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Is It Patriotic to Be Ignorant on Remembrance Day?

11/11/2015 15:28 GMT | Updated 11/11/2016 10:12 GMT

The stereotypical left-wing pseudo-intellectual who sneers and scoffs at ageing veterans is indeed infuriating. It is plainly disrespectful to discredit their courage and sacrifice by using Remembrance Day as an opportunity to make petty gestures and score cheap points.

Yet the aforementioned stereotype is just that: a stereotype. Few are those on either side who would mock or deride the unquestionable valour and heroism of the veterans of war. The idea that left-wing critiques of war demonstrate a lack of respect is absurd. Making legitimate, reasonably expressed claims about the causes and consequences of war does not amount to lacking respect for the fallen. On the contrary, the urgent resolve to prevent future conflict which underpins the Left's condemnation of war surely demonstrates great regard for the value of the lives lost and the families torn apart. It is the chauvinistic glorification of war and the utilisation of its memory for personal gain that is truly blameable. One does not have to be a pacifist or even a left-winger to recognise this.

It is no surprise that the right-wing press has found some way to claim that Jeremy Corbyn - the pacifist, republican socialist - was disrespectful on Sunday. In my opinion, the most revealing fact of the day was that while other politicians went for a VIP lunch, Corbyn quietly stayed behind at the Cenotaph, applauding and talking with the veterans. Yet the focus has been instead on a supposedly inadequate bow and how it clearly reveals the Labour leader's contempt for those who lost their lives in battle. No explanation is offered as to why exactly it is assumed that being a pacifist leads inevitably to lacking respect for the fallen.

The bow is out of respect for the courage of the veterans and the fallen, and is neither a pro-war nor an anti-war gesture. What, then, would have been Corbyn's motive for not bowing? Because, as a pacifist, he hates soldiers and veterans? The idea that pacifists hate soldiers is ridiculous. It is precisely because pacifists value the lives of soldiers (and indeed the lives of all humans) that they condemn war. Remembering the horrors of war and paying respect to those who have been lost due to it is not only compatible with being a pacifist - it is an essential part of it.

The manufactured outrage surrounding Corbyn's approach to Remembrance Day is but one example of a wider attempt by the right-wing press to portray the Left as 'unpatriotic'. Patriotism is defined by these people as blind, unquestioning, aggressive flag-waving. The notions of statesmanship, humility and integrity are lauded in theory but condemned in practice; demagogues who brazenly exploit the tragedy of war are held up as 'patriots' while Corbyn's rare intellectual honesty and moral integrity is somehow seen as calamitous and shameful.

Being internationally minded and unprejudiced towards other nations is not an ideological choice. It is the inevitable result of examining geopolitical affairs objectively and with moral consistency, and it is in no way at odds with being a patriot. The love of this country and its culture, and the desire to see the good people who inhabit it live freely and peacefully, is a pure and wholesome kind of patriotism. It is the kind of patriotism embodied and epitomised by the millions of brave, young men who humbly risked their lives that their fellow countrymen might have peace and dignity. It transcends party politics, and is a far cry from the jingoistic pride of many of Corbyn's critics.

And so it is right for those on the Left to commemorate and pay respect, as the overwhelming majority do. But it is also right to take seriously one's responsibilities as a citizen by striving to make this country a fairer and more democratic place to live, and by endeavouring to build a society at peace with itself and with the world. Upholding this humble, progressive form of patriotism requires a willingness to reject dogmatism and ignorance, even when they're wrapped up in the flag and singing the national anthem. Let us refuse to be labelled as unpatriotic or disrespectful, and instead let us call into question the patriotism of those traitorous egotists who are cynical enough to consider Remembrance Day nothing more than an opportunity to brashly display their shallow pride. I cannot help but hear the words of left-winger and unashamed patriot Billy Bragg ringing through my mind:

'I kept the faith and I kept voting

Not for the iron fist but for the helping hand

For theirs is a land with a wall around it

And mine is a faith in my fellow man'

Quite.