Armed Forces Day - for those who fight for our freedom
It's hard to get any new national celebration off the ground: it is usually only after centuries of cultural absorption that a red-letter day - a day of special significance - is established. The first were on the Church's calendar - saints' days, feasts and other holy days - some of which became fused with the political foundation of the nation state - St Patrick, St Andrew, St David and St George. We also have civil red-letter days, like the Queen's birthday (and official birthday), and Remembrance Sunday. In this increasingly secularised age, the success (or otherwise) of these days appears to be directly proportional to the consumerism surrounding them.
Today is the fifth Armed Forces Day. It will be overlooked by millions who are oblivious, and ignored by millions more who will be aware of it but completely detached from it. The website informs us:
It's an opportunity to do two things. Firstly, to raise public awareness of the contribution made to our country by those who serve and have served in Her Majesty's Armed Forces, Secondly, it gives the nation an opportunity to Show Your Support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community: from currently serving troops to Service families and from veterans to cadets.You'll find a list of celebrity supporters - Brucie, the cast of Emmerdale, Davina McCall.. along with Her Majesty and the Queen and the Prime Minister. But apart from the Supreme Governor there is only one listed supporter from the Church of England:
Isn't he a national treasure? Please remember and give thanks today for those who risk and pay the ultimate price so that we might live in peace and security. And please remember also the military chaplains, whose task it is to bring spiritual comfort and encouragement to our men and women on the front line. It can't be easy grappling with the complex theological and moral questions and ethical dilemmas which arise.
There will be those who object to any celebration of the war machine, principally because of the horror of battles fought and blood poured out. You have the right to propagate the gospel of non-violence and to hold such views. But please remember that you are at liberty to do so only because others fought and gave their lives so that you might be free. In giving thanks for our Armed Forces, you are opposing evil and supporting that which is good. There are those armies and nations with a lust to conquer and destroy, but ours is mobilised only reluctantly and dedicated to the ultimate cause of peace.
War is always a tragedy: even when it is 'just', it is not a normative good. More often it is waged for wicked motives and unworthy ends. But the British Armed Forces are motivated by neighbour love and a desire for more authentic peace. It is our political leaders who bear responsibility for the well-being of the people; it is our soldiers, sailors and pilots who are called to arms and, sadly, to pay with their lives.
Remembrance Sunday is to commemorate the dead: Armed Forces Day is to appreciate the living. Thank them while you can.