Leading article: Stop the clocks

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The Independent Online

Who knows if silence is the mother of truth, as Benjamin Disraeli alleged? But this Remembrance Sunday's pause is at least a chance to put aside the argumentative tone of much of the debate about current affairs, and to contemplate the heroism of the men and women who risk their lives on our behalf in the armed forces.

As a liberal newspaper that supported military intervention in Afghanistan and opposed it in Iraq, we have nothing but admiration for the members of the armed forces who do the best they can in the often testing situations to which they are sent. They have sometimes been given dangerous missions without adequate planning or equipment, but their professionalism has never been in question. The intensity of the criticism of the case for war in Iraq is unprecedented - and it continues to be the dominant issue of our public realm, three and a half years after the invasion. That has had an effect on morale in Afghanistan too, where, five years after the conflict began, the situation is far from having been stabilised. Yet British troops continue to serve with discipline in both countries. They respect the decisions of the House of Commons even as the debate outside the chamber rages on.

At 11am today, therefore, we should put aside all differences over why our forces are in Iraq, and try to appreciate the sense of loss felt by the parents of Kingsman Jamie Hancock, killed in Basra last week, and the parents of all those that fell before him. Even in the Second World War, almost universally accepted as a just war and one of national survival, there was a terrible unfairness about any individual death, and no lesser sense of loss felt by families and friends.

Much has changed since the poppy was first adopted as a mark of remembrance for those who died in such numbers, in a conflict whose moral status was very different again, on the fields of the Somme. As Cole Moreton writes on page 38, our notions of heroism have been transformed since then. Until relatively recently, the survivors of the First and Second World Wars did not like to talk about their experience of battle. Part of their moral stature in younger eyes lay in their reticence. Now wars are watched in real time through the media, and the thoughts and feelings of soldiers flash back home via email.

That greater openness is no bad thing. But the essential quality of heroism has not changed. As Moreton writes of the fallen of two world wars: "They did what they had to. That is what our servicemen and women do now. That they are volunteers does not lessen their sacrifice."

Once today's silence is over, the roar of argument will resume, but, it should be hoped, we will be slightly wiser, more respectful of each other and more understanding of the human cost of war as we rejoin the debate.

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