Remembrance day commemorates the moment at 11:00 am on the 11th November 1918 when the "War to End Wars" ended. The ability of industrialised countries to slaughter each other industrially shocked what was then called the civilised world. The lesson of both the World Wars was that warfare - even necessary warfare in a good cause - kills people by the thousand or million. War is a horrific, terrible experience, and it is that that we remember.
Today, we remember everyone, guilty and innocent, soldier and civilian, brave and coward, hero and villian that was killed in war. Not just the British military deaths, but everyone; the gaelic football fans killed in Páirc an Chrócaigh in 1920, the Japanese citizens at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the British and German soldiers at the Somme in 1916, the ANZACs and Turks in Gallipoli in 1915, the Vietnamese at My Lai in 1968, even Reynhard Heydrich in Prague in 1942. War kills, and we should never forget that.
It's usual to quote Laurence Binyon, but I think the tone of this post is better met by Wilfred Owen:
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.