Brief comments on various issues (3)

 

 

See Comment 1 ; Comment 2 for earlier posts on a wide range of subjects

 

Please scroll down for my open letter to all who support a second referendum

 

27/11/19

 

Getting rid of our nuclear weapons

 

Thank you to the Pope for his call to the world to renounce the use of nuclear weapons. And thank you Nicola Sturgeon for declaring your total opposition to them on moral grounds. It was a timely conjunction.

 

There is no reason why the leader of the Catholic Church and the leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party should not have the same beliefs on this issue. Just as there is no reason why politicians and voters from across the political spectrum should not unite in their opposition to our country retaining an independent nuclear deterrent.

 

I remain committed to the view that nuclear weapons are the greatest folly of humankind and that as a nation we should begin the process of dispensing with them as soon as possible. We should also be unwavering in our endeavours to persuade other nuclear powers to do the same.

 

I accept that possessing a nuclear deterrent might make it more unlikely that a hostile state would be willing to use nuclear weapons against us but there can be no certainty they would not be used. And if a nuclear attack were to happen the theory of deterrence would have failed and would result in tragic consequences for us all.

 

The loss of life and individual suffering would be unimaginable but at this point what would be the purpose of the prime minister of the day ordering our own nuclear weapons to be fired? They would not have fulfilled their intended purpose and deploying them would result in millions more deaths and horrific injuries.  

 

I do not believe that human beings have any desire whatsoever to inflict such appalling torment on each other. It would be completely immoral. Which clearly means we must do everything in our power to ensure there is never any possibility of nuclear weapons being used. And the only way to do this is to get rid of them altogether. 

 

We should remember that the vast majority of countries in the world do not possess a nuclear deterrent – Germany, Spain, Italy, Australia, Canada, for example, and 183 others. If all these countries do not believe their security is jeopardised without them I cannot understand why we should feel so vulnerable.   

 

It is disappointing that so far, apart from Nicola Sturgeon’s comment and Jo Swinson saying she would be prepared to press the nuclear button, the issue of our independent nuclear deterrent has so far not made the headlines during the election campaign. This is incredible as nuclear weapons represent such a colossal threat to all our lives, possibly more so than global warming.

 

The Conservative and Labour parties are both committed to retaining Trident but I wonder how much public support there really is for this policy. I suggest that after the election we should have a national debate on the issue and hold a mandatory referendum on whether or not to keep our nuclear weapons.

 

I hope the vote would be a resounding No. This would be a statement of intent that we are embarking on a new role on the world stage. A post-Brexit role in which we cast aside any yearnings to be a strong military player and exchange them for a role in which we become a global force for peace.

 

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27/9/19

 

A letter to MPs about their behaviour during a recent session of the House of Commons

 

Dear …

 

I am sincerely grateful for the extremely demanding work that you, as an MP, do on our behalf. I hope all of us are sincerely grateful.

 

However, the way MPs conduct their business in the chamber of the House of Commons is appalling and desperately immature. It was particularly appalling during a recent session. 

 

I am not sure that I agree with the Speaker that MPs’ behaviour would be improved if they considered those holding different viewpoints to be opponents rather than enemies. You should consider yourselves to be neither enemies, nor opponents, but as colleagues with different beliefs working to improve the individual well-being of every citizen in the country, and the collective well-being of the nation as a whole. This is your duty.

 

And the best way to fulfil this is to respect each other’s views, listen to each other carefully and learn from each other – all in a calm, thoughtful and courteous manner, without animosity. What you say should always be clear, rational and sincere, and, if necessary, expressed with firmness and the strength of your convictions. If you listen and speak respectfully you will reach sound conclusions.

  

I urge all of you not to engage in unthinking herd behaviour in the chamber, to think for yourselves about the issues being discussed and to reflect on whether our adversarial system of party politics achieves good government and good democracy. Above all I urge you personally to be sufficiently self-aware to question your own behaviour and perhaps even some of your own long-held beliefs.

 

Thank you again for the work you do.

 

With best wishes

 

Alan Kerr

 

If you ever have a spare moment you might care to look at:

 

Some thoughts about changing our political system: click here

A quick guide to democracy

A different angle on Brexit  - one which has not been heard. See Brexit blogs

My letter to MPs about abolishing PMQs

My admiration for Theresa May as prime minister – see 2nd para for a similar view to the one I’ve expressed in this post.

 

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12/9/19

 

Affront to democracy

 

The prorogation of parliament is fine by me. It’s a huge relief not to have to listen to the strange noises and ridiculous baying that frequently fill the chamber of the House of Commons. Fortunately, also, we are being spared the pointless ritual of PMQs where desperately immature behaviour is regularly displayed.

 

I have no objection whatsoever to proroguing parliament for what in effect is only a short time given that this is normally party conference season. We’ve heard the arguments surrounding Brexit debated endlessly – except for those I’ve put forward in my website columns – and there can’t be much more to say. (1) My argument for Brexit is that we need a global vision of the world, not a European one, and despite my best efforts this view has so far been absent from the discussions. (2)

 

Although it is important to hear all sides of an argument I’m not at all certain that our tribal system of party politics enables debates and votes in parliament to add as much to our democracy as they should. Surely all MPs will have decided how to vote before a debate begins – normally having been instructed what to do by their party whips.

 

To those who claim the prorogation is an affront to democracy I ask them to consider this: which is the greater affront to democracy – the prorogation of parliament for a short period or, as many seem to be doing, obstructing the wishes of the majority of the electorate as expressed in the EU referendum. I know which is the greater affront to me – the latter by a long way.

 

I would like our politicians to use the prorogation to think carefully about a number of things: think about their behaviour and the appalling example it sets; think about whether it is principled to call for a second referendum; and think about how our imperfect system of democracy can be greatly improved. (3)

 

Notes

 

1  See:  https://www.quercuspublications.co.uk/brexit_blogs.html

2  Not a vision in terms of increased global trade or business, or growth in global GDP, but a vision in many other respects. See: The EU referendum and a global vision.

3  Click here

 

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26/6/19

 

Your top three priorities as prime minister

 

Here’s a question for us all, not just the two candidates who are presently seeking to reach the top of the greasy pole. What would be your top three priorities if you became prime minister? It’s a question for all of us, whatever our political beliefs, because we should all have our own clear view of how our country should be organised and governed.1

 

My top three priorities would be these:

 

Number one: to lead a government that strives to care for and support all who are suffering physical or mental hurt of any kind.

 

Number two: to lead a government that strives to create a society which the vast majority of people consider to be equitable.

 

Number three: to lead a government that strives to help each person become a loving, kind, rational, fulfilled and contented human being.

 

These would be my priorities for anyone seeking to become prime minister at any time in any country.  

 

Quite clearly different people will have different ideas about what constitutes an equitable society, or what is the best way to find fulfilment and contentment, but with some new thinking it ought to be possible to reach a broad consensus about how to achieve these goals.

  

We can begin the process of new thinking by not allowing the media to influence our perception of what should be the priorities through inflating the importance of issues such as Brexit, economic growth or the perils of plastic. And we can follow this up by making it more of a priority in our own individual lives to think carefully for ourselves about what should be the real priorities in our collective lives.2

 

1  I set out some of my ideas in the manifesto I did for the general election of 2017.

 

2  In terms of practical policies my immediate priorities related to those above would be to put more funding into social care for the elderly and those suffering from mental health issues; to raise the minimum wage significantly; and to guarantee employment for anyone over the age of 18. My various posts on different subjects offer some thoughts on the direction in which we should be travelling in many other areas of society – quite high on my list of priorities would be to abolish GCSEs and the present format of PMQs in the House of Commons. See Thoughts On and Comment pages.

  

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6/6/19

 

Remembrance of D-Day

 

Although I can feel emotional I cannot get close to feeling anything of the unimaginable horror of what took place on the Normandy beaches seventy-five years ago. But at least I can be reminded of the events, and quietly reflect upon them, by looking at some of the film footage of the landings and watching the television coverage of the commemoration. There is a lot to remember.

 

We should always remember the historical significance. D-Day marked the beginning of the liberation of Europe from the brutal tyranny of the Nazis. The continent owes its freedom to those in the British, American and other Allied forces who fought and died. No one should ever forget this basic historical truth.

 

We should remember the planning and logistics of the invasion and all who were involved in this. Everything had to be planned and organised in meticulous detail: the military strategy, the production of armaments and the provision of all the other necessary supplies.

 

We should remember the leadership of Churchill and Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Montgomery.

 

We should remember the death and destruction, the fear, the physical and mental suffering of those who participated, and the anguish of families who lost their loved ones.

 

Above all we must remember the immeasurable courage and heroism of those who did the fighting and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Words cannot express the immensity of their deeds.

 

We owe them a huge and enduring debt that can never be repaid. And this is why we have one more thing to remember today and every day that our thoughts return to 6th June 1945.

 

We must remember to say thank you to those who were there.

 

Note: Please scroll down for comment on Remembrance Day 2018

 

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28/4/19

 

Change UK, the new party, and what it should change 

                   

Change – it’s an interesting word. It means something being done differently. At a personal level it often brings either a sense of anticipation and excitement, or feelings of uncertainty and unease. We always hope that change will be for the better and not for the worse. Since changes we plan for are designed to make life better for ourselves most change, perhaps, has a positive outcome.

 

Changes in democratic societies are often, but not always, for the better, too. Societies continue to advance by means of large and small changes that contribute to the all-round well-being of their citizens.

 

So if Change UK is about changing society for the better I wish it every success and hope it will offer some radical and constructive ideas for us all to consider. Their values and beliefs are set out on their website although what they mean in practice is not at all clear. Most of us will broadly agree with most of what they say. We all value, for example, an open, tolerant and respectful society; we all wish to remove the barriers of poverty, prejudice and discrimination; and we all want fair pay in the workplace. The fact that these and other principles are familiar to us should not, of course, diminish their fundamental importance.

 

What I am not so sure about is their assertion that our system of representative democracy is the best way of representing the views of the British people. It has certainly delivered huge advances to our society over the past century and a half, especially in the areas of health, social welfare, education, employment and anti-discrimination measures. But it has not yet delivered a fair society in which there is a much more equitable distribution of income.

 

I believe one of the best ways to achieve a fairer society would be to move towards a system in which direct democracy played a more prominent part. A well-educated and fully informed electorate should be voting regularly in referendums across a wide range of issues as happens in Switzerland.1

 

As we know only too well it is a referendum that has been the catalyst for our present political difficulties – what Change UK calls our broken politics. I’m not entirely sure what this means in the present context but the difficulties have certainly not been caused by the result of the referendum. They have simply been caused by too many MPs, for a variety of motives, refusing to support the sensible withdrawal deal negotiated by the prime minister. These motives will most likely have included genuine dissatisfaction with the deal, the hope of gaining party advantage, ideology, ill will towards the prime minister, and leadership ambitions

 

Nor have politics suddenly become broken as a result of our tribal political allegiances. These have been around for a few hundred years and if MPs who belong to Change UK have belatedly come to the conclusion that tribal politics is immature I wholeheartedly agree with them. It’s time we had a calm, rational and mature approach to political decision-making not the partisan, adversarial approach we have at present.   

 

Regrettably, however, it is difficult for me to have any confidence in their mission to repair our country’s broken politics because they are already failing to fulfil the aims they set out on their website: working in the national interest, recognising the value of healthy debate and showing tolerance towards different opinions.

 

By not accepting the result of the referendum which the previous government promised would be implemented, and by refusing to support the sensible compromise on Brexit proposed by the present government, they are not working in the national interest, nor recognising the value of the healthy debate that took place during the referendum campaign, and nor showing tolerance towards the different opinion expressed by the majority of the electorate – which happened to be the opposite of their own.

 

Their main objective at the moment is to campaign for a second referendum in the hope that the result of the first one will be overturned. To achieve their aim they, and others who support this course of action, are not averse to exploiting  as much public anxiety as possible about Britain leaving the EU by predicting dire economic consequences if we do.  They also make the spurious claim that people did not know what they were voting for in the referendum of 2016.

 

I’m sorry to say so but the campaign for a second referendum is unprincipled. It is discarding the votes of those of us who cast our Leave votes in good faith. As I have said before it is stealing my vote, and stealing is dishonest.2  It hardly represents the new approach to politics that Change UK claims to embrace and has similarities to the Liberal Democrats’ broken promise over tuition fees.

 

I live in hope that the new party will change its policy on having a second referendum but I know this is highly unlikely. Clearly no one can have any objection to their view that it is better to stay in the EU than to leave, but being tolerant of this opinion – which I am – is not the same as condoning actions which seek to reverse the democratic decision taken by the British people.

 

The opening sentence of Change UK’s introduction to themselves states: Our primary duty as a party is to put the best interests of the people of this country first and foremost. Unfortunately this statement avoids the two questions that matter: what actually are the best interests of the people and who decides them?   

 

I have no objection to supporters of the new party saying it is they who should decide. They are perfectly entitled to say they know what is in the best interests of the people, and, by implication, say they are using their superior wisdom and intelligence to save us from ourselves. But those who hold an opposing view are equally entitled to say that they, too, know what is in the best interests of the people. Which means that in order to show tolerance towards different opinions, the avowed aim of Change UK, both sides must respect each other’s point of view.

 

Obviously it is possible to envisage situations where it would be necessary for governments to override the majority viewpoint in order to save us from ourselves and, just as importantly, protect individuals and minority groups from  the actions of the majority. Leaving the EU is not one of these situations, so on this occasion we have no need to accept Change UK’s prescription for what is in our best interests.

 

Those who support the new party should reconsider what is in the national interest, change their minds about having another vote, and support the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement.

 

1  See some thoughts on this here:

2  See my letter on this subject by scrolling down.

 

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4/3/19

 

The dual approach to saving the planet

 

It was good to see school pupils engage in a bit of direct action recently. They took time off school to attend marches and demonstrations across the country to voice their concerns about climate change. From what I hear in the media, which admittedly may not be the most reliable source, I don’t normally associate young people with anything as energetic as marching or demonstrating. I have a mental picture of them spending endless hours in front of a screen of some sort. 

 

So good for them for making the effort to make their views known. As a taxpayer who contributes towards their education I have no objection whatsoever to their missing a few lessons for this purpose. I’m pleased they have learned about the threats posed by climate change and are motivated to do something about them.

 

And I like the catchy slogans they wrote on their placards such as: There’s no planet B, Don’t be a fossil fool, and It’s getting hot in here so take off all your coals. A future in the advertising industry for some of them.

 

As well as providing them with knowledge and understanding about why climate change is happening I hope their education is enabling them to engage in some hard thinking about what some of the possible solutions to the phenomenon may be.

 

Their education should begin by making them aware of the dual approach that should be used to take action to try to solve the problem – the same dual approach that should be used to take any sort of social and political action. It is an approach based on the principles of both liberty and collectivism. As individuals we have the liberty within the boundaries of the law of the land and natural justice to make decisions about our own lives according to our personal values; as members of society we have an obligation to participate in collective decision-making that affects everyone, including, of course, ourselves.

 

Applying this dual approach to taking action on climate change means young people, like everyone else, first of all need to think carefully for themselves, as individuals, about the issues involved. When they have done a lot of rigorous thinking they then need to decide the action they can take individually to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as well as think about what governments can do by acting collectively on behalf of their citizens.

 

As individuals will they cut down on the things they buy which, in their production and distribution, contribute to greenhouse gases – things like fast fashion, smartphones or bottled water. If they believe that drinking milk and eating meat is producing too much methane from the process of rearing livestock for food production will they change their diets? Will they stop buying products that have been transported across Europe in lorries that emit huge amounts of carbon dioxide, and will they reduce their on-line shopping in order to bring down the number of delivery vehicles on the roads? Will they stop using planes to go on holiday and will they put off having their own car until they are older?

 

And what about the ultimate solution to reducing the effect of human activity on climate change: reducing the number of humans who contribute to this activity. Would our children, the world’s children, be prepared to reduce the global population by limiting the size of their families? This would be the greatest sacrifice they could make on behalf of the planet, the supreme individual action they could take.

 

When they have decided what they themselves can do as individuals they will need to keep up their action and make it into a permanent change of lifestyle. This will set an example for their family and their friends to follow.

 

Alongside their individual action they can call for collective action to be taken – as they have been doing on their marches. As long as it is within the law, and not violent or aggressive, they should continue to march and demonstrate – as noisily as they wish.

 

They should campaign in other ways, too, such as on social media, writing to their MPs and having stalls at local events. They should insist that the policies agreed by national governments at climate conferences should be implemented and they will need to accept the consequences of these policies even when they are inconvenient or costly. Examples of such consequences might be having to switch to electric heating in the home, having to buy an electric car and having less plastic in their lives.

 

I’m pleased that young people feel passionately about the impact of global warming on the planet and humanity. I hope this feeling will continue long into adulthood. I hope, too, they can be persuaded to feel just as passionately about all the other great issues that have an impact on the planet and humanity: the issues of poverty, violence, prejudice, injustice and inequality that, at this very moment, are affecting the lives of millions of people.

 

Maybe, also, they can join with me in raising awareness of that other ever-present threat to humanity: nuclear weapons, the possession of which is the greatest folly of humankind – a far greater folly than burning fossil fuels which have, after all, made an immeasurable contribution to the comfort and convenience of our daily lives.

 

And let us hope that all of us, young, old and in-between, can engage as much as possible in the dual approach that is necessary to take action to deal with the many difficulties that society faces.

 

!6/3/19 Note:

 

NB: I haven’t touched upon two big issues that will need to be addressed soon. The first is the extent to which we will all be compelled by law to take measures that reduce global warming, such as, perhaps, having an annual limit on our air miles or being obliged to recycle every bit of plastic we use. The second is how we can enforce compliance in other countries with agreed policies to reduce greenhouse gases.

 

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27/1/19

 

An open letter to all who support a second referendum

 

Dear fellow citizen

 

This will be a virtually impossible challenge but I thought I would give it a go. I would like to try to persuade you not to support holding a second referendum on the issue of leaving the European Union.

 

You clearly believe that leaving the EU will be damaging for our country. I fully accept that this is a sincere belief which in a democratic, tolerant society you must always be allowed to hold. I happen to take a different view which is equally sincere and equally permitted to be held. I take a different view because I believe we should be much more outward looking and have a global, rather than European, perspective on the world. I understand and respect your view and I am sure you understand and respect mine.

 

In an unusual act of direct democracy, something I would like to become an integral part of our political system, my side of the argument narrowly won. No doubt people on both sides had different reasons for voting the way they did but generally speaking they knew why they voted in a particular way.

 

Before the referendum the government had stated in parliament and in a leaflet circulated to every household that the result would be honoured.1 Since there was a majority of votes cast in favour of leaving the EU this is the decision that must therefore be implemented. I know many people were disappointed with the result but this is not a reason for politicians or anyone else to obstruct the process of leaving. They can, and should, continue to express their views but should certainly not attempt to sabotage the implementation of the democratic decision of the majority of those who voted.

 

Unfortunately it seems this is what they, and you, are attempting to do by calling for a second referendum in the hope that the result will be different. I am not persuaded by the spurious argument put forward by some of our politicians that because they cannot reach an agreement the only course of action is to let the “people” decide. There is nothing difficult or complicated about agreeing a deal to leave the EU despite what looks like an obstructionist strategy from Brussels. It simply requires some firmness of purpose in our negotiations with Europe plus a willingness by all MPs to reach a compromise.

 

The “people” have already decided and if their decision is not implemented their votes will have been discarded. On a personal level this means my own vote will have been discarded. In effect it will have been stolen, and stealing is dishonest.

 

As someone who thinks about political issues I know you will be aware of how important it is in any discussion to be open to understanding the other person’s point of view. In the context of this discussion this requires you to reflect on how you would feel and react if the referendum result had gone the other way and you were now being asked to give up your remain vote.

 

I therefore urge you to reject what seems to be an unworthy position and choose a different path. This would be to support the prime minister’s deal which is a sensible compromise accommodating the views of both leavers and remainers, and thus in the interests of the whole country.

 

I have heard the comment that that those of you who have taken part in marches have been marching for your children’s future. We all want the best for our children’s future and, indeed, for our grandchilden’s future. This will inevitably be a global, not a European future. It is one we must shape to be the best it can be for our own children and grandchildren, but also for everyone else’s children and grandchildren throughout the world.

 

If you can spare the time you might be interested in looking at some of my thoughts about the sort of global vision we need for the future. (see below) They are thoughts that are rather different from the current orthodoxies of economic globalisation.

 

I hope you will perhaps be able to find a moment to think about your position with regard to this issue and perhaps also be open to changing it.

 

With best wishes

 

Yours hopefully

 

Alan Kerr

 

 

PS   In case you’re wondering, I’m not of the same political persuasion as the prime minister – I voted Corbyn at the last election.

 

1  "If the British people vote to leave, there is only one way to bring that about, namely to trigger article 50 of the treaties and begin the process of exit, and the British people would rightly expect that to start straight away." (David Cameron, Hansard, 22/2/16)                                                      "This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide." (Government leaflet)

 

For posts on Brexit which put the argument for a gobal future please visit:

 

The EU referendum and a global vision

 

Brexit – a global, good news story

 

and for the latest offering:

 

Brexit in perspective but three big deals

 

And if you still haven't had enough try this

 

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3/1/19

 

Getting the message 

 

I’m sure it’s a minority pursuit but I’ve been reading some seasonal messages delivered by our temporal and spiritual leaders.

 

I’m not a monarchist but I like what the Queen said in her speech: that the message of peace on earth and goodwill to all is never out of date.

 

I don’t share the Archbishop of Canterbury’s religious beliefs but I like his idea that God’s language of love is exclusive; that it requires us to forget other languages of hatred, tribalism, rivalry and political advantage, and of materialism, pride and greed. 

 

Similarly, I do not share the Pope’s religious beliefs but I certainly share his view that we are all brothers and sisters in humanity. I am also drawn to his comment that, standing before the manger, we understand that the food of life is not material riches but love, not gluttony but charity, not ostentation but simplicity.

 

As for the messages from politicians I very much agree with the Prime Minister when she says that personal milestones in our lives are more important than Brexit: getting a job, buying a house, getting married or starting a family. And I’m with Jeremy Corbyn when he states that too many people are working in low paid and insecure jobs and that wealth needs to be shared fairly not hoarded by a privileged elite.

 

What is the point of these seasonal messages? For the Prime Minister and Jeremy Corbyn they are delivered to persuade us to support their political beliefs. For the Queen and religious leaders their purpose is to encourage us to think about the moral and ethical aspects of our lives. They are an exhortation to follow Christian precepts that will help us lead a good life.

 

My view of humanity is that most people do try to lead good lives – by caring for their families, by helping others through their paid or voluntary work, and by donating to charitable causes. However, I am sure if we try a bit harder we can all do more to lead an even better life – one which will help us find greater fulfilment and greater well-being. I am sure, too, we can all do more to ensure that other people have greater well-being.

 

Messages that remind us about important moral and ethical issues are always worthwhile. We need reminding, at any age, about what is right and what is good. We should treat these messages as seriously as the ones we hear about looking after our health or not polluting the planet.

 

So let’s listen to the seasonal messages, read them and think about them. Let’s use them to challenge and maybe change some of our existing beliefs and opinions. Above all let’s try and do something, however small, to act upon them.1  This is by far the best way for all of us to get the message.

 

 

1  For example: by treating other people’s opinions with respect even if we disagree with them; by putting a pound in the next charity box we see; by visiting someone who is lonely, unwell or distressed in some way; by sending an email to the Foreign Secretary to express our concern about the various conflicts that continue to cause unimaginable suffering in the world. See also: 

A mantra for the New Year

Messages that are not just for Christmas

Planting Peace – at Christmas and beyond

 

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11/11/18 

 

Remembrance Day 2018 

 

Sunday 11th November is Remembrance Day and also the hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War. Along with other occasions it is a time when we remember the unbelievable courage and heroism of those who made the supreme sacrifice in the First and Second World Wars, and wars that have occurred since.

 

But we must remember other things as well, which will in no way diminish our remembrance of those who gave their lives on our behalf. We must remember the terrible suffering, the grief, the anguish, the physical and mental agonies, the brutality, the whole unimaginable horror...

 

For the whole post, complete with picture of a very fine war memorial, click here

 

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