From Fancis Spufford’s essay, “The Past as Zombie Hazard, and Consolation”:
Take the newly revivified rituals surrounding the commemoration of the British war dead. As someone who was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, when it was an undramatic commonplace that most of the older men you passed in the street were veterans of the Second World War, I remember Remembrance Day being scarcely celebrated. There were far fewer poppies, the two minutes’ silence was something you could read about in school history books, and there was a general sense of the world wars receding, in time with the receding of private memories of them. Now (not coincidentally) that the First World War has entirely passed out of living memory, and the Second World War nearly has, we memorialise the wars like crazy, in a profusion of public forms. Larger crowds gather round war memorials to people we don’t (individually) remember than did in the decades when the British Legion stood there in their berets, mourning remembered, specific friends and comrades. The new wars of New Labour provide part of the cause, giving us new dead to mourn, and new Heroes to be Helped, with a corresponding need to find ways to honour sacrifice irrespective of the new wars’ justifications. For this, the First World War can provide a useful context. But most people these days standing serious-faced on 11 November wearing their poppies don’t know any currently serving soldiers either. They’re there to do some imaginative business on their own account. They’re there to participate in a symbolic performance of national continuity, centred round the armed forces as the institution in some ways least corroded by our scepticism. They’re there to assert that they are joined to previous generations’ story of collective sacrifice: despite the fact – because of the fact – that little in their daily experience bears it out.
Your Correspondent, Supports just about any prejudice you can mention but your hero-phobia disgusts him