A century ago, an unknown warrior was buried under the Arc de Triomphe and another one within the walls of Westminster Abbey. A new tradition was born, destined to make the memory of each of the men who fell for their country in the First World War eternal; regardless of their identity. This momentum of hope led to the burial of unknown soldiers of this unprecedented conflict from the goddess of Roma at the Altare della Patria to Arlington National Cemetery and many more. The 11th of November commemoration flourishes in symbolism as time passes. It highlights the tantamount respect nations show to each of the citizens who stood up for liberty, equality and sheds light on the atrocity of the war that engendered countless, nameless victims. The Armistice Day, also known as the day of Remembrance in the countries of the Commonwealth or as Veterans’ Day in the United States of America, pays tribute to this myriad of men, who did not perish in vain if today’s peace is harmoniously upheld.
“Nobody treads on the counterpane, but tiptoeing royal brides in satin slippers will dress and crown you with luminous flowers. All this for a soul without name or rank or age or home, because you are the son we lost, and your rest is ours,” writes British Poet Laureate Simon Armitage in his poem ‘The Bed’ to commemorate the Unknown Warrior 100. Armitage gracefully designates the unknown soldier as a totem of our duty of remembrance towards the cruelness of the past.
The idea that we will metaphorically cherish the tomb of this soldier by taking responsibility for what happened is an idea conveyed also by Emmanuel Macron at the same occasion. The French President, paying homage to Maurice Genevoix who entered the Pantheon for giving a voice to all of the WWI soldiers, emotionally stated that “the story of women and men inspired by the courage of those who know why they are fighting […] the same [courage] who allowed us to build, with our Europe, the peace we owed them. Not a peace made up of cowardice and renunciation but that of a constant dialogue, respectful of our histories, our differences, our values.”
The President of the Republic of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić wanted to also mark the occasion by awarding decorations to individuals and institutions who stood up against one of today’s biggest threats, COVID-19. Indeed, Vučić declared that “today is the time to thank those who gave everything they had, laid down their lives for the homeland, but also those who are doing everything they can today to save the lives of our people.”
The pandemic made it hard for people to unite in the streets, proudly brandishing a poppy and feeling in their guts that sensation of unity. The silence at the Unknown Warrior Tombs across the world was described by certain newspapers as ‘eerie’. But, this very silence has to be seen as the peace one must observe to remember. Silence is quintessential to show respect for the fallen. Waiting to be together again, nothing stopped the majestic creation of a giant poppy mosaic of thank you notes giving a sparkling impetus to that day, despite everything.
The tradition of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier has also been observed in Namibia and Zimbabwe. There too, it celebrates the end of oppression, being an emblem of a fight for independence, sovereignty and freedom, powerfully carrying this symbol throughout the four corners of the world.
And so, lest we forget, the sacrifice of entire lives for the liberty in which we are born and let the eternal flame burn as long as we shall live.
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