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Memorial or Ideological Advertisement? Lee Rigby and What We Should Actually Remember About Soldiers


We're just over a week away from the first anniversary of the death of Lee Rigby. The soldier, wearing a Help for Heroes hoodie, was murdered in broad daylight in Woolwich, south-east London, at just 25 years of age.

A lot has happened over the past year. We've seen the rise of right-wing, authoritarian groups: most notably UKIP, who have gone from being the "fourth party" to the "third party of [British] politics", but the BNP, English Democrats, Britain First, and EDL have all reared their ugly heads (despite the departure of the latter's founding member).

Inevitably, those two happenings are a marriage made in heaven, if we take 'heaven' to mean 'that dodgy pub in the middle of town where all the racists hang out and discuss how to be less tolerant than their livers'. The fact that Mr Rigby's family have denounced the use of his name by far right groups has not stopped them from using it.

In the run up to the anniversary, there has been increased social media interest in his memorial, or lack thereof. Despite a 12,000 strong petition, Greenwich Council failed to commission a memorial to commemorate Lee Rigby's murder.

Not to be outdone, UKIP hopped onto the bandwagon of criticism of the council. Racists across the country jumped to compare it to the murder and subsequent memorial of Stephen Lawrence:

Others have said that both are deserving of a memorial, that both are tragic events worthy of commemorating and a permanent place to consider what happened.

I can only disagree. Certainly, they were both tragic events, and neither one of them deserves to have died in such a horrific manner.

Yet there are already several memorials in the London Borough of Greenwich that commemorate the death of soldiers. The memorial to Stephen Lawrence is the only one that stands to mark a racially motivated killing of a normal young man that the police attempted to cover up.

Surely, then, the question ought to be: why do we have so many memorials for soldiers? I regularly see posts, memes etc, demanding that I share, like, or comment to give honour to "our boys" or "our soldiers".

However, this week saw the beginning of "our boys" being investigated by the International Criminal Court on charges of abuse. Their paymasters at the Ministry of Defence also refused to publish a report on the radioactive contamination of our land until it was leaked by the Guardian. Which of these things deserves honour and respect?

Most importantly, we must remember what soldiers have done in Iraq, Afghanistan, and across the world: injure and kill people in illegal wars and conflicts. There is no way that anyone who fights in these wars on behalf of the aggressor "was the epitome of righteousness", as the memorial campaign leader said of Lee Rigby, let alone someone who was a machine gunner. Machine guns are not used just in case they come in handy for a good deed.

The biggest tragedy of all is that people willingly revoke their autonomy and human free will to join the armed forces and blindly follow the imperialistic orders of the Foreign Office at such a young age - Lee Rigby died aged just 25, after a military career that took him from Cyprus to Afghanistan, having joined up as a teenager in 2006.

For me, that is what I think of when I see war memorials: not about heroes, because these wars were not fought in my name; but about the 25,000 people a year who sign up to do whatever their government tells them, regardless of legality or ethics.

A memorial to mark the death of Lee Rigby would certainly not be about that. It would be used as political meat for authoritarian and fascist groups. It would advertise militancy on both the side of our government as well as that of Islamic extremists.

And none of those things need advertising.

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