allowed to proceed despite the imposition of a second lockdown, even if they have been discouraged. It appears, however, some attention has been diverted towards arguments encircling remembrance, as people compete to remember ‘better’ than others.

Last year, the BBC was embroiled in controversy over recycling footage from 2016, displaying a somewhat tidier Boris laying a wreath compared to his 2019 performance, for which they profusely apologised.

This year, the BBC has once again entered dispute, now over the legitimacy of wearing poppies entirely. In line with BBC Executive Tim Davie’s recent crackdown on employee’s behaviour, the novel phrase ‘virtual signalling’ was brandished against different coloured poppies. Invented in 2015, ‘virtue signalling’ describes comments or actions purporting to be progressive or anti-racist, only for the sake of demonstrating one’s progressive attitudes, without substance or associated action. In principle, the reiteration of the BBC’s commitment to serving all audiences is valid, staying firmly away from ongoing political debate. The practice, however, appears to prohibit any form of personal opinion, lest it deviate from the razor-thin centrist line. This attitude was responsible for minimising the public support the BBC offered for the BLM movement this summer, after it became ‘politicised’.

Our opposition to racism is a fundamental democratic principle – and so is consistent with the BBC’s editorial guidelines. However, once opposition to racism becomes aligned with a particular campaign, we begin to express a view about what the response to racism should be. And this gets us into areas where we have to be impartial.

It’s not that we can’t have opinions – it’s just that we can’t express them in ways that can be identified by audiences. For News journalists, it means we can’t publicly support campaigns, whether through social media, articles, speeches or by attending demonstrations.”

Excerpt from BBC Chief’s email to staff during BLM

Specifically, this charge has now been levied against those choosing to wear white or black poppies, symbolising a conscientious objector and pacifist stance, or support for black and Caribbean troops respectively. Both still honour the sacrifice of all troops, but it’s this notion of deliberately adopting a partial position which clashes with BBC guidelines. The motivation of directing allegiance towards remembering one group is not to disrespect the remaining body, just to display differing priorities. But it is easy to identify the source of contentions. Not only has the introduction of alternate colours raised controversy, it undermines the all-encompassing ideal of one poppy, designed to simply remember, and not judge. Sucking poppies into the turmoil of politicisation corrupts their innocent purpose – to shamelessly reflect on history.

Let’s also not forget the Royal Legion Charity will suffer massively this year, for be unable to promote and sell poppies in person.

How we remember our history is not just vitally important, but can equally be dangerous when misremembered, deliberately or otherwise. History defines our understanding of ourselves, of where we’ve been and where we’re going. The lessons of this year, largely in the varying responses to the pandemic, will likely linger for generations, whilst the chaos of this week has provided bountiful memories.

Ritchie Torres, and Mondaire Jones, representing the Democratic party in New York, become the first openly gay, black men elected to Congress whilst Torres will also be the first openly gay Latino man. Delaware’s Sarah McBride also represents the first transgender state senator, alongside the re-election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, all women of colour, to Congress. Sadly, it’s rarely all positive.

North Dakota, boasting the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the American Midwest, elected Republican David Andahl to the state legislature. Even after he died. From COVID. Last month.

In fact, exit polls show 17% of voters consider the pandemic handled ‘very well’, 31% thinking ‘somewhat well’. Marjorie Taylor Greene can’t be forgotten, elected in Georgia to the Senate. She was criticised even by fellow Republicans for posting overtly racist, Islamophobic videos and openly adheres to the QAnon conspiracy theory, believing in a Satanic paedophile ring operating the upper echelons of American power. Speaks to sound judgement.

Image by Unite America First, sourced on Wikipedia Commons. Click for video.

Watching the election results, I was utterly perplexed by the tightness of the race. It deserves repeating, that Donald Trump should never have been endorsed by any sane, educated adult. Unless, I suppose, you’re a straight white man making >$400,000/year and comfortably affording private health care. Even then, have some compassion, or dignity. Biden certainly isn’t perfect, and his rumoured illegitimate links with Ukraine and China might even materialise as true. More immediately, however, Trump has a secret Chinese bank account, and paid more taxes there than in the US. Yet people think he’ll be tougher on China than Biden? Compounding the nonsensical hypocrisy of Trump supporters is their worrying, unconditional belief in his every word.

Without wishing to appear dramatic, Donald Trump, in the dead of night, stepped onto a national podium and attempted to unilaterally declare himself President, bypassing the ongoing workings of democracy. This has been the resounding feature of this shambolic election. Relentlessly launching unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud amidst a world desperately urging patience, Trump has convinced his supporters that America is plotting against them, by ‘inventing’ (counting) Joe Biden ballots and threatening to strip their freedom. Arguably, it makes sense that mail-in ballots, counted (not submitted) after in-person ballots, would favour Biden. He urged his supporters towards absentee voting, whilst Trump disavowed the practice. It’s strange that Trump obtained any mail-in votes. Arguably, it makes sense that, after Republican legislators decided not to count hundreds of thousands of votes until election night, hundreds of thousands of votes needed to be counted after election night.

How is that inherently suspicious?

Multiple social media groups have sprouted, sporting similar names to ‘Stop the Count’, and calling for widespread violence. Facebook removed one such group, which amassed around 350,000 followers, before they splintered into other groups. Underscoring the insanity of their calls to aggressively impose a fascist government is the counter message, of ‘Count the votes’ also being yelled by Trump supporters across the country.

One amusing side-note deserving of mention is a ‘Stop the Count’ group which, having gathered 60,000 members, changed its name to ‘Gay Communists for Socialism’, to the chagrin of its conservative supporters.

Trump’s unhinged rhetoric destabilising the US election process has been and continues to be a detriment to democracy. His Presidency will leave a lasting scar of division – ‘division’ a generous euphemism for unadulterated hatred between sides. Importantly, that hatred existed before Trump, he merely exacerbated it. His support is the millions of people harbouring unbridled hatred against fellow people.

What a crazy necessity

The added pain stinging through all this negativity is the rushed, blatantly hypocritical confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, seemingly overlooked now. It shamelessly ignored Republican’s own precedent, established during the Obama administration. Now, awaiting the impact of the Supreme Court on the US election, it embodies a tragic regression, against women’s and LGBTQ rights. Her commitment to revoke the Roe v. Wade precedent, effectively outlawing safe abortions, is horrifying, and especially prickly given recent events in Poland. The authoritarian government, which featured unfavourably in a previous post, following a contested election shrouded in controversy, vowed to ban abortions, which incited some of the largest demonstrations ever seen around the world. Poland has now been forced postpone implementation of this controversial law.

Speaking of previous posts, major progress has been made in Chile, where Michelle Bachelette helped oversee a recent 20 years of massive economic rejuvenation, serving as the first female President. After protests originating in 2019 and continuing into 2020, a recent referendum has resoundingly confirmed, with 78% approval, to rewrite their out-dated, dictatorship-era Constitution, and by 79% that an entirely popularly elected body should be responsible for drafting a new Constitution. This has been heralded as a fantastic achievement, Heraldo Muñoz, a progressive senator, claiming “The constitution of the dictatorship has died”.

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Michelle Bachelet: An inspirational leader

The first female Chilean President. The first female South American President to assume her office independent of her husband’s political responsibility. The first Chilean President to serve two terms since 1990, and the first to be legitimately elected in both terms since 1932. Michelle Bachelet (full name Verónica Michelle Bachelet Jeria) boasts a remarkable political…

This week has also provided the beginning of a second lockdown. I do have mixed feelings on Boris Johnson’s approach – the challenge has been immense, and a number of considerations have been balanced. Generally, all his actions seem too little too late, however. Only now, and only in Liverpool, is definitive action being taken, with endeavours to test the entire city. Bold action and brave sacrifices have been called for, but never attempted. This ‘circuit-breaker’ month, which sparked London protests, feels deeply insufficient, and possesses a distinctly different atmosphere to our first lockdown – almost festive. There has never been a focus, either on health or economy – instead, the switching between both has only enhanced the damage to both, not mitigated them. Initially focussing on health and saving the NHS crippled the economy, which was not revitalised in its entirety by the ‘Eat out to help out’ scheme, but which did succeed in unwriting all of the NHS protections. In terms of focus, education has never more than scraped the periphery, until the near-sighted decision to encourage university students to return to accommodation proved disastrous.

How can we even trust the data we receive? Now, I’m not suggesting the whole virus in a hoax. That theory literally never made sense, because fabricating COVID would have required complete and unparalleled international cooperation across every nation, for a year, with no whistle-blower leaks in government. Instead, Boris’ charts appeared to indicate a perilous rise predicted in the upcoming months. Yet, the most recent research indicates we have already passed the second wave. Watching the inaccuracies of the scientific process unfold has undermined public trust in the legitimacy of data, and continues to confuse more than it explains. Is this second lockdown necessary, or could it be the turning point in our struggle with the pandemic?

Historical Memory

It has been a pretty momentous week, to say the least. I think it presents an interesting opportunity for reflection.

Historical memory defines us, where we’ve come from and where we’re going. Often, it is intrinsically woven into our sense of identity, through the traditions of our ancestors, or the pride in our nation’s achievements. History, therefore, beyond providing lessons, is multifaceted – it can be exciting, personal, or terrifying. Despite this, it must always be objective.

Recently, the National Trust charity waded into the quagmire of controversy, and appears unable to clamber back to solid ground. For anyone unfamiliar, the organisation is responsible for maintaining historic houses and areas of natural beauty across England, with the “simple and enduring idea that people need historic, beautiful and natural places”. Over the summer, they published a new report, which aimed to expose some of the colonial links to their properties and outline the ties many of them had to Britain’s slave trade. This aimed to promote a better understanding of their relationship to sensitive issues, and generate a more inclusive history. Objectively speaking, I applaud this move towards transparency.

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Britain’s statues – what is the historical reality?

Britain’s statues have long-since been controversial since what exactly they represent is ill-defined. Are they celebratory monuments, or historical relics? An educational tool, or offensive, exclusionary celebration? Well, the reality is both. This site has previously referenced the cultural difficulty enshrouding statues – interpretations are as diverse as Britain’s population. Taking Cecil Rhodes, for example,…

Yet the move drew criticism from members, most of whom were frustrated by the attempt to ‘educate’ them, calling out the National Trust for presenting a warped view of history. One comment decried the effort as exhibiting “your history, but not mine”. As if, somehow, they came from an alternate timeline. There is no such thing as ‘your’ or ‘my’ history – we all came from the same place. All that remains are the voices typically omitted from history, which has led to traditional study inaccurately removing their narratives. Even this week, the National Trust came out in support of BLM, which has refreshed calls from disgruntled members hoping to revoke their association with the charity.

This reaction is very disappointing. I have to assume it arises from the extent to which history fuels national pride – in the UK, people still revel in the ‘glory’ of the British Empire, not actively but implicitly. The truth, which should be uncontroversial, was that it fundamentally represented the subjugation of much of the world by one, centralised state, to benefit only the ruling class, leaving much of its home population as poor as the nations it exploited. This statement isn’t an attack against any living individual, nor is the acknowledgement that people alive today benefit from this practice. Feeling threatened by the uncomfortable layers of history is not productive. Those who justify heinous acts, especially with the classic excuse of ‘it was a different time’ are, themselves, still living in that different time.

With the inexorable decline of their Empire throughout the 20th Century, Britain was involved in robbing many newly-abandoned nations of their history. When departing from governmental buildings, decisions regarding official documents were exclusively overseen by British representatives, granted complete freedom to destroy or hide whatever they deemed necessary. Naturally, anything that might upset Britain’s good name was transported to secret MI5 archives, to be uncovered only in 2009, coinciding with a court case brought against the government. Victims of the Kenyan uprising, crushed by Britain during the 1950’s, were delivered access to these archives for the first time, by order of a judge. One discovery was the 1959 Hola Massacre. The heavy-handed counter-insurgency deployed by Britain witnessed around 80,000 members of the Mau Mau tribe imprisoned without trials, some of whom were confined to a network of concentration camps. This was part of a repressive regime designed to entirely eliminate the Mau Mau peoples. One camp in Hola was deemed appropriate for the most ‘hard-core’ rebels, forced to endure horrific treatment. The massacre occurred when 88 detained people were commanded to work to death, and beaten for their refusal, resulting in the death-by-clubbing of 11 men.

The deliberate sanitisation of Britain’s actions in colonial subsidiaries has systematically wiped chunks of their heritage.

History is never simple, and the ramifications linger for generations. Rarely is anyone involved in such events specifically evil, and all too often well-meaning individuals are simply mis-directed. Sadly, there almost appears a continuation in the relationship of violence between Britain and Kenya. The Kakuzi farming estate in Kenya, owned by parent company Camellia, based in Kent, is as of posting being sued on 79 counts of serious human rights abuses. These include the beating to death of a 28-year-old man, in response to the apparent stealing of avocados, and ten counts of rape, of which one is a 61-year-old woman, allegedly caught collecting firewood. In 2018, a UN Working Group report raised concerns about labour practices and the impact of the plantation on local communities, whilst also acknowledging an ongoing investigation relating to repeated claims of attacks by the Kakuzi security staff. Kakuzi claimed to be unaware of the accusations, though settled a civil case with the man’s family following his ‘tragic death’.

The farming estate, measuring roughly the size of Manchester, primarily produces avocados. Other local, small-holder farms have struggled to compete, despite Kenya being the world’s third-largest avocado producer, with avocados constituting 20% of total horticultural exports. Around 70% of Kenya’s avocado production is subsistence farmer, unable to access the more lucrative export market. As one of the few, major players, Kakuzi does benefit its local community by providing workers with a stable wage, though being built into the community, it’s impossible for locals not to come into some form of frequent contact with the 470-strong security team they also employ. These workers would often injure themselves climbing avocado trees, for which they were not insured, but were incentivised to do so by the Kakuzi payment structure. There is no easy solution to any problem.

Since the allegations were first brought, Sainsbury’s, Lidl, and Tesco have also suspended their links with Kakuzi.

Thanks for reading! I regularly post short stories, travel blogs, or contemporary commentaries like this one, so stick around. If you have any thoughts on remembrance, please share them below!

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