Respect for heroes and history

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Respect for heroes and history

Lately, I was reminded of Korea’s Memorial Day, especially the ceremony at Sejong Center for the Performing Arts. It is dedicated to the patriots who sacrificed their lives for the nation, but it is too formal and stiff. We often feel that it has little to do with our everyday lives; it’s just another national holiday we observe. “The British seem to be more patriotic than us,” Koreans in London often say, and I agree.

It is not rare to find people on the street wearing poppy pins. Both men and women wear the flower, and mannequins in window displays have them as well. A newspaper article argued that social pressure to wear the poppy pin was problematic.

Poppies grow in the fields of Flanders, a site of an intense battle during World War I. Canadian lieutenant colonel John McCrae wrote a poem that goes, “If ye break faith with us who die/ We shall not sleep, though poppies grow/ In Flanders fields.” Even after McCrae’s death, his poem survived. The poppy is a symbol to remember the soldiers who died in the war.

This year, artificial ceramic poppies were placed in the Tower of London’s moat from early July to Nov. 11, Remembrance Day. The project, “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red,” took four months, as 888,246 ceramic flowers were planted to represent the Commonwealth’s soldiers. The flowers filled the moat completely. More than 5 million people visited and the breathtaking sight was overwhelming, even for a foreigner like me.

I asked a friend who lived in the United Kingdom for a long time, “Is this year specially commemorated as it is the centennial of World War I?” He unenthusiastically said, “This is how we commemorate, and quite a few more events have been planned this year.” Right after World War I, a body of an unknown soldier was buried in Westminster Abbey. The inscription on the plaque reads, “They buried him among the kings because he had done good toward God and toward his house.”

A nation needs something that binds citizens together. History is a shared experience that lives on. In the United Kingdom, two World Wars have left sacrifice and dedication. Even today, young children visit the memorial and write, “I will not forget, from your great grandson.”

During World War I, one in 10 British men in the most active age groups was killed. The United Kingdom would not be able to function as a normal state without paying proper respect to them. The United Kingdom has sent troops to Afghanistan until very recently. The respect that the British government and the people show makes us think about how we treat our history and heroes.

The author is a London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 15, Page 30

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