Peter Rhodes on honouring a warrior, some bizarre subtitles and the importance of a large pinch of salt

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Unknown and undecorated
Unknown and undecorated

One of the stranger aspects of this pandemic was described by a vaccine researcher on the radio. He explained that research into any disease is only possible if you have a large number of victims. The lockdown in summer brought a dramatic drop in the number of Covid-19 cases and research slowed. It picked up again as winter approached and hundreds of clots held illegal parties. When this contagion is over and the medals are awarded, it may be we discover we owe a great debt not only to those who fell ill and entered vaccine trials but to the covidiots who made it possible. Funny how things turn out.

Strange moment back then. I wanted to type “who” but got no further than “wh” before the predictive text program kicked in, offering “white shame.” How? Why?

Coincidentally, a hearing-impaired reader tells me that, according to the TV simultaneous subtitles, our Chancellor of the Exchequer is one Richie Sue Nak and the process of self-government in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales is “demolition.”

I wish all the vaccine scientists well without necessarily accepting all the glowing predictions. This is an arena which is bringing together global reputation, national prestige, professional rivalry and billions of dollars in profits. It is a heady and sometimes toxic mix. In such circumstances it's a good idea to take a large pinch of salt until there's solid evidence in terms of real people living or dying.

It was a few years ago that I first feared this national Let's Be Nice movement had gone too far. At our local Remembrance Day parade, wreaths were laid by the usual representatives of the armed forces, uniformed youth groups, charities and volunteer agencies. And then a child stepped forward to lay a wreath on behalf of the Skateboarding Group. What next? Wreaths from the hamster club? The windsurfers? The pudding-fanciers' association? There comes a point where tinkering with old rituals or popularising them because it seems a Nice Thing actually cheapens them.

That's why I'm wary about the campaign to award the Victoria Cross to the Unknown Warrior buried in Westminster Abbey. The justification seems to be that a) Britain long ago awarded a VC to the United States' Unknown Warrior and b) it would be A Nice Thing to do. But the Unknown Warrior, with his legendary status and permanent resting place amid the greatest and best of his nation, has already been right royally acclaimed.

What would the award of a VC do, apart from devaluing every other VC? Are we to rewrite the citation for our highest award for gallantry to read: “For most conspicuous bravery – or alternatively just to be nice."? If the Unknown Warrior were awarded the VC how long before the lobbying would start to award him an honorary doctorate, a Cycling Proficiency award or a Blue Peter Badge? Let him lie in solemn dignity, an ordinary, undecorated warrior, as those who buried him intended.

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